Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today!
Oh how I wish he’d go away.
The woman appeared at the end of my bed. Dressed in white, her hair was curled tightly around her head; giving the appearance of a brown halo. She was scowling at me. I didn’t know who she was and was not immediately afraid. Her aspect quickly changed to a look of rage as she grabbed at something, an article of clothing I think, and threw it at me. I screamed and she disappeared. Of course, my parents quickly arrived and, of course, they saw nothing and tried to reassure me that I had been dreaming. I was probably 5 years old and I may have believed them at the time. The fact that I still remember the incident so vividly, however, speaks to something else.
A second incident taught me to keep what I was seeing to myself. We were visiting my aunt at her farmhouse in southern Michigan. It was an old house and a bathroom had been carved out of some space on the second floor. This bathroom was for guests, not family. Family used the privy out back. On this particular visit, I was allowed to use the upstairs bathroom, I think because it was pouring down rain. At any rate, as I went upstairs, I passed an unused bedroom at the head of the stairs. When I look in, I saw a man sitting on the edge of the bed. He sat looking down with his elbows on his knees and his hands crossed. He was dressed in a white T-shirt and blue boxer shorts. He looked like he had just gotten up and maybe was contemplating his first cigarette of the day. I had seen men in that pose before. I didn’t know the man, knew he wasn?t supposed to be there and I ran back downstairs to ask who the stranger was. My aunt exchanged a look with my grandmother, c’mon you know the “look” adults sometimes give each other when a child tells some fantastic story, and I was told there was no one else in the house and certainly no one in that bedroom. “But I saw him,” I persisted and so we all tramped back up the stairs to view an empty bedroom and a neatly made bed. Again ?the look? and I was reminded not to bother them in the future with my flights of fancy. I was sent on to the bathroom as they went back downstairs. Left alone, I hurried passed the room, not daring to look in as I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. I never dared go upstairs again in that house.
This is not an every day event, this seeing of ghosts and there are times when I don’t see them as much as feel their presence. A sudden coldness and rising hair on the nape of my neck inform me of their presence. Some seem unaware of my presence while others seem to look directly at me and, once, a small girl dressed in a nightgown said “ahhhhhh” as she appeared in the room, as if admonishing me for being there. I have seen, and felt, her since and while she still
seems to be aware of me, she is since silent. She inhabits the family room and hallway to a bedroom in the lower level of our house. While she is not always there, her presence is unexpectedly strong at Christmas. Her appearance at other times is sporadic and does not appear to be tied to any event. It is Christmas when you can be certain of seeing her.
I am not certain when I first read that bit of verse by Hughes Mearn. It was not the verse above, but a variant:
As I was going up the stair,
I met a man who wasn?t there!
He wasn?t there again today!
I, wish, I wish he would stay away!
Quickly memorized, I immediately understood its significance. A kindred spirit, I thought. Of Mearns himself, I know little else. Born in 1875, he published the poem in 1899 under the title Antigonish. He went on to become a prominent educator and published several books on creative writing. The reason for the verse appears to be unknown.
Popular television series aside, I have never met anyone who has regular contact with ghosts. I have met those who claim such, but it is apparent, upon talking with them, that their experience with ghosts is imagined. They are wannabes. Of ghost hunters, I have no comment other than to ask why anyone would actually try to seek out ghosts. Their cameras and electronic gadgetry leave the viewer with little proof. Those who want to believe will, those who don’t, won’t.
The unnerving aspect of ghosts is their very unpredictability. They will appear at the most inconvenient times. Said appearances are not limited to the wee hours of the morning; I have seen them in broad daylight on the street. Quite suddenly, it is there and just as suddenly, it is gone. Did I see it or not? The hair on the back of my neck says I did. The only place I have never seen or felt a ghost is in a cemetery. As to the why of ghosts, why some individuals hang around scaring the b?jesus out of people while others are content to lie respectfully in their graves, is a question I cannot answer. Nor do I understand why some people see them and others don’t.
Don’t be surprised, as you read this, that some wisp of memory might occur to you as you feel the slight chill of another?s touch. And you can run your hand over the nape of your neck to your hearts content, but it will not smooth those excited hairs until the memory leaves.