Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Casper, the friendly roommate

I love ghost stories. Not horror flicks, or gory slasher movies. But stories about people who have moved on beyond this mortal state, and are yearning to maintain some sort of connection with life, and the loved ones they left behind. Or stories about people who can't seem to make peace with death. Like "The Sixth Sense", or "The Others." If you haven't seen either one, and you like ghost stories, I recommend them. Especially "The Others". It will tug at your heartstrings. And scare you just a little.

Do I  believe in ghosts? This, for me, is a tough question to answer. The best I can come up with is, "I don't know." I really don't. I think life is incredibly mysterious, and the more I learn, the more I know I don't know. And since nobody who has ever truly left off this mortal coil has been able to come back and tell me about it, I have nothing real to base a belief on. However, I cannot discount completely the experiences I, and others, have had that cannot be readily explained by modern science. At least to my satisfaction. So, do I believe in ghosts? I don't know. I really don't.

I have had a few experiences in my life that could be called ghost stories. I wasn't drinking at the time, so they weren't the hallucinations of an alcoholic stupor. And most of the strange happenings at my apartment in Salt Lake City took place during daylight hours, while I was awake, so they can't be blamed on that weird half-sleep state that seems so conducive to other-worldly visits. I love relating these stories to my children and seeing their awe-struck expressions. They think I'm really brave because I didn't run screaming from my apartment. The truth is, it wasn't scary at all. Just weird, and slightly disconcerting.

Way back in the last century, 1988 to be specific, I moved into an apartment all by myself. I was working in Salt Lake City at the time, as a nurse, and living by myself fulfilled a lifelong dream. I grew up in a large family, so having my own space was literally a dream come true. My first night alone, I rolled around on the living room floor, reveling in my own private heaven, soaking up the silence. It was awesome. So, so awesome. I had my own space, and I could do whatever I wanted to it, or in it. The freedom was slightly intoxicating.

Shortly after moving in, I started to notice some strange things. Odd things that were out of place, like bobby pins on the floor in front of the couch. I didn't use bobby pins, didn't even own any, so their presence in my apartment got my attention. Then, the plant I had in my window ended up on the floor of the kitchen, which meant it had traveled across the living room seemingly all by itself. I had a bubble gum machine in my apartment, a fun novelty item at the time, and a large picture of a bubble gum machine with a goldfish inside it, that I'd placed on the wall above a bookcase, with the bubble gum machine itself standing next to the bookcase. The wall was a load-bearing wall between the living room and the kitchen. One day, I came home to find that the picture had been taken down, and placed in the kitchen, on the floor, leaning against the stove. It couldn't possibly have landed there had it fallen off the wall, as it was around a corner, and seemed to be carefully placed so as not to break the glass. I put the picture back on the wall, feeling a little uneasy, but brushed it off, as my mind was not willing to accept that anybody, real or imagined, had been in my apartment and was messing with my stuff. But, when I got home the next day, there was the picture again, leaning against the stove. Weird. I put it back, and, about a week later, it was again on the floor. I was a little unnerved by this, so I had the lock changed on the door to the apartment. And, once again, came home to find the picture off the wall, leaning against the stove. I finally gave up and left it leaning against another wall in the kitchen, out of the way. And there it stayed. Whoever kept moving it apparently didn't approve of my taste in 'art'.

Then there was the stereo I had on the top shelf of the bookcase. I favored 80's pop music, and kept the station tuned to my favorite channel. One day, while I was showering, I had the music turned up loud and was rocking out, singing along to Elton John. In the middle of the song, I heard the sound of the station being changed. It sounded as if someone was turning the dial, searching for a particular station, then it stopped on rock-a-billy country music. Blech. Not my kind of music at all. But there it stayed, until I finished showering and changed it back. And I yelled out to the room, "I don't care about the picture, but leave my music alone!" There was no response, of course, but by this time, I was feeling a little annoyed. Fortunately, for me and my otherworldly visitor, the stereo stayed tuned to my chosen channel. Not sure what I would have done otherwise, as hand-to-hand combat with spirits usually doesn't turn out well for the corporeal being.

