Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paranormal Activity...and not the movie

Today I tweeted that the paranormal activity had returned to my house after a relatively quiet period. A couple people wanted details. These are hard to provide in 140 characters, so here we are.

The current house I live in with my husband and stepson is not the first house I've lived in with freaky, unexplainable occurrences. In fact, my first experience with the paranormal didn't happen in my own house.

Rewind to my childhood in New Jersey. I was a young adult, maybe a tween, when I had my first "encounter". This happened at my friend's house, who also happened to live next door. We were hanging out in her living room when a loud bang erupted from the kitchen. We screamed, jumped and crept (in stealth mode) into the kitchen to investigate as we were the only ones home. A mug was on the floor, shattered into pieces. My friend's mom had a rack of mugs on the wall which were used more for decoration than function. Anyway, the design was similar to a coat rack, with a knob on the end to prevent the mugs from sliding off. Someone, or something, had to physically lift the handle over the hook to remove a mug. This, of course, sent chills down our forearms. Then something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I turned and saw, coming down the three small steps, which led to the kitchen, an apparition; cloudy, mist-like and transparent. Some facial features could be made out, but nothing definitive. My friend couldn't see it, but she wasn't too far behind when I ran shrieking from the room.

Fast forward to college, my senior year, and to a house in the Fairmount area of Philadelphia I rented with three friends. First, random things started to go missing. An item of clothing here and there, a serving dish, and other miscellaneous items. We really didn't think much of it since none of us were neat freaks. My cat, Winston, would act strangely at times...as if he was following something with his eyes, something we couldn't see. Plus, there were the cold spots, but it was an old house. All of this wasn't exactly paranormal and can easily be explained. What happened next couldn't. Two of my roommates were alone in the house, hanging out in the living room and watching T.V. It was winter, the windows were closed, we didn't have a lot of foot traffic on our street and the television wasn't that loud. It was also daytime and our neighbor, whose house adjoined ours, was at work. How they explained it was that, out of nowhere, it sounded like they were smack dab in the middle of a party; several voices murmuring and a piano tinkling in the background. This freaked them out and they abandoned ship.

My parents were the next to experience something strange and unexplainable. They were in town for my graduation. I stayed at a graduation party while they went back to my house to go to bed. My roommates weren't there and they had the place to themselves. One of the cool features of this late 1800's rowhome is that the owners had modernized it with a black metal spiral staircase which ran through the center of the house, from the finished basement to the roof deck. My parents were sleeping in a room near the staircase. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, they were woken by the sound of someone going upstairs, past their floor to the third. Moments later, on the third floor, my roomate's radio turned on, but he wasn't there. Noone was.

Needless to say I was happy to move out after college! I made my way north to Portland, Maine and moved in with my parents temporarily. They had relocated to a gorgeous cape while I was in college and it took me a while to get settled in and used to the sounds the house made. There was the usual creaking and settling, especially during the bitter cold winters. Footsteps walking upstairs, when your downstairs and nobody else is home? Not normal. So I asked my mom if she had seen or heard anything. She said she wasn't surprised because the father of the family they bought the house from had died. He succumbed to cancer after a long and painful battle. Initially I was unnerved, but his spirit was harmless...still is.

A year after moving to Maine, I set out across the country and settled in Phoenix, Arizona. I lived in a series of fairly new apartments and didn't experience anything out of the oridinary (except the gypsies that lived in the complex, but that's another story). I met my future husband and we moved in together, eventually renting a house in Glendale. A few weird things happened there, but really only a few. For example, the clothes dryer would turn on by itself and my husband got his ass slapped in the kitchen (once, and not by me, I was in the bathroom and we had 2 cats at the time - I don't think they could have reached that high). It was after we were married and had relocated to Clarkdale, Arizona, when the real fun started to happen. We rented a house from the original owners (they had built the house, which was less than a decade old). We had sweeping, panoramic views of the Sedona Red Rocks from the front yard and were in the foothills of majestic Mingus Mountain. We eventually bought the house, despite it's "character".

