From the ages of, oh, I don’t know, 3 to 24, my brother hated me. Unresolved issues, a sprinkling of jealousy and a (now ex) wife who fanned the flames of contention with her equally fcuked-up relationship with her own little brother made for a gigantic cluster-fuck of a relationship. For years I was baffled, then sullenly resentful, then I got over it.
You can’t make people (even family) like you. Period. End of story. Fin as those wily French say. Or is it the Eye-Tal-Ians? I can’t be sure.
(Years later, thanks to my sister-in-law, we get along just fine, thankyouverymuch, to the shock, I think, of us both)
But back then, when I was a teenager and he was my current age (28), he and his shrew of a (then) wife who shared my name (first, then last) bought a house in St. Charles, not too far–maybe 5 blocks–from where I live now. The only difference is, my house is in a 70’s construction subdivision, and his house was one of the original in the town. And, because he has a penchant for the dramatic and macabre, the old house he bought wasn’t any old house.
No, not a bit. Not MY brother.
It was built in 1837 in the heart of what was then downtown St. Charles, by a builder whose wife was a member of the spiritualist movement. Her name was Caroline and she believed that she could send and receive messages from the dead. As a famous medium of her time, she held many seances in her home, including one for Mary Todd Lincoln, who came to St. Charles in hopes of communicating with her deceased husband Abe.
But no, the macabre doesn’t stop there.
Once Caroline passed away, one of her daughters picked up right where her mother had left off, conducting seances in the same house. Her daughter later married a man who was an undertaker. The house was then used as a funeral home with one of the basement rooms used as an embalming and viewing room. The name of the undertaker is still etched into the glass on the front door, my brother happily pointed out when we came to tour the house.
(To think I was happy that my own home had central air.)
My brother and his then wife bought this home in the later 1990’s when I was a teenager. Shortly after this, my brother began to travel for business, leaving the country for weeks at a time. Also around this time, my former sister-in-law asked for a divorce. Even less reason for Aaron to be home.
So, when he was gone, I was occasionally asked to house sit, which confounded me: here I was, 18 with a boyfriend, and I was asked to stay in a house ALONE without parents, by my brother who hated me? Surely, there was a catch.
Turns out there was.
For someone like me, who firmly didn’t believe in ghosts, I wasn’t scared by the rumors that the house was haunted. Sure, the chalk painting on the wall in the basement (later, I learned, was the embalming room) of a wide-eyed girl with the phrase “JUST A PURE GIRL” underneath it was a little creepy. But St. Charles is an old town and between the houses I’d been to that had passages for the escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad and all the other old weirdness, I chalked it up to nerves.
He’d bought a creepy house.
End of the ever-loving story.
One night, after I’d promised my mother that I would pop over there to water the plants and hang out so that it looked occupied and lived in, I dragged my then-boyfriend over with me. Figured we’d listen to some music, hang out without any interruptions and maybe get a chance to have The Sex.
We pulled up, parked and walked in after I unlocked the door. It was like walking into a wall of unease. All merriment, all joy, all laughter was suddenly just gone. Sucked out of the both of us, like we’d entered The Vortex of The Fun-Free Zone. I eyed him and he eyed me back. The disenchantment was mutual, but we were going to power through it. Maybe it was just nerves or something.
We walked around the house and if we’d been actors on a stage, the directions would have read “The couple walks about, trying their best to act normal.” Very awkward and highly unexpected for the both of us. I went to the CD rack to pick out a CD as I knew my brother’s collection was far better than my own, hoping, I guess that a little familiar music would still the feeling of disquiet.
We sat down on the rug in front of the stereo and began to listen to some Mazzy Star. Okay, I thought, maybe it was just a case of The Nerves. Then the phone rang. Startled beyond anything, I jumped up, my heart thudding unhappily in my chest as I realized I was sweating profusely. Better answer that, I thought as I went for the handset in the kitchen. Give the illusion that someone is home, yeah, that’s the ticket.
(my brother hates to talk on the phone, so in hindsight, this was NOT what he’d have done)
Having been somewhat of a phone aficionado for most of my life, I was shocked that I couldn’t answer it. I tried to answer it, I pushed the right buttons on his new-agey looking phone, but no one was there. On and on it rang, Tim and I looking frantically at each other like answering this fucking phone won us the right to live or die. I couldn’t manage to answer it. No way, no how.
Then, just as the phone stopped ringing, the sirens downtown began to go off. The house wasn’t super close to the police or fire department, but the sirens were loud and close. All of a sudden, I got a vision of a car wreck somewhere close where people I loved had died. Popped into my head out of the clear blue sky. My whole body was covered head to toe in goosebumps and I began to shiver uncontrollably in the warm summer air.
It was then that I knew we had to get the fuck out of there before something Really Bad happened.
There was a murderer there and I could smell his sickeningly sweet cologne right behind me with a knife and a gun and a rope and i was going to die like this, in this creepy house, there was a fire about to start oh my god a fire a fucking fire and we would be trapped, burnt to a crisp, the gas main oh my god the gas main was going to suddenly pop a leak killing us quietly while we slowly drifted off into a never-ending sleep DANGER!DANGER!DANGER! red danger, red danger!! the porch was going to collapse on us wow it must be unstable holy shit got to go got to go, killing us in a load of dusty horsehair plaster where we can’t get out and crushed, oh my god crushed the swarm of bees in my head, oh my head, oh my god, my head.
I took one look at Tim who looked back at me, both of us ashen under our summer tan, and we ran. We fucking bolted from that house as quick as we fucking could, panting and breathless. I called my mom to beg her to come and lock up after me because I couldn’t do it. My hands were too shaky to work the key into the lock.
Aaron sold the house several years later, had a couple of good laughs at my experience with the ghost, whom he claimed “hated women.” My mother, conversely, loved the ghost in that house who, apparently, loved her back. So the ghost, just like anyone else, had preferences.
It sounds so flimsy when I retell it here, because I can’t inject terror into your body like it was injected into mine. The analytical side of me says that what happened was just a stress response to being in the house of someone who didn’t like me particularly. It says it that I was feeding off the emotions of my surroundings and letting it overtake me. It says that there’s no such thing as ghosts.
The irrational, emotional side of me, though, doesn’t agree. The emotional side of me calls bullshit.
Do you believe in ghosts? Have you had anything like that happen to you?