The strangest occurrence of all happened late one night, shortly after I'd climbed into bed, and was laying there contemplating the wonders of the universe. Or fantasizing about Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle. The apartment was silent, and as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the bubble gum machine rattling, as if someone was shaking it in an attempt to get a piece of gum to drop out. I stiffened, frozen in place, my heart beating rapidly, as I envisioned someone, or something, just outside my bedroom door, robbing me of my precious gumballs. The nerve. He, or she, or it, wasn't even trying to be quiet about it! I didn't dare move, as I didn't want to confront the stranger who had invaded my space. I was imagining a piece of gum being masticated by a ghost, hanging there in mid-air, teeth marks showing up on the gummy surface. And I had to giggle a little. Seriously, what kind of a ghost steals bubble gum? Casper? My fear faded as I realized that I was in no danger from this spirit. If all he wanted was bubble gum, he was welcome to it. And I peacefully drifted off to sleep, feeling safe from more sinister beings, as I had my own private ghostly security guard stationed just outside my bedroom door, happily munching on bubble gum.

A few days later, I was relating these tales to a friend, and her mother overheard our conversation. She exclaimed, in horror, "Your apartment is haunted! You can't stay there! You're not safe!" And I laughingly told her that I felt no danger present, no evil spirits haunting me, no feeling of unease whatsoever. Whoever was haunting me did not wish to do me harm, I said, and I didn't feel unsafe at all. She stared at me fearfully, and said, "Let's call your bishop. He can do an exorcism." I couldn't keep my laughter inside, which, unfortunately, just confirmed her suspicion that I was under an evil influence. I told her I didn't think Mormons believed in exorcism, nor performed it. She replied that the priesthood could, and should, be used to bless and sanctify our living spaces, making them amenable to only the best of spirits. I'm paraphrasing, as I can't remember exactly what she said, but that was the intent. Exorcise the ghost who disliked kitschy art, listened to sappy country music, and enjoyed an occasional piece of bubble gum. Who surely meant me no harm. I mean, come on, he had a point about the art, and he left my stereo alone after I yelled at him, and I didn't mind sharing my gum. I wasn't happy about the plant, and the bobby pins could have messed with the inner workings of my vacuum, if I'd ever attempted to use such an appliance, but having an otherworldly roommate wasn't anything more than a minor inconvenience. I didn't see the need to call down the powers of heaven on his head. For whatever reason, he was stuck in my apartment, and he certainly made things interesting. Never mind the fact that if I called on a bishop to come perform an exorcism, he'd be more likely to have me committed to a state facility. No, my ghost was welcome to stay. After all, it was probably I who was the intruder. In all likelihood, he was there first, and I didn't want to anger him by demanding that he leave. Just so long as he left my stereo alone! I do kind of wish he'd offered to help pay the rent. But the entertainment value of the stories he gave me were worth more than money, to be fair, and I've continued to reap the benefits in the ensuing years. I love telling people I lived in a haunted apartment. And that I had a roommate from another world!

I did consult my dad, a man who is both visionary and reasonable, and I value his opinion. His only question for me was, "How do you feel in your apartment? What does your gut say?" I felt safe, and at peace, and at home. I did not perceive any danger whatsoever. I never felt threatened, and, except for the brief moment lying in my bed listening to the bubble gum machine rattle, I was never truly frightened. He said it sounded like I had nothing to fear, and saw no reason to call for a priesthood blessing. This, from a man who highly values the priesthood and views it as actual power from heaven, was reassuring to me, and I continued to live in the apartment, sharing my space with my ghostly friend, until I met and married my husband.

To this day, I have no explanation for the strange happenings in my apartment in Salt Lake. My logical self knows that an explanation exists, but my mystical self is satisfied to believe that I lived with a ghost. A country music loving, bubble-gum chewing, art critic, who seemed to have no agenda beyond making our apartment a livable space for us both. I kind of miss him.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Temporary Insanity

My mom has brown eyes, the kind of brown that looks like melted chocolate. When I was a kid, I wished that my eyes were brown like my mom's, and I'd imagine all the ways my life would be better with brown eyes. Can't remember any of them now, but I do remember thinking, "I wish my eyes were brown like my mom's." But alas, they're not brown. They're blue. Like my dad's, sort of, only not as clear. Blue-ish, really. I realize that I could change this fact with colored contact lenses, but the expense combined with the awkwardness of actually putting my finger in my eye seem like pretty significant barriers. I'll stick with blue-ish. For now.

