In the early fall of l982 my husband and I were on our way to look at what was apparently the last affordable house in Brooklyn, New York. We'd been house-hunting for over a year and were very anxious to settle into a home of our own.
At this point in time we were still living in a three-room apartment with our two daughters. Our landlord was extremely frugal with the heat, and we were growing tired of huddling in our living room near a portable heater. We were willing to look at virtually any house within our price range, but we had only a small sum of money available for a down payment. Real-estate agents took us from house to house, showing us lovely homes that, unfortunately, required substantial deposits.
We thought we were permanently stymied until we noticed this one house on their listing. It had been there for over two years, but no one had attempted to show it to us.
"It's too old and too much trouble," one of the brokers said, barely looking up at us, "although you might actually be able to afford this one." The sarcasm in her voice was duly noted. However, we were undaunted by her negative description of the house. We wanted to see it.
So, there we were, full of anticipation, parking our car on this very ordinary block. I was in a very "up" mood that day, partly because I had hopes this would be "the" house, partly because it was fall. September and October had always been my favorite months. The smell of cool air and the vision of trees painted in glowing hues of orange and red and yellow signaled the upcoming holiday season. This particular block had many trees, all colored so vibrantly that the whole area had a beautiful orange cast to it. Newly fallen leaves were gathered in bunches near most of the houses and they crunched beneath our feet as we walked to our latest prospect. I thought of pumpkin pie and chestnuts, and my heart leapt at the thought that perhaps, at last, we had found a house we could actually purchase. Maybe we could even spend Christmas there. I had to stop myself from skipping toward our destination.
As we were walking down the street, I noticed an unusual tree. Not only were its leaves a strikingly colored mixture of orange and red, but it appeared to be almost caressing the house in front of which it was planted. Its trunk was tilted toward the house, with almost no branches extending toward the street. Its branches and foliage sprung out like long arms, almost protectively. When we realized this was the tree in front of the house we were to look at, I felt an unusual sense of peace. I was, without obvious reason, very glad this wonderful, strong tree would be part of the package. I didn't know then that this house, indeed, needed whatever protection it could get.
The house itself was one of those big, old, fat houses; the kind they simply don't build anymore. It was whitish-gray with dark green trim, and rather dingy looking.
In retrospect I could imagine someone describing it as "spooky" looking, but "spooky" was the last thing on our minds. The front yard, not very large, was unkempt. Weeds were growing along the chainlink fence that surrounded it. The four entrance steps were made out of weather-beaten, cracked cement. The wrought-iron railing attached to these steps was rusted and peeling. The front windows, many small ones separated by strips of rotting wood, were nearly opaque with dirt.
For a brief moment, my husband and I looked at each other, wondering if this was such a good idea after all, but we knew our financial situation, and neither one of us wanted to spend another winter with our not-so-friendly landlord. So we took a deep breath and rang the doorbell, half expecting it not to work. To our surprise, we were greeted by a rather pleasant, if somewhat cool, middle-aged couple. They smiled as they brought us up to the second floor of this grand old house.
As we walked up the stairs we were wondering what would be the problem this time. We'd seen so many houses that we developed a knee-jerk reaction of not getting our hopes up. It was hard not to think that, even if the price was right, there would be something terribly wrong. Perhaps there were combative neighbors, or mud in the cellar, or exposed sewer pipes in the kitchen. We'd seen it all by this time. To our surprise, this couple mentioned only one dominant problem¿the elderly couple living downstairs. They refused to leave.
"My uncle is one tough cookie," remarked the middle-aged man, his nephew, about the old gentleman inhabiting the first floor apartment. As he reached the top of the stairs, he continued, "My uncle and aunt have been living in this house for over forty years. They sold it to us a few years back and have been paying a nominal rent ever since. I guess he thought this arrangement would go on forever, but our children are grown now and my wife and I bought a house in Florida. We are anxious to leave but my uncle keeps scaring prospective buyers off by declining to move."
