This One Time, My Neighbor Told Me My House is Haunted…

You may recall that until a few months ago, I was living by myself. I enjoyed the usual luxuries one does without roommates: drinking from the container, letting the dishes pile up for a week, using the spare bedroom as a giant clean/dirty/smells good enough laundry basket, going entire Saturdays without pants…it was pretty wonderful. Without anyone around to judge me or suggest that maybe I make a meal instead of eat cereal for the fourth night in a row, I turned my focus elsewhere: reading, crocheting, avoiding dishes and writing blog posts. At night, I found I had to learn the sounds of a new neighborhood. Trucks with loose metallic cargo seemed to favor my bumpy road for cruising after 11. Dogs barked. On the early summer evenings, youths held campfires long past my 9pm bedtime.

I wasn’t surprised to hear creaks on windy nights because my house is quite old. My landlord said the bathroom originally had a clawfoot tub. The woodwork is worn and grimey – no amount of orange oil will make it shine like it probably once did. The doorbell doesn’t work. There are about a half dozen phone hookups in the hall and no outlets. Most of the windows are drafty. I can confidently say that this house was built sometime between 1900-1990, assuming ten years of error.

I got used to living on my own. Though at night my ears strained, I didn’t hear strange sounds. While I unpacked, I had passing thoughts like: “I bet more than one person has died in this house. And I bet none of their spirits wants me living here.” I’m a pretty rational person, but sometimes my imagination does sprints. I call them sprints because it’s just a quick idea that is dismissed as quickly as it arose. A loud pop in the middle of the night isn’t the spirit of a widow telling me that she is the only person allowed to crochet within these walls. It’s just the house – its materials expanding and contracting from the temperature and humidity fluctuations. The darkness I saw in the corner of gaze when I directed my attention to the other side of the room isn’t a ghost, it’s just a shadow. Basically, I’m able to tell my imagination to chill out.

For the most part, I really enjoyed living on my own, but eventually I came to a crossroads. When the weather got nicer, I was less inclined to work more than 40 hours. No longer working 50-60 hours each week, I found that I could afford to do one of two things: continue living on my own and maintain a life perfecting the art of isolation OR clean up the giant unorganized laundry basket and find a roommate and enjoy life outside my living room. My best friend had been searching for a place to live, so it didn’t take long to find a roommate.

Andrea arrived on a Sunday evening, and right away we started crocheting and watching Netflix. Because I had moved in alone, I figured my very observabt neighbor downstairs might question a strange girl entering my apartment. That Monday after work, I came home and Emily was sweeping the driveway.

“Hi Emily!” I said. “I just wanted to let you know that I have a friend staying with me for a while. She might be moving in, but it’s not set in stone.”

“Oh okay,” she said. “Thanks for letting me know. The more the merrier!”

“Yeah, she’s filling out an application and we’ll find out soon. But until things are figured out, she’ll be staying here for a while.”

“Was she here last week?”

“No, she just got here last night,” I said.

“Oh okay. Well I was just wondering because sometimes when you’re not home, I hear footsteps upstairs. Do you believe in that sort of thing? I hear things like that all the time here.”

Three things: First, when you said that, my first thought was not “OMG MY APARTMENT IS HAUNTED.” My first thought was “WHO THE HELL IS IN MY APARTMENT WHEN I’M NOT HOME?” Second, why did you jump so quickly from a friend couch-surfing to spirits who stomp around in the middle of the day? Third, why did you not wait for my answer before reporting that you’re constantly hearing weird shit in the house we share?

I sort of stammered. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really believe in that stuff. When I hear something at night, I’m usually able to talk myself down from being scared.”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” she said. She got that look in her eyes like she was teaching me something and I ought to listen. “One night, probably about three months after my husband died, I woke up in the middle of the night and there were three white figures standing next to my bed,” she told me. “It was a mother, a father, and a little girl. The were very benevolent and seemed to just want me to know that they were there.”