I can't recall when the activity started exactly, but I know it was summer because the windows were closed with the air condtioning on. This is significant because we didn't have a breeze or source for a draft. My husband and I were sleeping when our bedroom door slammed shut, forcing us awake. It was daylight and we both laid there in our sleepy state looking at the door when the knob turned and the door swung open. My stepson, who was seven at the time, was living with us and I expected him to be in the doorway, but he wasn't. No one was there. His room was on the other side of the house and he was still asleep.

The door slamming thing happened every once in awhile and alternated from closet, to bathroom, to office door. Then the thermostat would go to radically high heat or extremely cold. The most memorable phenomenon happened one night when my friend was over. We were all in the living room watching TV. The house had an open layout, where there was a wall which divided the kitchen and the living room, with the dining area a large, shared space. My stepson's bedroom was off of the dining room and our two dogs were passed out on his bed. So, there we were in the living room when a shrill whistle, similar to the one I used to call the dogs, came from the kitchen. We all stared at each other with our mouths hanging open and even more so after the dogs came running out of my stepson's room and directly into the kitchen. I was convinced after that we had something unusual going on.

Now here we are back in Portland, Maine. When we first moved here, we stayed with my parents. Myself, my husband and stepson all heard the footsteps (hence the he's still harmless part). A few months later we found a house and moved in. Just like in Philadelphia, things started to go missing. Namely our silverware. First the forks, so we bought more. Then the butter knives started to disappear, so we replaced them. Then the spoons started to dwindle in number! A flurry of activity has occurred since. We live in a ranch, so the main living space is all on one floor and we only have two bedrooms - our house is compact. We have a full basement, which is used all the time, and an attic we have yet to explore. A breezeway was contructed to connect the house to a two-car garage.

One day I was getting dressed for work (my stepson was at school, my husband at work) and it was just me and the cat in the bedroom when I heard the footsteps. Someone was walking down the hallway, from the kitchen, towards my open bedroom door. I called out, thinking my husband had come home. No response. My cat heard the footsteps too and she went over to the door to see who was here. Of course the hallway was empty.

Since then we've had the basement door open on its own, the bathroom faucet turn on, and knocking on the walls. We've heard a little girl singing. Her voice drifts up through the floorboards from the basement. Usually after one of is laughing or using a sing song voice, she'll carry on after we've stopped. That's definitely one of the freakiest sounds...ever.

Over the past six months or so, things have quieted down...until today. I was home alone this morning and in the kitchen doing my usual routine. My stepson's bedroom is right off of the kitchen and since he was at a sleepover, our dog was seriously depressed, so we left the door open for him to lay on Matthew's bed. The dog had been chilling on Matthew's bed until he smelled my eggs cooking and he wandered out, nose in the air. When he realized he wasn't going to get any human food, he turned around to go back into Matthew's room. He stopped just outside the open door, crouched down low and began growling. This is something he never does and it caught me off guard. I walked up behind him and he was staring at my stepson's bed, growling and the fur on his back was standing straight up. Bullwinkle backed up against my legs and I don't know if he was trying to get away or prevent me from going into the room. Applying the standard ghost hunting techniques, I called out for a sign or a noise. Nothin happened. I stepped into the bedroom and Bullwinkle stayed behind growling. Thirty seconds or so passed before he joined me in the room. He stopped growling, hopped up on the bed and obsessively sniffed the corner of the mattress as if something had recently been there.

This whole episode was definitely strange, but I still had to get ready for work and by this point, I'm running a few minutes behind schedule. When I'm in the shower, I hear the door to the garage from the house slam shut. A distinctive sound we are familiar with. I thought my husband had stopped by the house. He hadn't. I called him later, once I got to work, to confirm. I'm not the only one to have experiences today. My husband got home after work and went to use the bathroom. He was alone in the house so he left the door open. While he was sitting on "the throne", he heard the door to the garage slam shut. The dog even ran out from the living room to see who was here, but returned moments later when there was no one to greet. A few minutes after that, the basement door, which is across the hall from the bathroom, clicks open and slowly swings until it is wide open. My husband is watching this as the hairs on his arms rise with fear.