My husband and I certainly didn't like the sound of that.
In a few short moments, we found ourselves on the second floor, in the front living room, with windows overlooking the aforementioned beautiful tree. The decor was very bland, no pictures on the walls, no outstanding furniture. It looked like a 1950s motel room. Working our way toward the back of the house, we were introduced to the bathroom, which appeared relatively new. Green and white tiles gleamed at us, reflecting the light on the ceiling. Towels hung on the towel racks, but no pictures or designs of any sort adorned the walls. The shower curtains were, again, green and white, but with no distinguishing pattern. The bathroom was very clean, almost sanitary, but decorated with no imagination, no feeling.
Next to the bathroom was a dining area, connected to a kitchen. Dark wood cabinets dominated this room, and pink, painted-over paneling covered the walls. It wasn't a salmon pink or a "hot" pink, just a dull, almost beige pink, going from ceiling to floor. I could see the texture of the paneling showing through the paint and I wondered why anyone would impose such a nauseating color over wood. I figured I would never find curtains to match this unfortunate hue, but before I could get too upset about the dining room and kitchen, our hosts ushered us into what they termed "the playroom." There, in the back of the house, was a beautiful, spacious area, lined with double windows. It was huge.
"This was built only twenty years ago," the woman said, "and our children spent many hours happily at play here."
I must admit, it was bright and airy and pleasant. A sloped ceiling, punctuated with halogen lights, captured our interest. We imagined our own children playing under this wondrous roof.
Our excitement was palpable. That back room really piqued our interest. Our hosts then brought us up to the third floor and showed us their bedroom, located in the front of the house. It was the largest of the three rooms on that floor, but still it had a sort of restrictive quality to it. Thick, upholstery-like curtains hung on the front windows, almost completely obliterating the radiant sunshine coming through. The spread covering the queen-size bed was heavily quilted and shiny, and reminded me of unwanted afternoons spent at my grandmother's house. I could almost smell the mothballs.
The other two rooms were nearly claustrophobic in nature¿bedrooms housing the remnant memories of their now-moved-away children. The walls were devoid of decoration, except for a Charles Atlas photo cellophane-taped to one wall. Although there were still beds in each room, no pictures or shelves or toy chests were visible. No posters or telephones or any specific reminders were present. It was impossible to tell if a male or female child had occupied either of these rooms. And we didn't ask.
The rooms felt cold and dank. We kept focusing on that airy playroom on the second floor and assumed we could turn even this stark landscape into a warm habitat.
Although the atmosphere upstairs was less than desirable, it was certainly not enough to discourage us. We were finished with our tour when the wife said, "I'm sorry about my husband's aunt and uncle . . . you'd think they'd know better at their age."
"How bad can they be?" I remarked, not quite ready for her response.
"How bad? I'll tell you how bad. They intimidate everyone who comes to see this house. Especially his uncle. He's more than a 'tough cookie'¿he's nasty and impossible, and I'm getting sick and tired of it. I don't want to live in New York anymore." I could see her husband flinch at her candidness. She continued, "We've got this beautiful house in Florida that we can't move into, and he doesn't give a shit about it. If you can persuade him to move, more power to you. Even the real- estate broker has stopped sending people to see this house. I don't care if this makes us vulnerable to a lower sale price, I want out."
Her husband was clearly not happy with her outburst, but he remained silent, seemingly trying to be tolerant of her obvious frustration.
After a brief, but very pregnant, silence, I exclaimed, "Well, can we meet the ogres downstairs?"
I thought I was being cute, but it wasn't received very well, and I couldn't help but notice my husband's disapproving look. After a moment or two, our hosts took us downstairs, said their goodbyes, and left us alone at the first floor entrance. I suddenly felt frightened. I was anxious about meeting this man and felt my heart palpitate as my husband knocked on the door. I nearly expected Lurch to answer.
My husband looked at me a little strangely and asked if there was anything wrong.
"I'm scared," I said. "Aren't you?
