Week 12: Ghosts
It took me several days to realize she was dead. They all were. They’d been walking around and talking like normal people — like me, to me — but they weren’t. (Not anymore.) It almost didn’t matter anymore, though. I was more or less unpacked already and I didn’t feel like moving again. So I settled in.
I had been hired as the nanny, and it was a live-in situation. The house was an updated Victorian, but it still had an attic room that was big enough to be converted into an in-law apartment, which the family used for (I was told) a different au pair every year. This was the first year since their youngest was was born that they’d hired an American, they said, instead of bringing in a girl on gap year from Europe — Poland, Lithuania, and France they told me in the first phone interview, one nanny for each of the 3 years since Agatha was born, though later on they talked about Norway and the UK and Spain, too, and they didn’t seem to care whether I’d notice the discrepancy or not — and they said it was only because of visa issues with the last one that they’d decided to “go domestic.” They didn’t say that phrase, “go domestic” — it was just a phrase I said to my friends when we went out for drinks after my working interview, a joke on myself more than anything. It would have been rude for them to say anything like that, and they were really kind to me. I want to be clear on that point. They were really nice to me. There were 3 kids, 3-year-old Agatha, 7 year-old Nathan, and 12 year-old Nancy. It was Nancy who I first noticed was dead. I’m not sure what it was that tipped me off; she looked and sounded and acted like any other 12-year-old girl. Maybe a little grayish in her skin tone, but otherwise normal. Their parents both worked nights, which was why they needed an au pair — to care for the kids during the day when they were sleeping and to stay overnight when they were out. They said they were both stock traders who worked in foreign markets that opened and did business in the middle of the American nighttime, but of course once I knew the whole family was dead, it was obvious what they were really doing. They were out haunting.
It had been a full week since I realized they were all dead, and it somehow took me THAT LONG to realize that Agatha will *not* eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean, I don’t know if she’ll actually eat anything, or if she *can* eat anything, but I know for sure that she won’t eat PB&J. Still, sometimes the food would disappear when my back was turned or when I was out of the room…but PB&J never did. They never asked for anything in particular, though, and they never complained when I set things in front of them that they didn’t end up eating and apparently never wanted. I guess only the living really have reason to complain. It was pretty much the easiest job of all time, babysitting ghosts.
(It turned out she was allergic to peanuts. That’s how she died. No wonder Agatha wouldn’t eat PB&J.)
It was after seven months of full-time nannying — I secretly referred to myself as “Ghost Nanny” and occasionally wrote mental TV show pitches for a show based on my experiences (but of course never actually wrote anything down) — that I started having weird dreams. In my dreams, I would accidentally poison myself with food that hadn’t hurt the kids (of course), or jump from a bridge while I was halfway across, or stab myself in the gut while cleaning a knife. I died in every one. The weirdest part was that I was happy about it. In every instance, the dream continued with me basically just staying at my job, taking care of the kids indoors during the day and trading out the increasingly hollow trips to bars and clubs with friends at night, for haunting. I dreamed myself being more and more satisfied with giving the kids the “normal childhood” they had been experiencing for who knows how many years in a row already; dreamed myself meeting new people and learning their stories through close observation, caring for them as I would characters in a book, without them knowing I was there; dreamed myself feeling free of the anxiety of death. It’s hard to fear something that’s already happened. I don’t know if it was the influence of the house as a mysterious spiritual force, or wishing to be a more permanent part of the genuine family feeling my employers clearly had, or a secret wish for death on my part, but I am absolutely certain that the dreams — wherever they came from — played a part in what happened next.
The vertigo started about two weeks after the dreams had, and while it never got worse, it did gradually become constant. The dreams were eventually the only place where I *wasn’t* dizzy, and the more relieved I became by them when I was asleep, the more paranoid I was about them when I was awake. I was very, very careful with knives. I stopped eating full meals most of the time, enough that I finally lost those pesky ten pounds that everyone’s always trying to lose. I refused to cross bridges anymore, just in case I would jump or fall off them. What I didn’t think to do was avoid the stairs. The family’s Victorian had been updated to include the sort of altered front foyer room that has a second floor landing and a two-story entryway. The kids’ rooms were all upstairs, and of course my quarters were in the attic apartment. I’d gone up and down the stairs every day without any trouble for nine months at that point, despite that they were narrow and steep, and this particular day was no different. But somehow, right as I reached the landing and began to cross it toward Nathan’s room, the vertigo hit worse than usual, and that’s how I fell. Right over the bannister and onto my back on the floor below. I know what I’ve said, but I wasn’t suicidal. My dreams may have been, but I am not just dreams. The true wish to die came after that. Much later, after the medically induced coma that kept me alive while my brain was swollen, and after I’d woken up to hear that I’d never walk again, or hug another person normally, or make any more PB&Js. It wasn’t until after the denial had worn off, and the sweet, acute pain of missing the kids had settled in. I wonder what their other nannies are doing right now. I understand why their parents could only hire au pairs for a year at a time — the kids obviously never age, never WILL age, which would have been so noticeable that even the most discrete nanny wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from asking about it — but I never understood before how much, how desperately, those other young women must have wanted to stay. They must have pleaded with the parents. They must have cried and begged. And they must have been turned away. The entire rest of the world, the rest of their lives, must have become a kind of inescapable rehab clinic for them. Reminding them that they had other things to live for. Reminding them that an addiction to death is unhealthy, that it’s best for us to not know when our times are coming, or at least to not think about it too much. Reminding them that their job was to build a family of their own, not to attach themselves to this one. I wonder if they wished too that their whole newly made families would die together in a fire or a train accident, so they could live their ghost lives together the way OUR family did. (Agatha had been the oldest once, you know. She died before Nancy was even born. The rest of the family had died all together, but Agatha had been a ghost haunting them for years before that. I figured it out, eventually, and then Nancy confirmed it a week before my accident. That’s how I know it’s possible to go back, to be together in the afterlife even if you didn’t exactly die together. I wonder if the other nannies figured that out.) Anyway, I won’t ever know what those other nannies felt or feel. I will never make a new family. I will never be rehabilitated. I will never slowly learn to forget. I will have nothing but this the rest of my life, this bed, these sheets that I can barely feel constricting my chest, these fingers that can’t grasp or make sense of anything anymore, and this need to tell and tell and tell what happened and ask and ask and ask for someone to put me out of this misery. Please, please, release me. Before I get used to this. Before my soul becomes crippled, too, and I can’t remember what it was like to go up and down stairs or make sandwiches or fall into bed at night. Before my ghost is useless to them, to my unchanging, undying family, I need you to help me to die. Please help.
This was a really solid week for both of us.
This might have been, at the time, my favorite song to date. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do and going through different versions. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do early in the week — which is usually a good sign, but it wasn’t until some late-night recording with Drew that everything fell into place.
It’s meant to be a bit ambiguous; perhaps it’s about someone who is haunted by the ghost of someone past, or someone haunted by the memories of a relationship. The line “pictures of you reappear on the wall” could be a legitimately creepy sign of a haunting, or simply the protagonist having a mental breakdown.