I went camping this last weekend with friends in Rhode Island at a Girl Scout campground called Narrow River. There was a rudimentary map of the campsite showing what was supposed to be an ancient Indian burial ground. We were all keen to see it and hiked and hiked and walked around but could not find any physical evidence of the burial ground. Finally we decided that we had probably been stepping all over it while trying to find the site.
My favorite part of camping is the blazing fire at night and drinking around the campfire while talking. That night we went to ghost stories–almost as natural as the campfire ritual. One of the campers had worked at a home for troubled teens, where the kids were shuffled in and out every four days, and there were recurring stories of teens waking up to find an elderly man in a red cardigan hovering at the foot of their beds. Besides reaching out to various teens, this ghost supposedly warned staff members if one of the kids needed help. Another of the campers had a near-death experience where her heart stopped beating after she went into anaphylactic shock from eating lobster meat. She had an out-of-body experience where she was completely unconscious but could recall everything going on around her.
I’m in love with these stories but was too shy to volunteer my own, and I think a lot of that has to do with the passage of time. When I am in the experience I fully believe in ghosts and the afterlife. It is only after that I begin to question and doubt myself, thinking perhaps it all was just coincidence. Here are my experiences:
1. I went to this really crummy grocery store in our neighborhood–one that smells of roach spray and stale air–with my sister and her boyfriend at the time. We were probably looking for BLT ingredients, a breakfast staple of ours back then, and as we walked down the produce aisle, a head of lettuce rolled out of its bin and onto the floor. OK, no problem. We put it back. We progressed into the bread aisle where a loaf of Wonder Light Italian bread falls off the rack onto the floor. We’re alone in the aisle and haven’t touched or picked up any products. At this point I made a comment like how funny is that while Kristi bent down to pick up the bread and a package of hot dog buns falls off the rack. I was completely freaked out by this and was convinced it was a ghost, but who’s ever heard of a ghost haunting a grocery store?
2. Kristi and I moved into our current apartment back in August 2002. It’s an old building that has settled and the apartment has always had a certain tilt to it. Immediately I noticed that things liked to move in the apartment right in the front area where the kitchen and bathroom are. Bottles would tip or fall, cups and glasses would upend themselves, and silverware would clatter to the floor. Many times I would just assume I had brushed against something, but when the same object had fallen two or three times in a row, I began to wonder. Kristi had been poked twice by something when there was nobody or nothing around, and one night she had a dream about an abused Latina woman who was looking at herself in the mirror in our bathroom. The strange thing, though, was our bathroom appeared pink in her dream and our bathroom was painted white in real life. Kristi knew in her dream that the bathroom was this woman’s refuge and she liked it being pink. We decided we would repaint our bathroom in pink and blue based on this dream. While getting ready to paint the bathroom, the door frame’s paint got chipped and we could see about five different layers of paint. At the base was the salmon pink Kristi had seen in her dream and the color she had picked out for the door. It might just be me, but since the bathroom’s been repainted, I don’t think things move around nearly as much.
3. When I think of my paternal grandfather, whom I loved dearly, I always associate him with the basement of his split-level family home, the one he and my grandmother scrimped and saved to buy. That was his domain with wood panelling, clown paintings on the wall, and the pleasant odor of pipe smoke–almost a thoughtful odor if such a thing exists. When my grandfather died, I was very disturbed and upset. He was a religious man and believed in an afterlife, and I worried that he had found nothing. He had no peace or rest after years of sickness. In New York City I smell cigarette smoke on a daily basis, cigar smoke every once in a while, and pipe smoke never. In the days after my grandfather died, I kept smelling pipe smoke–his pipe tobacco–though there was nobody around smoking at all. It comforted me.