I am so thankful that summer is finally here, but this morning I was kind of surprised when I looked at the calendar and saw that it was already May. April flew by, but thankfully it took the last of the chilly weather with it.
As I put my daughter down for her nap, I start to cover her up with an old baby blanket that my grandmother had made for me when I was a baby. Something about those hand-stitched roses lining the edges of the fabric feel like home, reminding me of summers of my childhood spent sitting on her living room floor, watching her hands work magic with that thread and needle. I quickly decide against using the blanket on my daughter as I wipe a bead of sweat off of my own temple with the back of my hand. Instead, I fold the blanket neatly and hang it over the railing at the foot of her crib. I turn and pull one of my grandmother’s old wall decorations out of the box on the floor and reach up to hang it on the nail on the wall across from where my daughter is now sleeping. I pull the newly-hung curtains to the side to allow a fresh summer breeze to come in through the window, carrying the scent of the former resident’s rose bushes in with it. While doing this, I notice the mail lady coming up the sidewalk. I tiptoe out of my daughter’s room and run to the door to greet her on the porch.
“You’ve got something for me?” I ask, unable to keep the excitement out of my voice.
“Yes Ma’am.” She says, handing me a plain-looking envelope.
I accidentally snatch the envelope out of her hand and then apologize immediately. “I’m sorry, I’m just a little excited. This is the first piece of mail that I’ve received at this new address. I just moved in a couple of days ago.”
The mail lady smiles patiently. “I understand. Have a nice day.” She turns and walks toward the next house.
Feeling like a little kid opening their first present on Christmas morning, I start to tear open the envelope but stop as I notice that my address is scrawled in unfamiliar handwriting on the front. This excites me, even more, when I realize that my very first piece of mail might actually be a handwritten letter.
The “We Just Got A Letter” tune from Blue’s Clues pops into my head as I sit down and tear the rest of the envelope off, to reveal a few pieces of notebook paper covered front to back with small handwriting in blue ink. Anxiously, I begin to read:
You don’t know me. Perhaps this is silly, but I feel an obligation to you that I write this. I’ve been thinking of you a lot for the past couple weeks, and there are some things that I think you need to know. If I were you, I would want to know.
I shift uncomfortably on the cement step of my front porch.
I used to live in your house. I grew up there, from 1993 until December of 2010. I drive by your house often, seeing as I take the main road to get to where I need to go. I suppose in a typical situation when a person drives by an old place from their past, their automatic instinct would be to turn their head and take a quick glance at the site where they spent so much of their childhood growing up. Well, that’s certainly not the case with me. When I drive past 17201, my eyes don’t flinch from the road in front of me. However, on the few occasions when I force myself to glance at the house, I immediately feel something staring back at me, every single time. It’s as if the home has a pair of eyes of its own, and they recognize me, too.
Like I said, there are some things that you need to know.
“Who would write such a thing,” I wonder. “And why would they want to make me feel uncomfortable here?”
In 1990, when my parents and sister (who was roughly a year old at the time) first started moving their stuff into the house, my mom noticed that crucifixes were hanging above every window and doorway inside. In a way, she found comfort in seeing them. My mother said that they made her feel safe, but my dad thought they were a little weird. Within the first few months of them living there, my mom noticed that one by one, the crosses started to disappear. She assumed that it was my dad who had been taking them down discretely because they had been making him uncomfortable. She thought it was sweet of my father to sort of take his time doing it like he was trying to be nice about it and ease the crosses away from her one at a time, so she wouldn’t be offended by their sudden absence.
One day, after the crosses had all been removed, my dad asked her where she had put them because he had favored one particular cross that had been hanging above the window in their bedroom. Of course, this upset my mother because she thought he was teasing her. Once she realized that he wasn’t, they actually searched the house for the crosses, thinking some of them might have just fallen off the wall and landed on a bed or behind the couch or something. They never did find them.
Without realizing it, I look away from the letter and walk to my car to grab my pack of cigarettes from the glove compartment. I place one between my lips with shaking fingers. Why are my fingers trembling?
After I was born, my sister and I shared the master bedroom. There would be nights when our mom would carry us to bed after we had fallen asleep on the couch and the phone would ring, or something would distract her, and she would leave the room. A few moments later, she would remember that she had forgotten to tuck us in, or that she hadn’t covered us up at all. She would return to our bedroom and stop in the doorway, confused to see that the blankets were already covering us, neatly tucked in under and around us while we were sound asleep.