WHAT THE HELL, EMILY? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY SWEET ELDERLY NEIGHBOR WHO LEAVES THE BACK HALL LIGHT ON FOR ME AT NIGHT – NOT THE WOMAN WHO GIVES ME NIGHTMARES.

“You’re giving me goosebumps!”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “You know, it was probably just a dream or something. It was probably nothing.”

I laughed and rubbed my forearms, despite the warm sun.

“Anyway, thanks for letting me know about your friend. I won’t be worried if I see somebody coming and going during the day then.”

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I imagine the ghosts preferred my apartment empty.

I told her to have a nice night and went up to my apartment. Andrea was gone, so I couldn’t tell her what happened. To distract myself from visions of white figures and heavy formless footsteps, I turned on some music and read a book on the couch. About an hour later, the album had ended and I was immersed in my book when I heard footsteps. They were in the attic. All those cliches happened: my heart raced, I wanted to scream but couldn’t find the air.

“HEWWOOOOOO!”

No, that wasn’t a toddler ghost’s greeting. It was just Andrea. Somehow, her footsteps on the front porch reverberated to sound like they were directly above me. Or maybe the ghosts were playing aural tricks on me. It’s anybody’s guess, really.

For about a week after Emily told me that story, I was afraid to open my eyes at night. I frequently woke in the middle of the night, confident that three alabaster figures would be on the other side of my eyelids. A few times, I ever reached to turn off my bedside lamp with my eyes closed. Why does my anxious subconscious believe that ghosts flee when I twist the switch of my lamp? Probably because there’s never been any ghosts there when I turn on the light.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I spend the majority of my existence rationalizing the world around me. I appreciate that most things can be explained. Cause and effect creates a beautifully consistent environment. What would life be in a world without consistencies? Houses would be creatures, the pops and cracks in the night just gurgles of their digestive systems. Sweeping a driveway one day made it clean and dirty the next. Sounds wouldn’t travel in waves, but violet clouds of varying density, the volume based on the intensity of the purple. Life wouldn’t be based on things like pumping blood and brain oxygenation, but the mood of people who remember you, and your appearance would vary, a la Dorian Gray’s portrait. And just when you had one of these things figured out, another would change and throw your understanding of everything.

I like my world of reason and not many things fool me. But in the middle of the night my imagination allows stories like Emily’s to make me reconsider everything that has made me feel sane. 

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Painting the walls and getting an air conditioner probably pissed the ghosts off too.

Later that night, Emily called me to apologize. She told me that she should have kept her mouth shut and that she was probably bothered by grief and lack of sleep. I told her that it wasn’t a problem and that I would be just fine. “I haven’t heard anything strange since I moved in, so I’m sure I won’t hear anything tonight.”

But really, I was like, “OH NO, LADY. There are no takebacksies in this game! You said you hear footsteps when I’m not here. The seed has already been planted. I won’t see pleasant dreams for weeks, thanks to you.”

When my sleeping returned to normal, Andrea told me that supposedly Emily had gotten out of the shower to find DON’T BE AFRAID written in the steam on her bathroom mirror. THANKS, NEIGHBOR. Emily lives alone. The only explanation is ghosts. Or her grandchildren playing jokes on her. Or Emily is a liar.

My NYE 2014 or The Importance of the Buddy System

It’s a new year, I guess. Not really sure what I’m supposed to do about that. This time last year I was full of optimism and bursting with these grand ideas. I kept thinking things like, “EVERYTHING IS BLOOMING! I can get tattoos and I’ll start dressing like everyday is a fantastic production and I’m the star. And I’m going to start telling myself that I am fantastic and that I am beautiful and I deserve nothing but the best and OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO START RUNNING and be the best person alive.”