"Hell, no," he replied. "We can probably get this house for less than we thought."
If it weren't for his attitude, I would have gone home. I straightened my back and waited for the door to open.
We must have knocked three or four times, and I had almost convinced my husband to leave, when the door opened to reveal a short, elderly gentleman. At first glance he looked almost endearing with his yellowish white hair and bowed legs. He was very old, much older than we had expected, perhaps well into his nineties. He was caustic and rude, indicating to us that he was not at all pleased to see yet another prospective buyer.
"We're not leaving, you know," he said with a scowl. "This is our home and no one is ever going to force us out."
It became very clear to us that we were being perceived as the enemy. It was an unfamiliar and very uncomfortable feeling.
"We just want to look at your apartment," my husband said. "We're not at all sure about buying this house anyway."
The old man's expression remained resolute and angry, but he did let us in. He shut the door behind us and we found ourselves in an enclosed porch, one that had once been open. We could still see the original columns vaguely hidden by wood paneling. It was bordered by eight old, green-trimmed, peeling windows. On the floor were ancient tiles and, with a quick glance, I noticed that there was no source of heat in this area. I figured it could only be used in the warmer months.
Leading out of the porch was a beautiful set of French doors made of oak. They had long, narrow panels of beveled glass, reminiscent of late nineteenth-century architecture. They were absolutely gorgeous. We walked through these doors to a small narrow foyer, with the living room on the right. We were very disappointed.
This room was very small, perhaps ten by twelve feet, including the bay windows facing the enclosed porch. At an earlier time, these windows had obviously been on the outside wall of the house. There was only room for a full-size couch, perhaps a love seat, and a television. However, at the entrance to this living room, off the foyer, we noticed doors that were inserted into the walls. We had never seen this before, except in old movies. We were instantly charmed. The house must have been more than a hundred years old. Even though the old man was grumpy and impatient, we were still charmed. We noticed the doilies covering all of the furniture, and everything seemed to be monotone mahogany. It reeked of "old." We didn't care. We were very interested in this house.
Beyond the living room was the most glorious dining room we had ever seen. It had a tin ceiling and parquet floor, and there were bay windows on the side wall. It was, of course, the center of the house, even though the mahogany furniture was badly in need of repair. It had incredible potential. On the opposite side of the bay windows was what used to be a fireplace. The wall jutted out about three feet deep, five feet wide. My mind began racing with thoughts about reconstructing the original fireplace. I thought of warm family dinners held within the walls of this great room. The doilies were easy to dismiss in this most fetching arrangement. Even the old man's obvious contempt was easy to ignore, until he ushered us into the back rooms.
The experience of the dining room faded soon after we entered the kitchen. It was completely gray. Floors, walls, cabinets¿all gray, and in desperate shape. It was a small room with two entrances. The kitchen was on the other side of the dining room, behind a wall, with the fireplace part in the middle. One entrance was at the beginning of the dining room, the other at the far end. A person could literally go around in a circle, past the fireplace, and still end up in the kitchen. Two hip-high windows faced an alley, a small table was in the center and a few gray cabinets hung above a rusted sink. It was depressing, especially with its one fluorescent bulb flickering on and off.
From the doorway of the kitchen we could, unfortunately, see the bathroom. Actually, we could almost smell it. Any number of subway toilets in Manhattan could easily have put this one to shame. The ceiling paint was peeling, the walls were cracked, and a rusted bathtub on "feet" sat angrily in the center of the room. The toilet bowl and the sink appeared to be unusable.
Our hearts sank. This place needed a lot of work, and perhaps a lot of money. My husband and I looked at each other and realized that, maybe, this wasn't our dream house after all. But we weren't ready to give up yet.
As a sly smile crossed his face, I could tell the old man sensed our waning interest.
"C'mon, folks, let me show you the master bedroom," he said, as he nearly pushed us into a cramped back room.