It is what it is. I know, as a saying that has taken on a life of its own, and become quite cliche. But if I claim that I used it before it was in vogue, will anybody believe me? 'Cause I did. I've been telling my kids for years, whenever they have expressed a desire to escape reality, "It is what it is, kids. Best get used to it, then move on." I don't see the point in wallowing in wishes. Because, as we all know, wishing something was different doesn't make it so, but instead results in discontent with things as they are. And discontent breeds ingratitude, which leads to unhappiness, and before you know it, we're all just sitting around bingeing on chocolate and whining.

The other day, my son asked me what led to my current position with regards to religion. My skepticism, agnosticism, ignosticism (not sure what this is? Wikipedia, my friend!), whatever you want to call it. For the first time, he wanted to know why I don't believe the church is true. I tried to explain it, and found myself struggling to get the words right. His teenage mind can't seem to come to terms with why I can't see church, and God, the way he does. The way I taught him to, when he was a child. And my explanation of my journey didn't give him any comfort. I looked at him with tears in my eyes, and said, "I wish I could believe it, son. I really do. It would make things so much easier."  He looked back at me uncomprehendingly, and said, "Then why can't you? If you want to, why can't you?" Sigh. Because, it is what it is. I have blue eyes, not brown. I like chocolate, not tomatoes. And I just can't believe that religion is anything but a man-made construct, intended to give purpose and comfort to human beings struggling to make sense of this thing called life. It is what it is.

I have a daughter who is gay. She came out to us this year, and revealed that she had been struggling for several years with her sexual orientation. It has been a difficult journey for her, and for us as her parents, as we've watched her try to figure out how to fit into a very heterosexual world. She looked at me one day, tears rolling down her cheeks, and said, "Mom, why can't I like boys? This is too hard. I don't want to do this anymore." My response to her? You guessed it. "It is what it is. I don't believe in God, you like girls. Life would be easier for both of us if we could conform to cultural expectations, but that's not who we are." It is what it is.

That daughter had her 23rd birthday this past summer, and to celebrate, she asked me to get a tattoo with her. Obviously, I'm not against tattoos. But I wasn't sure I was ready to add another to my collection. However, it was what she wanted. And her chosen tattoo was the saying, "It is what it is." I guess it has sunk in after all these years, huh? So, off we went to get inked. She chose her ankle; I chose, well, something else. I've always joked that I was going to tattoo "It is what it is" on my ass. I got as close to it as I could without adding insult to injury. To myself, that is. I'm sure the artist has seen his share of derriere in his life.

I went to the appointment with script in hand, and an idea in mind of how I wanted it to look. The tattoo artist spent some time redrawing my concept, and came up with a reasonable facsimile. It looked okay on paper, so I gave the go ahead. I can honestly say that what came next rivaled birth in terms of pain. I was tempted to call uncle after the first word, but I thought it might look weird having "It" stamped on my backside. This was my fourth tattoo, so I knew it would hurt, but this one inspired the utterance of previously un-uttered swears. It hurt like nothing I'd here-to-for experienced. I gritted my teeth throughout, telling myself that it would all be worth it in the end (literally), because I'd have my favorite saying stamped on my backside for the remainder of my earthly existence.

Finally, he was done. He got a mirror and showed me the finished product. At first, I thought it looked weird because it was backwards in the mirror. So my daughter took a picture with her phone and handed it to me. And then I thought it looked weird because of the swelling and blood. (Yes, tattoos bleed. Don't do it.) Then, I realized it looked weird because it was weird. The finished product looked nothing like what I'd envisioned in my mind. I'm not a fancy-pants kind of gal, and I'd wanted to keep the script simple. It wasn't simple. It had curlicues, and flourishes, and extra lines and curves throughout. And it was permanent.

I'd tattooed "It is what it is" on my ass! And it was permanent! And it looked awful. I hated it. I really and truly hated it. I was embarrassed to show it to anyone, even my husband. How was I going to go through the rest of my mortal life with this monstrosity on the back of my front?!? Sigh. It is what it is.

There is no more fitting illustration of the concept "It is what it is" than a tattoo gone horribly wrong. It is what it is, indeed. It could be removed, of course, but not without a great deal of pain (been there, done that, not going back), and an insanely large chunk of change. Might as well get used to it, accept it, and move on. The stages of grief flashed past rather quickly, and I arrived at acceptance with an ease I hadn't thought possible a few moments earlier.

I have blue eyes. I hate tomatoes. I don't believe in God. My daughter is gay. And I have an ugly tattoo. It is what it is, y'all. And I wouldn't change a thing.