A Bushwick Ghost Story

When we were shown the apartment that we are now renting, it was a disaster. There were rice and beans moldering in a pot on the stove. One bedroom had some half-empty forties in it, a stained mattress on the floor, and one of those huge toddler-killing TVs; the other was full of old-lady clothes and had a ghost of a powdery sachet scent to it. We were told that the woman who used to live in the apartment could no longer take care of herself and so she had been moved to a nursing home. We still get mail for her sometimes—Florinda Comrie, a perfectly beautiful name—usually things from the Catholic Church or old lady magazines full of things like slankets, sticks with grabby ends for pulling up socks, and mysteriously disguised sex toys because, hey, grannies want to have orgasms too.

Lately, though, I’m wondering if Florinda left so easily. Since we’ve moved into our apartment, we’ve been plagued with bad pipes. We’ve had a steam pipe burst twice in the kitchen—the same pipe—and the pipe in the bathroom burst once. Each time this has turned into an emergency where our maintenance guy has to shut down heat to the building, and we’re lucky nobody had been in the particular room when the pipe burst. This was the kind of steam heat that could flash-fry a cat or human, causing serious burns.

The situation is starting to remind me of the ghost we left in Bushwick. When Kristi and I first moved to New York, we were on a strict budget and could afford only the bare minimum in rent, which still seemed like way too much for housing. We ended up with a largish, two-bedroom railroad apartment at 393 Bushwick Avenue, right across the street from the Bushwick projects. What we noticed right away was not so much the crime, but our strange entryway. The apartment door opened up into a dining room/kitchen and bathroom, and these rooms were strangely tilted. I guess this was a common New York phenomenon because a friend at work told me, “Wait until you bake a cake.”

In the kitchen/bathroom area I noticed right away that things would tip over and move very easily. It wasn’t uncommon to be sitting in the kitchen sipping coffee and then hear a bang come from the bathroom. I’d go in and find all the shampoo and conditioner bottles tipped over or that the toothpaste had fallen off the sink. I always attributed this to the strange tilt of the front two rooms in the apartment. Sometimes the cats would come into the kitchen and just stare transfixed at the front door, as if they saw something there, and they would meow at nothing.

Our old kitchen on 393 Bushwick Avenue.

Once, not long after we moved in, two NYPD cops came to the door looking for the man who used to live there. They showed me his picture and gave me his name and asked me a lot of questions about our next-door neighbor, a skinny gay guy studying to be a teacher, who so did not fit the description of who they were looking for. After that, I noticed these large dents on the outside of our front door, as if somebody had been hammering on it, trying to beat the door down in order to get in. It really made me wonder who had lived there before us.

So things continued to move around in the front rooms of our apartment, especially if me or my sister were agitated, but I blamed this on the tilt and the idea that once something starts to go wrong everything goes wrong. And then something really scary happened. Kristi had gone home to visit my family in Iowa, and I was staying in the apartment all by myself. I stayed up until midnight, and then went to bed. There was nothing unusual about this—it was my typical workday routine. I was lying in bed about to drift off to sleep when I heard footsteps above me from the ceiling. Our apartment was on the top floor, but there was access to the roof from a skylight in the stairwell, so I thought it was one of the neighbors. A little annoying, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

I turned over and tried to sleep again, but then I heard a woman screaming, “Stop it! Stop it! Don’t come near me!” I really freaked out and ran out to the stairwell to see what in the hell was going on. There was nothing there. I walked over to the skylight that allowed access to the roof and saw that it was closed and padlocked. Once I was back in the apartment, I piled chairs and every other bit of available furniture in front of the door. In the morning I laughed at myself and chalked the whole thing up to an overactive imagination.

It was after Kristi got poked by the ghost that we realized we had something going on in the apartment. We were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy in our kitchen when Kristi said, “Ow!” and started looking around.

“What?” I asked.

She said something poked her and thought it was one of the cats, but they were nowhere around.

Soon after that, Kristi had a dream. She said that in the dream she was an abused Latina woman, and she went into our bathroom where she saw herself in the mirror. The bathroom was painted a pale blue and pink, and it was her favorite room in the apartment because it locked and she could get away from the man who was abusing her. Kristi thought that this woman was our ghost, and if the bathroom was painted the same as how she remembered it, maybe the ghost wouldn’t be so upset and would stop poking and moving things.

I’m not crazy about baby blue and pink but I do love the Virgin of Guadalupe, so Kristi said she would paint the bathroom with a Virgin of Guadalupe theme. Kristi had to scrape the paint on the door frame to get down to the original wood, and she called me over to take a look shortly after she started. There, under layers and layers of white paint, she had found the original colors of the bathroom—a baby blue and pink in almost the exact shades that we had picked out for redecorating.

Kristi’s Virgin of Guadalupe mural in our bathroom at 393 Bushwick Avenue.

After Kristi painted her masterpiece, we did notice a decrease in objects moving around, but every once in a while the ghost would make her presence known, almost as if to say, “Hey guys, I’m still here!”

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