I was pretty sure my apartment was haunted for a week.
As an introvert with strange feelings about emotional safety, I hate the idea of other people being in the place where I live. Obviously, I don't mind friends and family, but I don't want strangers and their leavings in my place. I don't want them looking at my things and polluting up my air with their stupid breath and their ugly and sad thoughts. Living in the world is psychologically taxing to me, and I need a place that feels clear and safe to relax in after work. It is a fragile ecosystem that can easily be disrupted. I recall having a plumber in my apartment last year and looking forlornly down at the perfect dirty shoe print he had left on my vintage white crocheted bathroom rug. Invader.
After the chaos of moving settled, I began to notice the little calling cards left by the prior owner of my apartment. Yes, this late 60s dream palace is a condo, and rather palatial by the standards of midtown New York. I began to piece together the clues that the prior inhabitant was a woman, and an old one. In drawers, I noticed errant curler pins that haven't been in stores for decades, ones that looked exactly like the ones my great-grandmother would stick in her rollers in front of the tv on a Sunday night. Once, I found a prescription pill previously lost forever under the bathroom vanity. Worst of all was when I pulled the stopper out of the bathroom sink and found it was attached to hair. THE HAIR OF ANOTHER PERSON. I reeled in horror and disgust, considered complaining to my landlord, but ultimately stuffed it away with the other terrible experiences of my life. I later poured an aggressive amount of Drano into the hole.
The hole in the sink, not the one in my sense of peace and placidity.
It was in this atmosphere of discomfort that I met my neighbors, also elderly, who expressed relief that the apartment had been rented to someone so reasonable looking as my self. "It was a real bad situation in there," Rita said as she hooked a thumb towards my door. I nodded in bland sympathy, Yeah, I hate bad situations too, and didn't ask questions because I didn't want to know. "She was real sick," R continued. "Real sick." I looked into my darkened apartment. "And she must've smoked three packs a day." Fucking really? I thought of my bathroom closet, which had been missed in the repainting that followed my landlord's recent purchase. The dank and hideous cubbyhole smelled like a combination of mothballs and smoke, with remnants of spilled bath products staining the walls. I had already repainted it myself in an emphatic turquoise to kill the scent and appearance.
That night, the furnace turned on by itself every two hours, from midnight to 6 am. It was 65 degrees outside, and each time I heard the jet engine sound begin to crank into gear, I dragged my limp body from the bed and angrily held the "down" button until it said 40 degrees.
"It's her," I thought in my sleep-addled state, which is always 80% more delusional and superstitious than my waking self. "It's the ghost of the bitch who lived here, angry that I'm inhabiting the space she died in." Oh, I had already assumed she died in here. She was old and sick and now she's not here. What other conclusions were there?
"Maybe she didn't die," my mom suggested hopefully.
"Oh right, she's probably just on a cruise," I sneered.
Of course she had drawn her last rattling breaths in the space now occupied by my bed. Of course she had lain in here for days in the middle place between life and death, sweating and waxy, dreaming of her youth, alone and uncalled on and increasingly distressed, permanently staining the spiritual parcel with the confusion and ugliness of the end of an unremarkable life.
I mean, what else?
Turns out, I guess she just moved to Dallas. That's what the landlord told me. Maybe my mom paid him to say that, but I believe it, and the furnace doesn't act by itself anymore. That was just a problem with the thermostat. I've thrown out all of her old pins and hairs and pills, and I've disinfected the place to my liking, and I haven't had any dreams of half woman-half demons in curlers rocking in chairs in my bedroom or anything. I think the place is clean.
I think I just heard a sound in my bedroom.