Sunday, April 06, 2008

On Hauntings

Podcast. When I was five years old, we moved to an eerie, shadowy, haunted corner of a town located in the very sun-drenched and wind-whipped center of flat plains and short-grass prairie.

Our house was on the edge of Imhoff Creek, a snaky tributary of the South Canadian River, notable for its shifting sands which regularly swallowed Jeeps whole. The first summer in the house, I would see twinkling flashing lights and a thin, green glow hovering around the old farmhouse across the creek. Later that summer, the farmhouse burned to the ground.

Clowser, the original farmer, was said to have a son who disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle while flying a plane with weather instruments.

At night, our house was alive with the sound of light switches turning off and on, doorknobs turning, and curtains fluttering as though there were a strong wind, even though the windows were closed and there was no breeze. I started sleepwalking. I can't tell you how many times I awakened to find I was outside, standing in the dew-drenched grass of the front yard, or feeling my bare feet against the dark concrete of the driveway.

My mother had purchased the antique furniture that the previous owners had wanted to sell. One of the items was an amazing upright piano with ornately carved mahogany legs and lid. It was a magnet to a 5-year-old, which was not easy on my mother, whose nerves were already shattered with the noisy house, two small children, and a lingering case of postpartum depression. In desperation to put some semblance of order on the aleatory scatter of my own compositions, my mom signed me up for daily piano lessons.

It was a great idea. Learning to play the piano gave me something to focus on. Oddly, it even cured me of sleepwalking.

I started to forget we lived in a strange, little haunted corner of Norman, Oklahoma.

You'd think that as the neighborhood expanded, the farms were razed and additions with names like "Whispering Pines" and "College Park Estates" were erected, the ghostly sounds, lights, and cold breezes in the dead of summer would stop occurring. They seemed to for awhile, but it just was not meant to be. The creepy apparitions, lights, sounds, shadows reached fever pitch the summers I stayed at home and house-sat while my family traveled to Vermont to stay at "camp" -- a cabin my parents had built on 300 acres or so of land that once belonged to my ancestors who settled the land in the 1770s. As I listened to recordings by Julio Iglesias and Milton Nascimento in an attempt to drown out the creepy sounds, I wondered what had happened in that particular edge of central Oklahoma.

We were only 2 miles from the South Canadian, the site of the 1889 Land Rush. Perhaps this was a place of conflict. At the same time, it seemed quite likely that this was an ideal location for an odd little microclimate to emerge. We were, after all, between the prairie and the "crosstimbers", and the subdivision was built on a river terrace. Plains Indians lived here. I believe that perhaps they were Kiowas. They were subsequently displaced by the Shawnees and Potawatomis who were forced to live just 10 miles east of here.

A strange uneasiness grips me every time I return to my parents' house.

Neighbors' houses have come up for sale, and my parents look at me with hopeful eyes, thinking that perhaps I will purchase one and live next door. I never rule out the possibility until I go through the houses, and the creepiness hits me again. I look at my arms and see the hair stand up .... feel chills.

What do these things mean?

I realize, perhaps more than I should, that the notion of "hauntedness" is a construction, a linguistic as well as phenomenological condition. It is that state of extreme vulnerability that one should try, if possible to avoid, but of course, those who are so vulnerable are the least able to erect barriers against psychic and physical invasion. It starts when you wake up alone and you realize that there is nothing you can do. Eventually, as one grows up, one starts to learn to control the thoughts with other thoughts, and to substitute manufactured feelings for those horrifiying sensations that accompany the awareness that existence is a vast, gaping hole, with shining lights, whispers, and razor-sharp teeth at the edges of perception.

The hauntedness is something I take with me everywhere. I recognize now that everyone has his or her own measure of it. Thankfully, a frisky puppy, a brisk walk, a great round of one's favorite video game, surfing the web, or picking a fight with a relative will put some distance between one and that hauntedness.

Questions emerge. I can save them for later.