My first post of 2013 was a lot more positive than this one is. It might not be fair to contrast the two, considering this time I’m doing my best to digest a pretty epic breakfast of eggs benedict florentine (all the cholesterol of eggs benedict with a few leaves of spinach thrown in to make me feel a little healthy) and three cups of coffee. I think when I wrote last year’s post, I was eating something like quinoa and cranberry with herbal tea. I was trying to be a lot healthier than I am today.

I know that the typical thing to do for a new year is to welcome the next 362 days with optimism and determination to make it the best yet. I also know the typical alternative is to resolve to not make any resolutions. (har har har) I’m feeling decidedly bleh about either option. So, instead I’ll just tell you about my New Year’s Eve.

It started out pretty magically. I took a half day off to kick off a 5-day weekend, and surprised myself by getting my hair cut at an Aveda salon downtown. The last time I got my haircut, it was done by a student who took an hour to just frame the edges. I stood for 30 minutes of the cut and paid $10, so I’m not sure I could have expected much more. He tried to give me whispy bangs, thinking that to do that, he should cut them on an angle. When he tried to correct it, I just told him that it looked fine – mainly because I was terrified he would give me bangs like this:

Not really my style

Not really my style

So I’ve made do over the last month or so, mostly just pinning them to the side while they grew out. But I decided that I was going to pay a professional to make me look beautiful. After sitting comfortably for 30 minutes, I left the salon in a cloud of that wonderful Aveda scent with hair that was somehow shorter yet thicker than it had been in years.

It's hard not to feel fabulous when you're wearing animal print

It’s hard not to feel fabulous when you’re wearing animal print

I ended up going to an acoustic living room show where a friend’s band played. It was a really beautiful way to begin the night, complete with a drumset made of pans, buckets, and crates, slide guitar, and an accordion. I sat sipping malbec by candlelit in a room of people whose names I thought I knew, but wasn’t 100%. Though I arrived alone, I felt included and happy to be with this group of people who were content listening to our friends make music.

After the music was done, I joined a group of people to The Reptile Palace to see a few other bands. The Reptile Palace is a place where I’ve always felt a bit alienated – it’s one of those punk bars with stickers and graffiti covering most surfaces, three vodka selections, and probably a basement full of PBR and only PBR. Whenever I go there, I’m certain that everyone is thinking, “What is that square doing here? She should go home and work on her taxes.” The things I occasionally take pride in (not smoking, enjoying beer that doesn’t taste like vaguely hops-flavored water, having health insurance and paid vacation) suddenly embarrass me and make me feel like I’m not living an authentic life. Intellectually, I know it’s idiotic to feel inferior for being a responsible adult, but that’s just how my brain works.

I was dropped off with the drummer with promises of more friends arriving, including my roommate. After what felt like an hour (in actuality, was probably about 10 minutes), a few things happened within three seconds: first, I spotted a guy I had gone out with a few weeks earlier. Things hadn’t ended disastrously, just on uneven terms. The point is that I was momentarily uncomfortable. Second, I realized the cranberry & Stoli I had just ordered was not necessary. I was sufficiently drunk from drinking the better part of the malbec I brought to the party. Third, I felt lonely for a split second.

What did I decide to do? Walk home. In subzero weather with $1 gloves and three-inch heels. “It’s only like 2 miles. It’ll be fine,” said my wine-clouded brain. “If I get tired along the way, I’ll just stop into one of these many bars to warm up. Or I could just take a brief nap in the doorway of some shop.”

I was about two blocks from The Reptile Palace when my pocket buzzed. I saw it was Jason, who had dropped me off earlier. I answered the call with a numb finger to hear, “You’re going the wrong way. Go back to the bar.”

“I’m going home,” I told him.

“Why are you going home? It’s 10:30.”

I didn’t have an answer. I realized my reasons for leaving would sound pathetic if I bothered to articulate them. “I don’t know.”

“Get in my car. Do you see me?” He said. Then to the passengers in his car: “…she’s drunk.”

