My mother’s ghost

I grew up mostly terrified of my own fear. I was 10-years-old when my mother died. I just knew that it would happen.

She was sick in the hospital and I was no longer allowed to visit her. Every day I’d come home after school and open the door hoping that maybe my father would tell me that mommy was coming home. Instead, it was just me and dad. He’d let me eat dinner on a small folded table in front of the TV and I could have as much ice cream as I wanted. Then he’d tuck me into bed, my cat Lily curled up in a furry ball at the bottom of my feet.

He always used to read me stories at bedtime and put on funny voices for each character. Their voices sounded different lately. I made him stay with me until I fell asleep.

One night when I came home, I saw him sitting in my old rocking chair.

“Alex, I have to tell you something,” he said.

“Mom died,” I blurted out.

He wrapped his arms around me but I couldn’t feel them.

Mom promised me she’d be better by Halloween and that she’d dress up like a witch and hand out candy to give to my neighbors. It was just before Thanksgiving, though, and I realized grown-ups don’t always tell the truth. I saw my dad cry and suddenly I grew very scared.

“Don’t worry Teddy,” I told my stuffed bear as I lay in bed that night. “She’ll be back. Everything will be ok.”

Would it be ok? I didn’t feel sadness but I felt terror. I couldn’t sit still. I followed my dad around the house and I couldn’t be left in a room alone.

Part of me wondered if she’d come back as a ghost. The more I needed her, the more I feared she could hear my cries for help and that she’d come back to give me a chilly embrace. Would she be paIe and bald with a glazed over look in her eyes? I told myself if she did return I wouldn’t be able to look at her face.

Almost four years ago to this day, she did come back to visit me — and she was not alone.

On October 31, 2013, after being pushed out of the overpriced Loom loft building in Bushwick, I moved to an apartment on Catalpa Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.

The apartment was decorated with kooky gnomes and tiny pumpkins. My extremely lovely gay roommate had a decorating obsession and made the entire house smell like fall with an array of pumpkin and cinnamon spiced candles. My ornately furnished room was adjacent to the dining room in my own half of the apartment. Instead of a door I had dramatic red velvet curtains.

I lived on a narrow street across from a Catholic church. It was very quiet except for the “ding dong,” of the low pitched bell that rang from the church a few times per day. Right beneath my apartment was an Islamic funeral home. A butcher shop sat right next to it.

Once the movers dropped all my stuff off, rather than open boxes I decided to go party. It was Halloween, after all. Part of me felt like I should stay home to settle in. But I couldn’t. Not yet — not in this unfamiliar place.

I stayed out drinking till 3. Once I finally managed to get into thee apt after fuddling with my new keys for 10 minutes, I fell asleep in my clothes.

At 6am my eyes shot open and I felt a sense of terror wash over me. I was wide awake yet completely paralyzed.

Hovering in the right corner of my room I saw a Dutch or Polish looking man staring at me intensely with icy blue eyes. He was wearing light blue denim jeans, a green sweater, and had short blonde bangs. He sat with one knee folded — his watchful gaze unwavering.

In the center of my room I saw just the upper half of an emaciated woman’s body. She had tan skin, straight brown hair, and she wore a long white nightgown and a white shawl. “Help me! Help me!” she screamed. One hand was clenched in a fist near her belly and she buckled over while letting out a chorus of deeply painful cries.

I then found myself distracted by what appeared to be a giant gray cloud of smoke, spiraling like a black hole, on the left side of my room.

Suddenly — a voiceless voice as loud as a scream but as quiet a thought- shot through my head as though it were coming from me.

“Just be strong and love yourself!” it exclaimed.

I was able to move my body after that. What the fuuuckk, I thought to myself in utter amazement.

While some might say it was just a nightmare, there was no way that it could have been just that. I’ve suffered from the sleep condition sleep paralysis a few times in my life but this was different — too real.

It was with confidence that I somehow knew the voice was my mother. I felt she didn’t show herself because she knew I’d be too afraid to look at her after all these years.

Maybe she came to protect me from the other ghosts in my house — which was most definitely haunted.

Or maybe she visited me to tell me words I needed to hear.

At the time my romantic relationship was struggling, I had trouble looking at my own reflection after a health issue with my eyes left me scarred for life, and I was fighting a lot with my stepmom whose harsh and critical words left me feeling unlovable.

After that night in my house I felt like a small child again. Hearing my mother’s voice was mostly a positive experience, though I often speak aloud when I’m by myself and tell her I love her but I’m too afraid to see her. (If you’re reading this mom — that’s still the case!)

I’m not sure why the other ghosts made themselves known to me.

The female ghost seemed like she needed help desperately and I could viscerally feel her pain.

The male ghost’s stare felt like an aggressive invasion of privacy. He looked at me the way I imagine a psychopathic rapist would once they’ve found a target.

I slept with the lights on. Sometimes I would call my neighbor Ben in the middle of the night and ask him if I could sleep on his big couch and cuddle with his dog.

I even took a trip to the witch shop Catland in Bushwick where I was instructed to burn some sage. I saged the place every night before bed.

I didn’t see anything else in the house after that night but I felt like I was being watched constantly. I heard what sounded like muffled voices and footsteps where they shouldn’t have been coming from. I moved out a few months later.

Every time I find out someone lives in Ridgewood I jokingly ask them if their house is haunted — to my surprise a majority of them actually say yes.

I think that spirits, or inter-dimensional travelers, or whatever they may be, inhabit certain spaces. I’m not sure if it was the funeral home or the cemeteries surrounding Ridgewood, but it seems to be a very active area.

Perhaps there are just gas leaks in the old buildings causing people to hallucinate — I’m not ruling anything out.

I also think that spirits can live on with people. I wouldn’t describe my mother as a ghost but as my own guardian angel — as cheesy as that sounds.

The voice in my head sounded like it was coming not just from her but also from me.

I still miss her sometimes but I know that she is always with me — I’d like to think she lives in love.