With this sudden onset of activity, I've been thinking about any signs we might have missed and it dawned on me...just last week when I was setting the table, I made a comment about how our forks are disappearing again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Music and Emotion

The conversation I had at dinner was so special, I needed to write it down. My husband's friend was over and a conversation about movies which made us cry segued to music. My sixteen year old stepson remarked that he doesn't understand how some songs can make people cry. Practically in unison, my husband, his friend and myself said that someday he would. I explained to him that at one point in his life he will experience a traumatic moment where his heart is broken and he'll find the one song which completely captures his mood...that totally gets him. This song will be so perfect that even though it's tortuous, he will want to play it over and over again.

The adults in the room proceeded to name off their said meaningful song. Mine is Black by Pearl Jam. After a particularly angsty period of my senior year in high school, I found myself with a broken heart. The boy I confided my true feelings to (after mustering up every ounce of courage my being possessed), had not reciprocated. This, combined with the uncertainty of what my post-high school life held, turned me into a weeping zombie. Black was my heartsong.

To this day when Black comes on the radio, I always sing these last lines the loudest and they still make my voice thick with tears:

I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be the sun in somebody else's sky, but why, why, can't it be, can't it be mine...

As far as I'm concerned, Eddie Vedder and Stone Gossard are the lyrical gangsters. Black is forever woven into the patchwork quilt that is my life. Any tears spilled were worth it and I don't regret any heartbroken minute.

Do you have that "one" song and similar memory?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Mother of All Rants

It is 2011, right? For all that is going on in the world, you’d think we were back in the 1970’s. Take the current potential for a government shutdown, just the icing on a layer cake; each layer made up of one political, social and global issue after another. All of these issues have been visited before…over 30 years ago.

1) Women’s Rights - Planned Parenthood is the tipping point for the budget. Basically women’s health and if you really want to get down to the core – abortion.

Back in 1973, Roe V. Wade hit the Supreme Court and the decision, which launched women’s rights ahead decades (or so we thought), really pissed off conservative Republicans and they have never been able to get over it. Once again, in 2011, women’ rights hang in the balance.

2) Environment - On April 22, 1970, the United States celebrated the first Earth Day. Despite this progressive moment, and massive protests, the government and greedy oil companies moved ahead and began construction on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973. The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago? The result of government and greedy governments.

In the same decade where the U.S. celebrated the earth and recognized the need for more environmental protection, a partial nuclear meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant on March 28, 1979. Now, Japan is reeling from one of the top three largest nuclear disasters in the world. Fingers are already being pointed towards Tokyo Electric Power Company for their faulty oversight.

The damage to the environment, from these two most recent disasters, is incalculable. Dead, baby Bottlenose Dolphins are washing ashore in the Gulf region; many pre-term fetuses. Farmers and fishermen in Japan have had their livelihoods snuffed out practically overnight as a result of radiation contamination and fears.

3) Immigration and Labor – Citizens and legislators fought hard in the 1970’s to establish legislation which put an end to discrimination. Affirmative action and equal opportunity employment were important policies passed with hopes that our segregated history would be just that…history. Our country no longer needed to stand divided and we could move forward in a positive direction.

In 2010, Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, made national headlines when she basically declared war on the national immigration policy and tried to pass a bill which made racial profiling acceptable. Then there is the so called “Birther Movement”, which is spawned out of ignorance by people who believe President Obama was not born on U.S. soil, despite documentation being provided. Why, because he has a different sounding name and darker skin? Not since the 1970’s has our country seen so much divisiveness.

In 1975, the Mexican – American United Farm Workers walked away victorious when California required growers to collectively bargain with the elected representatives from the union. Wisconsin, as well as other states, are now re-examining, and attempting to strip away these collective bargaining rights. Workers are once again forming picket lines and protesting to keep what is rightfully theirs.

