In Iowa City again, tracking down ghosts.
Sharing a house with strangers. The house comes with strange noises -- the footsteps overhead, the pipes clanging, how from my room I can hear someone turn on and off the kitchen lights (they are the old kind to which the verb "click" still rightly apply). When the doorbell rings in this house, I don't know whether it's my place to answer the door. What information could I possibly give to whomever is calling?
If I were to stay in this old house long enough, I might become accustomed to its sounds. More than two nights now I've woken in the middle of the night to the heat pipes banging. I tried earplugs before going to bed on the third night, but they did no good. When the pipes stir me from my sleep I know -- my grown conscious mind knows -- that the sound that woke me is nothing more than the pipes -- just the pipes, Sarah. (Like that.)
But then, because it is night and I am on a bed that is not mine in a room that is not mine surrounded by wood-paneled walls bearing scuff marks and scratches like cave etchings made by forgotten humans who once occupied this den, an idea that something more sinister roused me begins to seize my fragile mind. Somebody's out there. Somebody's on the other side of the den door, a door that doesn't shut, let alone lock.
In this bed that is not my bed under this comforter that smells, sometimes, faintly like dog, I lie stricken in the dark. Those are footsteps, something's just been knocked over! Whoever it is, is clumsy and cruel. I am small. I am lying on my stomach. I am nothing more than a woman.
Last week my friend Michele ventured to guess that the part of our brain that remembers must be closely associated, if not filtered through, the part of our brain that imagines. A brain scientist friend-of-a-friend confirmed that "when you image something, the area of brain overlap between imagery and real perception is pretty high." Just after I received this confirmation, Michele and I ran into each other on a small-town street as evening fell. We stood under towering bare trees to talk of memory, of imagination, and I suggested that perhaps the same part of our brain that produces longing also filters through the part that imagines, too. Yes! she said, Maybe. It was not until we parted ways that I remembered that memory + longing = nostalgia.
Here in this unfamiliar house I lie in utter terror, so paralyzed by what my brain is capable of imaging that I can't get it in my head that it's my brain doing the work of heavy breathing, somebody reaching for a weapon. Is what I am imaging a longed-for memory? I force my whole body to turn toward the door in one grand gesture. I tell myself I've worked up the nerve to answer that which knocks upon this strange den door.
But not even shadows exist. The pipes keep on with their clank and bang. As it turns out, the sketches left behind make shapes only I can see.