One date I would like to go on with my husband is the Boston Ghost Tour. There are several but the one we’ve picked out is the one where, in the promotional brochure, there is a goulish looking woman holding a small deformed baby, perhaps? That looks as though it has been borrowed from the Mutter Museum for this photo shoot and costumed by some goth kids. The guides for this particular tour make up their own characters. Their costumes are not so much period as passably olden days looking. For this tour you hop on a bus and they take you around to haunted places in Boston and aside from the cost being the same as outfitting our kids for boots and winter jackets, the reason we probably will not go on this ghost tour is because ghost tours and me have a past, a past that is not very pretty.
I went on my first ghost tour on Nantucket. Ron and I had been together a year, but he lived in Boston and I was in school in Iowa, so our relationship had the excited, frenzied feeling of a couple enjoying a soldier’s shore leave together (minus, of course, service in the armed forces). I was never in classes when we were dating, so dating was really that: dinners at the Top of the Hub, weekends in Rockport, sangria by candlelight accompanied by tapas our future kids would spit out and declare “BESCUSTING!” It is safe to say we were, in the word of that Owl from Bambi as he discussed true love, “Twitterpated!”
But after a year of dating, my husband had not seen many of my neuroses in full force. I have quite a bit. Quirks, really. I’ve grown to embrace them cause I’m not about to let them go any time soon.
One such eccentricity is my fascination with ghosts and scary things. I kid you not, I’ve spent many a night awake while at writers retreats or in workshops, wondering what might get me when the lights went out. My blood actually ran cold when Lloyd Richards told us, during my first time at the O’Neill Theatre Center’s New Play Conference, that there’d been a sighting the night before and for all of us to respect the ghosts, that this was their home and we were their visitors. I was not warmed when during my next visit, a year later, I was housed on the very hall where Lloyd Richards had said the ghost had been seen. I was not warmed but I was not surprised because it seems many development programs like to house writers in creepy places. I remember being accepted to one program and the literary manager saying “OH! And you will love where you’ll be staying. A lovely old hotel we’ve got here in town. Maybe the ghosts will inspire you!” But actually, the thought of ghosts really just made me need to pee my pants.
So perhaps my affectation with this subject is a way to tame the beastly imagination within.
At any rate, when on Nantucket, I thought it might be FUN! to go on a ghost tour with Ron. I don’t know why. I should have known better.
Our tour guide took ghosts very seriously.
There were many children on the tour because it was us, a few other couples, and a large family group who also thought a ghost tour might be FUN! during their family reunion.
The kids tuned our guide out, though, when he told the story of a sighting on the street where we stood, and asked us how we thought this could be, how could someone dressed in old fashioned garb not be a ghost, did we think?
“She was an actor in a play?” one little girl offered.
“Maybe she just got dressed up in a costume from another play. From before,” ventured another kid.
Our tour guide leveled his eyes on this kid and said “There were not any plays that day or any other day. It was: A GHOST!”
Then he proceeded to recount Einstein’s theory of relativity and ruminations about bands of time and alternate spatial and spiritual planes—the kind of stuff my mom says “well if you explained this weird thing you have with ghosts like that, honey, it doesn’t seem AS crazy, then it’s SCIENCE.”
He lost the kids after his conspiracy theory-can-we-play-World Of Warcraft-at-your-house-cause-I-still-live-with-my-mother tact, and come dark those kids spent the rest of the tour shining their family reunion emblazoned laser lights in his beady ghost loving eyes.
The tour criss-crossed the commercial sections of the island. Nantucket is one ghosty place. It’s the sea, the ghost books I read about it explained. Or perhaps it is “something else” the tour guide intoned. Whatever the hell it was, I spent the rest of the week scared out of my ever-loving mind. I kept vigil for orbs of green and blue light. I tried drinking more than anyone else in our cottage, hoping I’d just pass out and not notice if, while sleeping, any ghosts would come around and try to wake me up—one ghost we learned about liked to have sex with people in the middle of the night. This would prove very embarrassing since Ron and I were sleeping in the middle of the living room. Passing out from too much gin and tonic began, with so little sleep in my system, to seem like a logical way to combat this problem. But, as I learned on that trip, Ron’s friends, with whom we were on vacation, can drink more than me any day of the week and this was not a good or viable plan. In the day I scanned the beaches and streets for apparitions. At night I lay next to Ron, poking him every twenty minutes or so, asking if he was awake and had he “heard anything?”
These were also my pre mommy days, where I had the habit of peeing every two or three hours at night. In my post ghost tour haze I would seriously weigh the idea of making Ron get up with me to go to the bathroom, in case any ghosts were in there near the toilet or waiting to catch my gaze in the mirror when I washed my hands. They like mirrors, those ghosts. But it was a week of hard partying, and many of those nights Ron just snored off his Knob Creek loudly beside me, as I scanned the cottage and wished the owners had invested in larger drapes for the sliding glass doors, where I was certain I could make out figures out on the porch.
By Friday I was a basket case, if my condition earlier in the week had not already deemed me so.
I spent our last night sitting up in bed, watching the local cable Nantucket access channel, wondering how the ghosts felt about the TV coverage. I thought of the nun ghost I’d read about, who would appear on the stairs of one young girls’ home when she was too late coming in from dates. I thought about the rum runner ghosts I’d read about, who apparently hang out at Nantucket’s Chicken Coop, running barrels of rum underneath people’s cars in the parking lot. I thought of the little black girl who wanted to go to school, but instead got pelted to death and now the school house –on NANTUCKET! and home to the Black Heritage Trail People [my name for them, my sisters were Park Rangers for them]—is witness to the sound of chalk writing against a blackboard and stones hitting walls. These stories are not to be confused with sightings of orbs and strange lights, which often have people calling in to the Nantucket police station, so said our guide.
Around four in the morning, Ron told me I had to go to sleep, since we were leaving on a very early Ferry back to Hyannis. Reluctantly and against my better judgment, I closed one eye and lay back. For better or for worse, Ron was in twitterpation with a girl who was obsessed with ghosts. And for some inexplicable reason, he did not run away.
Ron does not believe. He listens to my stories, all my ghost stories, waits a beat, and then says, “Kirsten, that’s just ridiculous.”
And yet I’ve watched his eyes when I rattle off my latest tale. He always waits that beat before he speaks; because some little part of us always believes, if only for minute, if only for a second. It’s a tiny little pull in your stomach. It’s that little catch of light in the corner of your eye.