"Master" bedroom indeed. The room was dark, approximately twelve feet by ten feet. The bed was neatly made and rather attractive drapes hung over its two windows. The ancient bedroom set residing here almost overflowed the dimensions of the room.
After a very brief stay here, he pointed us toward the other back bedroom. He said it had been added on about thirty years ago. It, too, was very small, smaller than the other bedroom. It could almost have passed for a large walk-in closet. There, in a twin bed, lay his wife. The room smelled of sickness. It smelled of medicine and ointments and sadness. His wife of I-don't-know-how-many years looked up at us. She didn't say a word. She was a sweet-faced woman with long white hair combed back into a braid. She had moist, puppy-dog eyes. When she looked at me, my heart just melted. I wondered what had happened in her life to make her appear so vulnerable, so sad.
Suddenly, we felt like intruders. The beauty of the dining room, the thrill of owning our own home, the prospect of living here, faded in the distance. Even if we could afford to fix this house up, we needed the whole house empty. How could we ever ask this couple to leave? Her silent sadness had an impact on us that far surpassed her husband's rage. We were paralyzed. We just wanted to go home.
We bade farewell to the angry old man and went home to our two daughters, our cold three-room apartment, and didn't think about this house again. In a month or so, we received a call from our real-estate agent.
She said the owners had reduced the price even further and the old couple had surprisingly agreed to leave "within a reasonable amount of time." Since my husband needed only the second and third floors for his newly formed business, we decided to buy the house and remain, for the time being, in our miserable apartment. We signed the papers, went to the closing, and, in the early winter of l982, the house was ours. During the entire process of closing the purchase we never saw the elderly couple. We tried to speak to them once or twice, but they wouldn't open their door. According to their nephew, they were actively looking for an apartment and had resigned themselves to moving. I kept thinking about how sad the old woman looked. My husband and I decided that, no matter what, we wouldn't rush them out.
In the early spring of l983, we moved the business into the upper two floors. However, the elderly gentleman downstairs demonstrated a great deal of belligerence during this time. He cursed and screamed at any noise we made and insisted that my husband not park in our own driveway. He said he needed the space to fix his many bicycles. He wouldn't let us into the basement. In fact, we had never even seen it. We kept thinking it must be hard for him to vacate a home he had enjoyed for so many years, but he made it very difficult to retain a feeling of sympathy. His wife, on the other hand, never said a word. She just peeked out of the porch windows with those big, sad eyes, and any anger her husband stirred up would quickly dissipate. Even though their lease was legally exhausted we found it very hard to press the issue. My husband, who was generally not a very empathetic man, tried hard to be understanding.
Our patience was, however, growing thin. One year into the ownership of this house found us still living in our cold, damp apartment. Only my husband's business was beginning to thrive. Our family was still cramped and cold, and feeling quite stupid for having bought the house in the first place. Financially, we were now making payments on a mortgage, receiving almost no rent from the old couple, and also paying rent on our apartment.
Sometimes, when the weather was nice, I would put my younger daughter in a stroller, hold my older daughter's hand, and walk over to the office so they could see their father for lunch. The house was only about ten blocks from our apartment.
The old man would always be outside, fixing something, usually a bike. I'd offer a "Hello," but it was never answered. He'd just glare at us. I would continue up the stairs, kids in tow, feeling both sorry for, and resentful of him.
More than eighteen months passed before the couple found an apartment. Two more Christmases had been spent in our apartment, and, at this point, we were all a bit weary of this arrangement.
When they finally moved, we all gathered at the front gate to say "Goodbye," and the old man almost smiled. He even put his hand out, and we shook it. "We got a good deal on a beautiful apartment just a few blocks away," he said.
I forgot all about his being so ornery during this entire process. I was glad that he seemed almost happy. However, his wife just walked slowly down the steps, into their car, never saying a word. I found myself crying because I really did feel badly about making them move.
In that instant, I wasn't sure we'd done the right thing. Even though we had waited more than a reasonable amount of time, even though they didn't seem unhappy about the move, it just didn't seem quite right. I hoped they forgave us for being the ones who ended up buying this house. In my heart, I wished them well, and I meant it.