Feeling foolish but realizing he was right, I climbed into his car, welcomed the warmth, thanked him for stopping, and told myself I wasn’t going to drink anymore that night.

As soon as I got back to the bar, I had a few glasses of water and started having a much better time. I greeted the man whose presence made me flee, apologized awkwardly, thanked Jason about 30 times for picking me up, and got disproportionately excited when my roommate showed up. I rang in the new year by toasting water, kissing the drummer, and hugging my best friend.

I woke up the next day and realized a few things: 1. I’m really glad Jason saw me and picked me up, because there’s a chance I would have stopped for a brief slumber that could have ended with me freezing to death. Yeah, that’s a thing you have to actually be concerned about when you live in Wisconsin: FREEZING TO DEATH. 2. Alcohol makes you do stupid things like try to walk home at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve. I’m happy to say that is the only time I’ve done something that idiotic while intoxicated. Just so my parents don’t freak out and start lecturing me on being responsible: 99% of the time I’m in bars, I operate on the buddy system, ensuring neither of us wanders off to take an outdoor nap when it’s -20. I promise you didn’t raise a complete moron. 3. Having paid vacation doesn’t make you a responsible adult, so I should really stop feeling superior just because I was being paid while I recovered from my hangover on Wednesday.

So what’s going to change for me in 2014? Probably not a whole lot. I’ll continue to document my complete lack of perfection. I might start flossing. Cheers!

Fear & Self-Loathing Oshvegas

In lieu of blogging the last few months, I’ve been journaling. You know, writing in those blank book things? There’s not a keyboard or anything, so you have to use a pen (I recommend Uniball Signo with the micro tip) and like, draw the letters and words on the pages. Some have lines and some don’t. I prefer the ones with lines, because if I attempt to write straight on an unlined page, my sentences all start sloping upward. Supposedly that means I’m optimistic about my future.

That optimism bit sounds wonky right now, but that’s due to a few things: this terrible weather we’ve been having the last few days (as I described to a Miami-based client this morning: “It’s the exact opposite of whatever paradise you’re experiencing”), my hormones volleying my mood between EVERYTHING IS FUCKING AWESOME and GOOD GOD GET ME BACK IN MY BED SO I CAN EAT FAMILY-SIZED BAGS OF PEANUT BUTTER M&MS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, and a slight ego bruise.

It’s been a weird couple months since I last posted. My best friend moved in with me. Before she worked evenings, it was basically the two of us crocheting and watching Netflix every night. Now, we see each other occasionally on the weekends. What else? I tried a few new shampoos, did a mud run dressed like a crazy person, went to an intimate acoustic living room show where everyone around me was exponentially cooler than me, carved pumpkins, saw a lot of live jazz, was part of a good friend’s wedding, swooned over the seductive power of “I Put a Spell on You,” joined a gym I haven’t been to in two weeks, dressed up like Coco Chanel for Halloween, shoulder-danced to Justin Timberlake with my little brother after buying holiday cat sweaters, made the unfortunate/wonderful mistake of visiting Half Price Books on a misty Saturday where my love for real books was reignited (my Kindle has been getting minimal use since I’ve bought about 2 dozen books), and have been trying really hard to find a way to make fleece-lined leggings appropriate for an office setting.

We hadn't gotten to the muddy part yet.

We hadn’t gotten to the muddy part yet.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

Anyway, when I sat down to write this post, I thought I’d turn to my journal for some inspiration. Surely over the last two months I’ve pondered some interesting issues and came upon satisfying conclusions, right? Of course not, because even as a 25-year old woman, I write about boys with the same frequency as my 13-year old self. Sure, sometimes the musings on my romantic life lead to deliberations over other things (the search for validation, personal expectations, compelling vs. non-compelling conversations, self-respect, and the value of communication & honesty), but they were brief and most entries were just like, “So I met this guy and then I met this other guy and omg they know each other and omg what will happen next?”

