June 1st, 2019

free fall

Rec: "As a Teacher of Gothic Lit, I Should Have Known Better Than to Move into a Haunted House"

A friend/colleague of mine recently published a creative nonfiction piece that I finally got a chance to sit down and read, and even though only an excerpt is available online (and I've only read said excerpt so far), I adored it, and I think some of you would really enjoy it, too, so I wanted to give it a rec.

It's about life in her haunted house in rural Ohio, which burned to the ground a while back. They've recently finished repairs and returned to it with their new child, so hopefully all ghosts and portents have been laid to rest. <3 But if you enjoy the gothic mode, haunted houses, and gorgeously written, spectral Americana, I think you'll enjoy this piece as much as I did.

Here's an excerpt of the excerpt, to tantalize:

On Halloween, newly pregnant for the second time in two months, I stood on the front porch, wrangling the dog in his crocodile costume while a parade of Disney princesses and Power Rangers held out pillowcases and plastic pumpkins like Catholics awaiting Communion wafers. A six-year-old witch gazed up admiringly at the turret while I fumbled for a fun-size Snickers. “I like your house,” she said. “It reminds me of one of those fairy tale castles.”

“Me, too,” I agreed. I decided that when—or if, as I would continue to say for months to come—this baby arrived, the turret room would eventually become theirs, because what child would not love a fantasy of fortification, even if the kingdom was a shabby corner lot?

Of course, fairy tale castles nearly always conceal some species of darkness, often relating to the imprisonment and abuse of women. As I cleaned and painted in preparation for the possibility of not-Eclipse Baby, I waited for our house to reveal its obscured horrors—panicking, for instance, when I discovered a tuft of brown hair poking from a crack in a closet wall, convinced that the people who had rented the house before it was abandoned to vacancy (Russian drug dealers, we learned from a neighbor) had buried a body there. This was before I learned that Victorians often insulated their homes with horsehair. So it wasn’t haunted, then—at least, not in the way I might have imagined.

Still, hauntings happened—not those of the paranormal variety, but those that were, to the contrary, entirely ordinary: the kind sociologist Avery Gordon defines as “those singular yet repetitive instances when home becomes unfamiliar.” Haunting, Gordon writes, “alters the experience of being in time” as we come to realize that “what’s been concealed is very much alive and present.” In other words, we live amid palimpsests, the past only overwritten but never erased.

And the past indeed appeared in unlikely places, creeping out of corners and closet walls. We received mail for long-gone occupants. The doorframe of the nursery charted the heights of other people’s children.

“All houses wherein men have lived and died,” wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “are haunted houses.”
-- As a Teacher of Gothic Lit, I Should Have Known Better Than to Move into a Haunted House by Emily Waples