I comforted myself by remembering that we really didn't put any pressure on them. I think it was just that they were so old. I thought of my parents, of myself at that age. I hoped we'd been kind enough to them, even under the circumstances. I was reminded of our patience in this matter when the old man handed me the basement keys. More than a year-and-a-half had gone by and, finally, I was going to see the basement!
Their car drove off, followed by the moving van, and I found myself standing outside, just admiring the beautiful tree, twirling the basement keys in my hand. My husband went back to work upstairs and I, with my children, headed for the basement. We were so excited. The excitement was short-lived.
It was a mess. Two huge oil tanks filled the room, and nuts and bolts and nails and screws were strewn all over the place. It was painted chartreuse. The walls were made of cinder blocks, the floor was greasy and painted a dark gray. It was certainly not inhabitable at this time. And it was so small. No one had mentioned to us that this house did not have a full basement. Noticing this now made me understand how inexperienced we'd been at buying a home. We'd never even asked. The basement took up not even two-thirds of the length of the house. The other third was never dug out, and we wondered why this was so.
The next few days we concentrated on moving in all of our stuff. We happily bade farewell to our old apartment and settled nicely into our new, but old, home. What I remember being most happy about was the thermostat. I could regulate our heat! We no longer had to shiver under a pile of blankets or huddle with our children near a heater. I was anxious for it to be cold outside just so I could make it all warm for us.
A few of the neighbors introduced themselves to us, and I asked them if they knew why our basement did not encompass the length of the house. I was surprised when they said that our house had been moved, in its entirety, via a trailer, from its original location around the corner. This move had been accomplished in the early 1940s. The movers had only dug out the existing basement and left what was referred to as the "dirt room." This dirt room was located at the back of the house, under the small bedrooms on the first floor. The only entrance into the dirt room was through two nearly hidden doors, four feet from the surface of the floor. Basically, it was a crawl space. We thought it odd at the time, but never seriously questioned it. We just felt disappointed that the basement was so small.
On one of the first few days of our move we invited a number of family members to help us with unpacking our belongings. Among them was my brother, Joe.
When he first entered the basement he got what he later described as a "very unnerving feeling," as though he was being watched. He chose not to share this eerie experience with any of us. He later explained that he figured, since we had already purchased the house, he would not disturb us with what might have been just his imagination. But, on that day, with my whole family around us, everything seemed just fine.
Within two or three days we were all moved in. The kids were snug in their beds in the very small back room, and my husband and I took over the somewhat larger master bedroom. Within a few days, and without knowing what my brother had felt in our basement, I began to be aware of being "watched." I felt like someone was always sort of looking over my shoulder. I'd turn around, half expecting to see one of my children, or my husband, and no one would be there. I attributed this strange feeling to my being overwhelmed with the move and I tried to disregard it. I had always been a die-hard disbeliever in the the supernatural, so the thought of anything odd never entered my mind. I also became quite distracted by the fact that I was finally a home owner. I could control our heat, and I did not have to make any more trips to the laundry. There was a washer and dryer in the basement. My very own washer and dryer.
My children were warm, we had a back yard and a driveway, and I was now permanently relieved of laundromat duty. I felt pretty good about things in general, but there was one thing on my mind that I was hoping the purchase of this house would alleviate. I had been aware for some time that my marriage was not a very good one.
I tried to push this thought out of my mind and concentrate on all the stuff I needed to do to get our house into shape. But, in my quiet moments, my marital woes would catch up with me. It wasn't just our old apartment that caused friction, it was our relationship itself. We'd been arguing since the inception of our marriage, but the last year or two had been terrible. I thought a new environment might bring new hopes of invigorating what was quickly becoming a cold and distant relationship. This thought made me start fixing the house right away. We started with the bathroom. The worse I felt about our marriage, the harder I clung to the fantasy that making things better on the outside might make things better on the inside.
