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Haunted House
by Kathleen Volk Miller
reading time

I grew up in a haunted house.   We would each hear thumping behind our headboards; my sister would sit up in bed laughing in a strange voice; the two of us would wake in our four-poster twin beds as they shook. People sometimes came out of our closet, talking to one another.

When my parents finally acknowledged that we were not having nightmares, there were not raccoons in the chimney, my father threw away the Oujia board, and no one said much.   

The back door slammed open on its own; the dog barked at nothing we could see; we stayed. 

Catholics, we had the house blessed; the priest went room to room, praying in Latin, sprinkling our walls and rugs and furniture with holy water as his arm slashed the air. 

That night, the thumping rocked the house.  I was nearly 12, and I was just so sad that it didn’t work.  During the thumping---that’s what we called it then and what we still call it—“the thumping”—each time I’d think---“This is the worst time.”  I still think this time really was.  The thumping kept thumping, then, it stopped.
 I remember the silence.  Then my father said, “I think it’s over now.”

So, when the Virgin Mary’s face appeared over mine in the mirror as I cried, when Jesus appeared at the foot of our beds when my sister was sick with pneumonia, when I woke up in a hospital croup tent and there was Jesus again, when crayon scribbles appeared on the walls and the ringer was always shut off on the phone, and I later found out children had died in a fire in my first-ever apartment, and when lights dim in series of three, and channels change on the television, and on, and on, I’ve been able to shrug.

This acceptance of the unexplainable inured in me was little help when my oldest brother died of a brain aneurism, suddenly, stunningly, while watching a Monday night football game at a local pub.   We were told that he stood up from his stool, said, “I need help,” and fell over, brain dead.

This acknowledgment that the ground we walk on is tissue paper was little help when my husband died from a cancer that was not supposed to kill him.  The nuns, the priests, the holy medals, the prayers, had not worked.  But, belief in the window between worlds was necessary the morning after he died, when I woke to the feeling of his hand in my hand, warmth, pressure, and realization that he had died was coupled with the acknowledgement that he wasn’t actually gone.

The coin has two sides, joy and terror co-exist.  My mother’s death on Christmas Day is not tolerable, but the yellow light, the warmth in my core when I held her and breathed her in a last time, must be what made me return to my children, watch them open gifts, put a turkey in the oven; go on.

Kathleen Volk Miller is an Associate Teaching Professor of English, co-editor of Painted Bride Quarterly and co-director of the Drexel Publishing Group.  She writes fiction, personal essays, and articles. She has spoken at various conferences on marketing, publishing online, working with student interns, and teaching with technology.
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Comments panel
David Volk 3.22.2011
You are gooder with words than me, sis. I am moved, charmed, and a little haunted.
Allie_Jay 4.15.2011
Haunting, indeed, and lovely.
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