Home Paranormal News I Believe in Ghosts – New York Times

I Believe in Ghosts – New York Times

I Believe in Ghosts – New York Times

Two years ago, faced with the rising cost of living in the greater Boston area, my family decided to put our lots in together and buy a property that could accommodate my middle sister, Kerri; my mother; and my oldest sister, Kirsten, her husband and their two children. I live in New York, but I was a part of this too, if only because of that fantasy of every kid who has grown up poor — that I would know I was successful when I could buy my mother a house.

I couldn’t, alone, afford to buy a house for her. We all bought this house together. If you live close to any major city in the United States and are not part of a family with the wealth and means to secure stable housing, chances are you’ve experienced this kind of displacement in the past decade — the kind that means that the place you know as your home does not belong to you. I have a friend from rural Tennessee who has seen even his family graveyard swept up by developers hoping to “revitalize” the holler.

During the search, my family drove farther and farther from Boston proper, to the center of the state, to look at farmhouses and estates and double-deckers. We had a weekly phone call on Sundays to discuss the finds. The primary question from my sisters and me, much to my mother’s and brother-in-law’s annoyance, was, “Is the property haunted?”

“I didn’t necessarily feel anything,” was often said. Sometimes, “No, there was definitely something watching us.” Or even, “The kids said they saw a shadow.

When we finally found the place we wanted, my family told me that the house they chose was big and open, and nobody felt anything. My sister Kerri, the historian, told us of the other uses of the land our house was built on. In the 19th century, it was an Indian reservation.

According to Kerri, Massachusetts kept relocating its Native American population farther and farther west, as white New Englanders moved from the city and set up towns in previous expanses of woods and farmland. Our house was on the land of one of these reservations, for a part of a tribe that was especially despised because it consisted of Indians and blacks. They were moved out here in the 1830s, and then even this land was taken from them by the state, with vague promises, never fulfilled, to give them financial compensation.

And so, we moved in.

For the first few weeks, it was a constant calibration of whether there was a spirit present.

“How are the kids adjusting?” I asked every time I called home.

“It’s so quiet, they say they can hear the cows in the field a half-mile away,” Kirsten said. “They think they’re talking to them at night.”

We paused on this, to take in what it might mean. Definitely something to add to the pattern of things potentially being haunted. When someone new comes to visit for the first time, one of my sisters or I will usually ask if they have ever seen a ghost. Whether the person responds with enthusiasm or annoyance is usually a good gauge of whether they’re going to enjoy hanging out with our family.

When we were younger, we tended to make friends with girls who answered too enthusiastically, who would respond to “Have you ever seen a ghost” with an earnest “Yes, and he’s looking at us right now, through the window!” This also meant that having friends over sometimes ended in tears.

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The next time I stayed at the house, though, I saw it. Or rather, her. A figure in a cloak who was sitting on the couches in the living room, which I had to pass through to use the bathroom during the night. She was bent over, her face shrouded. I couldn’t see her expression, but whatever radiated from her was something my mind registered as “benevolent” and “loving.” This did not stop me from turning around immediately, running back to my bed in the other side of the house and locking the door behind me.

For many nights, every time I slept in that room, there was an insistent knocking on the door, starting at 3 a.m.

“Kaitlyn, that is a woodpecker,” my mother said. She has no patience for the supernatural. It’s because of her that I cultivate these feelings. She used to drive from our white suburb to the black children’s bookstore three towns over for African and Caribbean folk tales. She loves ghost stories as part of our culture, but she’d never actually mess with the supernatural herself. It’s sort of like when my mother makes greens and uses Worcestershire sauce instead of ham hocks — she gave those up after too many relatives stopped eating pork in the 1970s.

My mother, through extraordinary misfortune and just general bad luck, has had to move too many times in the past 20 years. She gave up a fear of ghosts a long time ago, if she ever had one. As long as a potential home is safe and clean, she doesn’t see what the problem is. So, when I tell her I’ve seen a ghost, she responds with “Oh, come on!”

When a ghost shows up in a story, it is often a way to talk about what cannot be said, what cannot be acknowledged — whether that is a repressed desire, a family secret, an unpunished crime or a genocide that some do not want to reckon with.

There is the classic, M.R. James school of ghost stories — that they should follow the perspective of an “aristocratic and learned gentleman scholar.” Edith Wharton and Henry James loved ghost stories. A lot of theirs are about subtly felt and repressed transgressive sexual attractions, which means that I love them. Toni Morrison has a ghost in nearly every work of her fiction. She has said, “I think of ghosts and haunting as just being alert. If you are really alert, then you see the life that exists beyond the life that is on top.”

For now, we are learning to live with our ghost. Kirsten says the ghost works beside her when she’s home in the afternoons. She can hear the ghost opening and closing the children’s dresser drawers. Sometimes, she tells me, the ghost folds her laundry.

“She likes that we are a family,” I said.

During evictions past, I adopted a superstition: Wherever I move, I always leave at least one box packed. It’s an insurance against too quickly claiming a place you could just as easily lose. I’ve done the same in this house — a shoe box of old mixtapes and the detritus of adolescence. Sometimes I leave them out when I visit, and when I return, someone has always packed them away, tidied them for me.

Ms. Greenidge is the author of the novel “We Love You, Charlie Freeman” and a contributing opinion writer.

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