Friday, October 4, 2013


…it was only one glass, one large Bordeaux glass of red Sangria, sweet, and fruity, and full of tiny chunks of orange, lemon, and ripe green apple. Surely, one glass off Sangria could NOT have provoked those feelings – hallucinated that touch, those cold, bony fingers, moving surely, bit by bit, as if planned, driven almost, up my naked legs, wanting, searching as if in need of something, somebody to hold onto. Trust me, I was not under the influence of alcohol. Not to that degree, anyway. Not to the legal level of intoxication to have created those kind of delusions?


I was new. New to the City. New to Los Angeles. New to my job -- that monotonous, repetitious, clock in-and-clock out profession -- standing at my large, white, counter, located in the basement of that huge metropolitan hospital, without windows, centrifuging, swirling, tipping and twirling, vial-after-vial of blood, and blood, and more blood. Wearing my white, starched laboratory jacket (very Dr. Kildare), notating results, entering ‘within normal limits’, documenting my ‘two cents’ onto lab chits, and lab reports, and lab results…ad nauseum. Argh!

Francine warned me. From the beginning. My longtime friend from Ventura. She entered the apartment tentative, hesitantly and instantly began twitching. Me, dragging her, pulling her further into the living room, excited beyond words at sharing my first apartment in Los Angeles with her. She urged me, pleaded, please…“before you move into this place, please, please, please…clear out the energy of the spirit who lives here. A woman is trapped in this hellish purgatory, and she's unable to let go…”


I scoffed, I laughed, I made fun of her ridiculous premonitions. Francine could be dramatic! Very! She proclaimed herself a ‘witch.’ A good witch, of course, but nevertheless. She performed séances with candles positioned circularly around us.  She channeled spirits forth. Frames rattled, pictures fell, and candles extinguished themselves without the benefit of a breath or a wind or the barest of breezes. She flirted, (far too much, for my taste) with Mr. Ouija Board, sniffing out answers, searching affirmations, and digging up assents. She was meticulous, a divine creature, with a hard, soft spot for black men, a nurturer’s soul for bruised fruit, particularly angels with broken wings, yet she lacked that same love and grace she gave so freely to others, toward herself. Francine’s lips were large and plump and outlined in black. Perfectly. She colored well within the lines using a bevy of robust fall colors: brown, burnt orange, deep-set purple, and red. She smelled of the exotic, a flower out of place, a bit of jasmine, sage, a torrent of musk skillfully entertwined so as not to suspect…what?   

I loved the apartment. At first sight. Well, actually it was only a studio. The Russian elderly renting the space roamed the grounds wearing humongous pink curlers, piled high, tucked tightly under a restrictive band of a flimsy black hairnet. She wore slippers, I recall, the color being white. They were fluffy, always clean, with a band of cotton stretched across the arch of her porcelain-white foot. Each time she took a step, they would slosh. Slush, slosh, slush, slosh… Her smile was welcoming.  Contagious.

In addition, the price was right!

I took it!

The studio was unfurnished and barren. Recently renovated, it had nice, shiny, hardwood floors and nostalgic crown molding connecting the high, loft like beam ceilings. California sunlight drenched the room, bleeding in from the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Freshly painted a bone-color, the space was immaculate and smelled of Mr. Clean. My possessions were few. Blankets, a few flattened pillows, a sleeping bag (one I purchased at the Navy exchange in Port Hueneme) and some sheets, all neatly organized and piled in layers against the wall.

Slightly woozy, a bit fuzzy that night, but not drunk --I was NOT wasted! – I climbed the several stairs, the outside cement stairwell lining the three-story house. I went through my evening rituals, as usual. I was militarily trained, used to a routine; the brushing of my teeth, the flush of the toilet, the lying down of my sleeping bag in the main room creating a cushiony foundation against the hard wooden surface of the floor. Next, several layers of sheets; sheets collected and bought on the cheap from fast, quick Latino shops around the area, and finally my blankets. My pillows, the ones I took from base had been with me for years, my companions, always there, alongside me. Okay, I admit it, my security blanket. I negotiated a comfortable position, one pillow tucked firmly between my legs, and gazed out the curtain less windows at a twinkling Hollywood. My Hollywood. My new home. A kaleidoscope of stars and colors and hopeful dreams blended in the street sounds below, the distant whine of a hemorrhaged siren jackknifed my reverie. The jagged limbs from a Maple tree scratched against the surface of one of the giant windows. I ignored it, I ignored it all and slid into a comfortable light sleep...

Then…a stirring. Different. Unsettling. The rustling of blankets, sheets being raised, fanned and pushed off me, to the side.  I woke up. I took a moment, a brief second to do an assessment, feel, hear… where am I? Is this really happening? Did somebody break in? Then, the touch, that touch, those fingers, those cold, bony appendages working, scratching their way, clawing up my ankles to my calves and then digging into my back thighs. Definitely, this was happening. I was frozen. A panic set in.  

My mind leapt for answers. Francine! Francine pleading, saying, loudly, proprietarily with force: “Spirit, be gone!” three times, sequentially.  “Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone!”

By now, the covers and cheap blankets were off me, bunched together at my sides. My buttocks and lower back were completely exposed. I knew I had to stand. I knew I had to unlock the grip this thing had upon me. I raised myself to my elbows and crawled, military style forward until I felt the cold comfort of the wooden floor. It sobered me up. Quickly. Next, I thrashed my legs, as if in a spasm, eliminating any hold this creature had. The wails, the cries, the muted screams writhing in anguish below me as I stood, naked with only my t-shirt and underwear and screamed out into the night sky… “Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone! Spirit, be gone!” Instantly, the three windows unlatched and opened. A Twilight Zone moment. Night air flooded the space, whirling around my body, circling the room, freezing my senses.  

I dressed quickly. I ran down the cement steps, two at a time. I couldn’t get to my car fast enough. I drove to my friend’s apartment, the one who had earlier shared Sangria with me, and pounded on her door. She sat, mesmerized while I told her the details of my story. I slept that night, at her place, on her sofa. Awake. Aware. Unable to go to sleep. She kept the heat on, even during the summer months. I remember uncovering myself, but then pulling the blankets back tight, close around my neck. To this day, I rarely go uncovered. The thought still scares me. Petrifies me, actually.

I moved from that apartment several weeks later. As I carried my few belongings to the car, the landlord caught up with me and asked why? with a look of genuine concern on her face. I asked only one question. “What’s the history of that space?” She told me the truth. She told me of an elderly woman in her 80’s who had lived in the house most of her life, for many years with her husband. He died. She committed suicide in my apartment, which at the time was the attic. Her husband’s belt had been tied securely around her throat. She stood on a chair. She attached the belt to a makeshift bar and dropped. All she would have had to do to save her life…was stand up. But, she chose, not to.

“Spirit, be gone!”

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