Throwback Thursday, Halloween Edition: The 'Something' That Scared Me Into Moving
It didn’t like children. After the birth of my first son, the unknown entity that lived in my apartment made that clear.
I’d become accustomed to knowing I’d left my keys in their usual spot by the back door, only to find them under a magazine on the coffee table. Perhaps I’d moved them and forgotten? Waking up from a lazy Sunday afternoon nap with the distinct feeling that someone had been sitting on the edge of my bed was unnerving—but after all, I’ve always had very intense, vivid dreams.
Any worries I had were smoothed over by a pre-gentrification $500 rent and the fact that whatever it was mostly kept to itself. Anyone who’s seen The Exorcist knows that such things are better left alone, so I was just fine with this unspoken arrangement.
A year passed with this truce between seen and unseen. Then, on a sunny January day, the baby I’d been nervously awaiting—three weeks past due and 36 hours of labor—was born. I brought him home from the hospital and dived into a whirlwind routine of nursing, diapers, naps, and all the other wonderful things you do when motherhood holds you in her embrace.
I went back to work when he was a mere 6-weeks-old. Up at 5 A.M. to use my breast pump. Out the door by 6:15 to drop him at daycare. I’d get back home around 6 P.M. for more nursing, and diapers, and playtime…and everything.
Exhausted. Bone tired. And since my energy had shifted to a trickle, I didn’t immediately notice that the energy in the apartment had shifted, too.
But then there were those moments where I’d put my son’s baby bathtub on the floor in the bathroom and lean over it, talking to him as I splashed warm water across his fat, golden belly. He’d gurgle and laugh with delight, and I’d laugh with him.
Despite the heater in the wall, the bathroom would grow cold. That ominous feeling that only comes when someone unpleasant is standing directly behind you would wash over me, and my son would grow quiet. Watchful. I’d see his gaze shift nervously to a spot over my shoulder, and his body would turn unnaturally still.
I’d refuse to look over my shoulder. I wouldn’t let it see me afraid.
“I love you,” I’d cheerfully tell my son, plucking him out of the tub with feigned nonchalance, wrapping him in a towel, and holding him close. “Love conquers all,” I’d say in my head, feeling the coldness and anger growing in the room, feeling the fear making my heart beat a little faster. “Darkness doesn’t enter a room when you open a door,” I’d tell myself. “Only the light moves. Only the light has power.”
Power or no, the feeling of dread would increase. My son would begin crying, and I’d start to pray a prayer I’ve known since I was a small child, “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!”
I’d say those words over and over to convince myself that whatever was in the room with me would listen and heed them.
Moving didn’t seem like an option. Rents in our neighborhood had begun to skyrocket. We barely made ends meet on my meager teacher’s salary and my husband’s income as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
One night, shortly after my son’s first birthday, I woke up just after 3 A.M. “What is that noise?” I thought. “Is it a car alarm?”
No, not an alarm. But it was familiar. I’d heard that noise before. My brain foggily recalled the sound.
“Oh, it’s the phone,” I realized. “The phone is off the hook.” And I could hear it because the annoying, stuttering tone was blaring through the apartment.
I looked over to see that my husband, always a very heavy sleeper, was snoring. My son was asleep in bed with us, too. My eyes half closed, I stumbled out of bed and into the hallway, heading to the living room. The sound grew louder as I went toward it.
We usually left the phone on the floor in the living room so that our newly walking baby couldn’t yank it off of the side table. As I walked across the dark room toward the phone, I mentally cursed whoever had had the nerve to knock the phone off the hook at 3 AM. Wait, did we have mice? Were mice big enough to move a cordless phone? Ugh.
Yet when I got to the phone, I could see through the dimness that it was still charging in its cradle. Instead, the speaker phone button had been pressed, sending the loud staccato sound through the apartment. I pressed down on the button to turn off the speaker and hang up the phone. The instant my fingers lifted into the silence, the hair on the back of my neck went up and the room went deathly cold.
I began screaming for my husband. “Somebody’s in here. Wake up!” I yelled over and over.
My husband ran into the room and flicked on the lights, his bat at the ready. “There’s someone in here, I sobbed. “They turned on the speaker phone. I think they stepped on it in the darkness.”
However, it quickly became apparent that in our tiny apartment every door and window was shut and locked. No one hiding in the closets. No one hiding in the shower, or under the bed. Still, there was no getting away from the fact that someone would have had to actually press the button down for the speaker phone to come on.
There was no going back to sleep that night. In the morning, I called my landlord.
“No one ever lasts long in there,” he remarked.
We ended up moving upstairs, and I’ve seen that those words are true. Like us, most people only last a year in there. “I’m, um, moving to Utah,” I remember one girl mumbling. I wanted to ask her about the apartment—had she seen something, or felt something, but her vague, “I just, yeah, I need to go to Utah,” told me all I needed to know.
I can only hope that whatever’s in that apartment doesn’t decide to move out, too.