My mother viewed whatever might have been in that house as harmless, or even protective, until a few years later when my sister would cry inconsolably until our mom would let us sleep in the living room. My sister would always say how she felt ill in our room like there was something bad in there. Growing up, we would spend our summers and weekends sleeping on the couch rather than in our own beds. When I was 7, my mom said she woke up in the middle of the night because she heard one of us crying and call out for her from our bedroom. Still half asleep, she got up and went into our bedroom and turned on the light, only to give herself a mini panic attack at the sight of an empty room, before remembering that my sister and I were actually on the other side of the country in Oregon visiting our uncle at that time.
We were always seeing and hearing strange things in that house. When any of us would sit in the recliner in the living room and watch TV, we would often see tall, dark shadow figures in the hallway, out of the corner of our eye. Eventually, we all just stopped sitting in that chair and started sitting on the couch or the floor so we couldn’t see into the hallway. There was a day when we were cooking dinner, and my dad just barged into the kitchen, demanding to know if any of us had just been in the hallway. We all just kind of looked at him like he was crazy, and he explained that he had just seen someone walk down the hallway and into our bedroom. He was worried that someone had broken in and been hiding in the house. Of course, neither he nor his baseball bat found anyone upon further investigation.
Whenever our cousins or friends would sleepover, we would all take turns between sleeping on the couches or on the living room floor. Our guests who were sleeping on the floor would often wake us up, scared because they heard weird noises in the basement under them. A lot of strange things happened in that basement. At one point, our cousin moved in with us, making a room down there. During his second week of staying there, he was awoken by the sound of humming and rustling bags. He started talking to my mom, assuming that the noises he was hearing were just her going through bags of dirty clothes and doing the laundry. When she didn’t respond, he got up and walked to the other side of the basement to the washing machine, only to discover that he was alone in the basement. When I was in middle school, I remember heading into the basement to toss some dirty clothes into a basket by the washer. When I got to the stairs, I froze. I looked up just in time to see the head and shoulder of a dark figure peek out from behind the furnace in the middle of the basement. Naturally, I dropped my clothes and ran like hell. From that day until the day that we moved out, I refused to go into that basement. My mom was often afraid to go in the basement alone, so she would make my dad go with her.
This strange phenomenon continued into my high school years. During my junior year of high school, I used to wake up at 5 in the morning, an hour before everyone else in the house so I could have the bathroom to myself to get ready for school. While doing this, I would usually listen to music through my headphones to help wake myself up. One particular morning when I was getting ready in front of the mirror, I started hearing a strange background noise that I knew wasn’t part of the music. I took my headphones out to see where the noise was coming from. At first, I thought the toilet was overflowing, but then I pulled back the shower curtain and discovered that the faucet in the bathtub had been turned on full pressure. Everyone else was asleep, and the knobs in the bathtub were really hard to turn. I struggled to turn the knob with both hands to shut the water off. By the time I finished applying my mascara that morning, I had convinced myself that it never happened. I mean, if whatever had the strength to turn on the old faucet in the bathtub, what else did it have the strength to do? Luckily, we didn’t live in that house long enough to find out. A couple months later, a week after my 17th birthday, we moved out.
I apologize for the length of this letter, but I assure you that this is just a brief summary of all of the strange things that have happened there in that house. At this point, you probably think that I am crazy. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe there is a reason why you read this letter to the very end. Maybe you have experienced some unexplainable things for yourself. Well, I am here to assure you that it wasn’t all in your head. Anything that you have seen or felt was very real. I also wanted to write you this letter because I have heard that the reconstruction or redecoration of any building can often trigger the activity of whatever might still be residing within it. Just know that you are not alone.
Please be careful.
I will continue to pray for you.
After reading the letter, I continue to sit on the front porch step. I stare at the traffic on the road in front of me and watch as the cars go back and forth in a hypnotic manner. I look at the pile of cigarette butts on the sidewalk in front of me and laugh out loud. I haven’t smoked this many cigarettes at one time since I was 18 years old. I am reluctant to admit that the letter definitely had me going there for a minute, but the person who took the time to write something so long and ridiculous to a stranger must have been bored, not to mention crazy. Too bad I don’t believe in that stuff.
I laugh again as I get up and go into the house to grab a water out of the fridge. I crumple up the letter and toss it into the trash can under the kitchen sink. Just as I head to the living room to sit on the couch, I hear my daughter giggling in her room. How is she awake already? I grunt, then head to check in on her. In her doorway, I freeze.
In her crib, I find my daughter laughing, cozily tucked in under my grandmother’s blanket, and pointing at the wall on the other side of the room. I turn my head and look. The wall is bare.
Where did my grandmother’s crucifix go?