Making the bathroom usable was the only real initial investment we made in the house. We redecorated the walls with flowered blue tiles from Italy and put in a shiny new white floor. We matched the tiles with a powder-blue sink, toilet, and bathtub. I was so proud of how nice it looked. It did not even remotely resemble the antiquated and foul bathroom that had existed only weeks ago. We couldn't afford to modernize any other area, so the fixing-up ended here. I couldn't help but feel like I was waiting to see if a new house, a new bathroom, might change things between me and my husband. It was a silly notion to grasp at, but it seemed a very real possibility to me.
By the time all this was done and we were really settled in, our eldest daughter, Karin, was eleven years old and our youngest, Christine, was five. They were happy (when their parents weren't fighting), although a bit crowded, in that small back bedroom. We installed bunk beds in the hope of helping them out, although we knew that in time, as they grew older, this room would not be big enough for both of them. We figured that by then our financial situation would change and we would be able to afford to finish the nuts-and-bolts basement. One of them, most likely Karin, could move down there into a new bedroom. For the moment, they were reasonably comfortable. Unlike in our old apartment, they were waking up to the warm, cuddly sound of heat bubbling up through the radiators. Whenever I saw them sleeping, it warmed my heart to know they no longer had to wake up freezing in the middle of the night.
It was a very good feeling.
As the days and weeks wore on, the feeling of being watched became more troublesome. It started to produce a sensation at the top of my back, in between my shoulder blades. It wasn't an itch, but rather a tingling feeling. I had to fight the urge to look behind me¿and the urge always won. No one else said anything about this, so neither did I. This odd sensation occurred at varying times during the day and night. It was quite unnerving. One night, after being particularly troubled by these feelings, I approached my husband.
"Ever feel anything unusual upstairs in your office?" I asked.
"Not really." he replied. "What do you mean, unusual?"
"Well, like someone is watching over your shoulder, or standing right behind you. Sometimes I feel that way, especially when I'm folding laundry, or cooking dinner. Like someone is with me, but not really."
His admonishment was swift. "You must be imagining things. I've never felt anything like that. What are you talking about anyway? Get a grip."
"Get a grip," indeed. I hated that phrase. It implied losing one's perception of reality. I was so sorry I'd said anything to him. I chastised myself for not knowing better.
He was already very unhappy with me, already at the point where criticizing me was becoming a daily event. All I did was give him more fuel for his fire. We were only in the house a few months at this point, and I already could see that nothing between us was going to change. After this brief, dismissive exchange, I went outside and sat down on our front steps (the "stoop," as it is referred to in Brooklyn) and collected my thoughts. I knew I wouldn't mention these uncomfortable feelings to him again. I promised myself I would just ignore them and hope for the best. I also recognized that the more successful his business became, the farther apart we were growing. I didn't know why, but I just knew we were moving in distinctly different directions.
I decided, only a few weeks later, to go to college with the goal of becoming a registered nurse. My husband was sure I wouldn't make it through the first class and treated the whole idea rather condescendingly.
"Sure, honey, you go ahead and take your classes," he would say with a wry smile.
I hated that reaction. I wanted to be taken seriously. It was very disheartening to realize that my husband was treating this as some sort of a whim. I really wanted to become a nurse.
In a short while, after receiving my first "A", nursing school became a very important part of my existence. At first I went only in the evening, staying at home during the day to care for our children. Later on I arranged with my parents to pick up my children at 3 p.m. and I was still able to be there most days for Christine's lunch hour. Karin was in sixth grade and Christine was in first. I felt I was doing a good job covering all my bases, but the longer I stayed in school, the angrier my husband got. I tried to explain to him that becoming a nurse was the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. I had wanted to be in a helping profession ever since I was a child. I think he knew, as well as I did, consciously or subconsciously, that if I completed my education, I would no longer be as financially dependent on him as I was at that time. I was absolutely determined to graduate and go on to practice nursing. He was not in the least thrilled with my resolve.