Sure there has been some progress…we have phones that think for us; beta was replaced with VHS, which was replaced with DVDs; the Berlin Wall was torn down and there have been great advancements in medicine.

Technology aside, when I examine the parallels between now and then, it’s sad to see how little progress has been made in my lifetime. The global climate (environmental, socio and political) has changed and we as a country, and as a people, have to evolve with those changes. Going backwards isn’t the answer. We certainly don’t want history to repeat itself (ie: Civil War, Hitler).

For those select few in our leadership who wish to remove funding for Planned Parenthood, maybe wait until everyone has health coverage under a national plan, with affordable access to all the services Planned Parenthood provides. Otherwise be prepared for back room abortions, self-abortions, and/or children which are unwanted and wind up burdening the system.

As a woman, I don’ think the government should have a say on when I should or should not have sex, conceive, go on birth control, or have any say over my body at all…period.

For those select few who have issues with immigrants and minorities, our founding fathers were immigrants. The Statue of Liberty is revered as a beacon of hope for a new life in a country which won't oppress and offers oppotunities. The “White America” you believe you are preserving doesn’t exist anymore. We are a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation. President Obama, who was elected by a majority, is representative of this fact. You need to stop trying to hold the country back and let our government evolve as needed.

If worker's rights are infringed upon, prepare for companies to take advantage of their employees and for unsafe working conditions to resurface. It's happened before and it can happen again.

Where the environment is concerned, I really hope history doesn’t keep repeating itself. Face it, nuclear power is bad. It’s like creating a disease without the vaccine. Maybe oil is so difficult to extract for a reason. What happens when you stick a syringe in an orange and suck the juice out? Exactly. Is oil a cooling barrier between the Earth’s core and its surface? What happens when the oil is being extracted faster than it can be replenished? It’s not just “we should” look at alternative energy sources, but we need to implement them.

Government pockets shouldn’t be so easily filled by corporations either, but that is a much longer rant and I’m running out of steam here. When I get mad and frustrated I need to write it out. Thanks to the many advances in technology, I’m able to share this on the internet, and will do so while this is still a free country.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Highs and Lows

Life is a balance, this is true. With the highs, come the lows. I've never been more reminded of that than this week, particularly yesterday. Thursday morning started off with me thinking it was Friday. I flitted about the kitchen, getting my coffee and making my son's lunch. About halfway through spreading Miracle Whip on a slice of bread did it dawn on me that is was only Thursday.

Later that morning...

I'm at work, sitting at my desk and realize it's almost April. Yes, time flies blah, blah, blah, but the month is significant because March is my remission month and marked six years of being cancer free (Thyroid Cancer). How had I let this anniversary pass by unnoticed? No sooner do I think this when I get a text message from my dear friend who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer (only two years before me and at a later stage). She sent a picture of her and her husband with their freshly shaven heads. She has never been able to declare herself cancer free since her diagnosis and is on a drug trial which causes hair loss.

Tears sprung up and I rushed to the office bathroom for a good cry. It's difficult to celebrate my good health for it was my friend's condition, which made me schedule an appointment with my doctor (after I experienced discomfort in my neck). Seeing her bald head reminded me of the reality of her situation. Now, eight years after her diagnosis, she is still fighting and has never once stopped.

Later that afternoon...

I received news that a story I entered in a flash fiction competition was the winner and will appear in an anthology being published in 2012. This news made me want to jump up and do an Irish jig in my cubicle (I refrained). By this point in the day I had a headache from the volley of emotions. The "acceptance high" carried me through the rest of the day and into the night...until I had to go online and check me sons grades to see if they had improved since the previous week.

Later that night....

His grades were worse. *sigh*

Friday, April 1st, 1:00 a.m.

I'm sure today will bring more of the same highs and lows, just in different, equally exciting combinations. Life is grand and provides great fodder, doesn't it?