It could explain why I’ve been so reluctant to post. It may sound like the sort of thing Socrates would find intellectually stimulating, but I promise that my romantic stumblings will satisfy only the nosy & mindless.

What’s most disappointing is that I feel like I have a much more interesting mind than my journal reflects. It’s just that I find my self deliberating over these sorts of things rather than my mixed feelings about the latest in government surveillance, racial tensions that are so apparent in music and television, and my fear about our culture becoming so reliant on virtual facades for relationships and my blog’s contribution. You have to admit that in comparison, sorting out my dating life is much easier, and therefore preferable.

I reread all of that and started to hate myself for most of it. I really just want to climb in bed and read one of those books I bought. I don’t have the energy or brain power to write a diatribe about why you should all get off the damn internet and show somebody you love them, but I do hate myself just enough to go to the gym.

Throwback Thursday: It Gets Better (Seriously.)

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the left and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday August 8, 2001

“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Romans 6:10

How do you feel when you know you’re loved? 

           Really giggly

I so don’t know what to do. Ok, I was checking my e-mail when I came across one from Nikki. She replied to a bunch of questions I asked her, then she was like, “Well in case you haven’t guessed, Cory’s been calling like 10000x for me to ask u. So just give me an answer so I won’t be bugged anymore.”

I wrote back, saying I didn’t get what she meant, to buy myself more time. He wants to go out with me. What do I do? Should I say yes and see what happens? Or say no and not take the chance? I’m afraid I’m going to get freaked out like what I did with Tony and dump him a week later. I’m also afraid he’ll try to pull something on me. But I seriously don’t know what to do. But then there’s another thing: I barely know him! I’ve talked to him maybe a total of 5 times. I didn’t even know who he was till Nikki’s B-day Bash in February!

Oh Jesus. 

Luv ya, Ash

I need time to think. 

Good lord, I’d like to smack this girl. You know what you do in this situation? You say no and tell Nikki to give Cory your phone number and tell her that if he decides to grow a pair, he can ask you himself. Then you move on with your life, like a self-respecting young woman.

It’s not so hard.

For the record, I’d like to say that I’ve matured quite a bit since 2001. I don’t accept second-party boyfriends. I don’t keep boyfriends around unless I am absolutely crazy about them. I do this because wasting time in this fashion is frustrating and painful for both parties.

The handful of “boyfriends” I had in middle school came to me by way of Nikki. She was the pretty popular one, but in a pinch I would do. One of them was a boy named Tony, whom I remember only for looking like a pumpkin. Eventually Cory got my number and we would awkwardly stand next to each other at lunch and while waiting for the buses after school, so yeah. It was pretty serious.

I got the feeling that they felt they were settling for me, but I was just happy to have the attention of someone for a while. Being able to say that I had a BF was prize enough – I didn’t really care who it was. This is probably why I spent the first part of my dating life believing any guy’s interest was genuine. I figured they were just bidding time till a prettier girl came along. It didn’t matter if we were just hanging out in his dorm room while he organized his Radiohead discography or if he had planned an afternoon of hiking (complete with disposable cameras, granola bars, and a thermos of cocoa) with homemade chili in the slowcooker at home – I just refused to invest myself. I’d like to maintain it was because I wasn’t sure I felt a connection with him, but you could just as easily attribute my commitment reluctance to self-preservation. Eventually I met men who intrigued me for years at a time, but that’s for a different post. But if there was a message I could relay to Young Ashley, it would be this:

You feel really giggly when you’re loved? That’s the best you could do? I don’t think that’s the kind of love your bible’s devotion was asking you about. Even though you lack critical thinking skills, have some faith in yourself. If these turds don’t see how great you are, don’t waste your time, energy, or emotions on them. You’re meant for greater things than to be the second-choice girlfriend of a pumpkin.

Heart shaped glasses

If I had kept these glasses, I never would have had an issue getting a boyfriend.