Between my difficult marriage, raising two children, dealing with the house and attending nursing school, the "watching" feelings became rather unimportant. They were there, but I forced them into the background as much as possible. Several times a day I would be prodded to look over my shoulder at an unseen entity, sure someone would come into focus, sure it was just the kids or the dog. No one was ever there at these times and I made myself think the feelings would go away if I got all the stress out of my life. Feeling like I was being watched had much less power than my preoccupation with my failing marriage. I put those unpleasant sensations out of my mind for quite some time.
We were in the house nearly a year. My children were doing well in school, I had just finished another semester in college and my husband's business was doing very well. Our relationship, however, remained argumentative and distant. Although I was able to deal with the feelings of being watched, a disturbing new sensation arose. I began to feel frightened of being alone in our house. I had never experienced anything like this before. I'd come home from school, knowing I'd have to pick-up my daughters at my parent's house in an hour or two, knowing that my husband was at a meeting in New Jersey or somewhere, and I'd sit down to study. Suddenly, I'd be aware of not being alone at all. The house felt occupied somehow. The feeling would make me shudder and move my shoulders up and down, trying to shake it off.
It wasn't long before I'd covertly try to always have someone at home. I'd get my kids early, or study on those days when I knew my husband was at his desk upstairs. I felt rather foolish doing this, but the feeling was so uncomfortable.
It was around this time that Karin began having some unusual sensations herself. She told me she heard strange noises coming from the inside of our bathroom hamper. She described them as sounding like "clawing" or "scratching" noises. Very distinct. Very clear.
My husband and I figured that a rat, or some other form of rodent, must have gotten into the hamper. We emptied it, took out all the clothes, examined everything. No rat, no mouse. She was insistent.
"I heard it, Mommy, I heard it while I was taking a bath."
We attributed her reaction to an overactive imagination. Unfortunately, we attributed way too much in this regard.
One evening, when Karin was lying on the living room couch, she saw Christine go into their bedroom located in the back of the house. Karin got up and followed her, but when she got to the bedroom, Christine was not there. Karin became bewildered and frightened. She came running to me, sincerely upset.
"Mommy, I saw Chris go into the bedroom, but she's not there. Where is she, where is she?"
I called Chris's name and she answered from the bathroom. She hadn't been in her room all night. I honestly didn't know what to make of this. I comforted Karin and wondered if perhaps she was experiencing some stress due to our unhappy marriage. This was also the first sign I saw that someone else in the house was having something unusual happen to them.
A few days after this incident, Karin was sitting on the bunk bed she shared with her sister and told us she saw Christine standing on the chair beside the bed. They chatted for a while. Nothing unusual. However, a few minutes later Chris came into the room! She hadn't been in the room all night. Karin got really scared, and I became concerned about Karin's "imagination." I should have worried about why the house was always so uncomfortable, but I didn't. I kept feeling responsible for what I thought was Karin's increasing level of stress caused by my bad marriage. I hugged her and comforted her, but I didn't tell her about my own experiences, and I silently worried about the damage our marital relationship was having on our children. I also checked up on how she was doing in school, spoke to her guidance counselor. She was well liked and bright and articulate. There didn't seem to be any problem there¿only at home. I blamed myself for not being strong enough to repair a failing marriage. All my psychology courses at school came rearing up their ugly heads¿I assumed Karin was having a stress reaction to her parent's bad relationship. Unfortunately, my psych courses left no room for the supernatural. Actually, I left no room for it either.
Although I was still feeling watched and could no longer remain home alone, I did not believe Karin's two bizarre experiences of having seen Christine when she wasn't there. I did not connect the happenings. There was nothing in my limited store of knowledge that could enable me to see farther than the obvious. I didn't understand at the time that I should have simply listened to my otherwise healthy, perceptive child. I was too frightened and narrow-minded to entertain the notion that maybe it wasn't Karin's perceptions that were "off." Maybe the house was "off."