My Nonna claimed to be Catholic. Her religious practice, like many Italian-Americans, included standard routines of church on Sunday and days of holy obligation but also incorporated special prayers, rituals and beliefs that never seemed to me as though they were really sanctioned. They certainly were not taught in the Catholic schools. In truth, she was much more spiritual than religious and her practice was closer to Santeria (sans animal sacrifice) than Catholicism. Her religion was handed down to her children, but not her spiritualism. I was the one who was lucky enough to get that. Or maybe I was cursed with it? Recent events have made me wonder.
Nonna taught me many spiritual lessons before she passed away several years ago. One lesson always stood out. She told me that I, in particular or especially, could carry the cross of another if I chose to do so, but it would never be easy for me. In other words, if someone was suffering and I truly wanted to relieve their burden to some extent, I had the ability to do so, but consequences would follow. This gift should not be taken lightly. The best way to explain it is like when you agreed over the years to help your friends move out of their apartment then the next day, you can’t get up from your couch because you are so incredibly sore. It is similar to that, but worse.
Tim is a barber in my neighborhood. He has been cutting hair for almost one hundred years now. Tim knew both my grandfathers, knows both my parents, gave me my first haircut and gave my son his first haircut as well. He then proudly displayed the framed photo of the momentous event in the shop window until the sun completely faded it. Tim is more than a barber. He is a cornerstone of small community in a big city and is like family to so many people who he has known over the years.
Tim had a fairy tale marriage with his high school sweetheart. Every Saturday after the shop closed, Tim and his wife would go to church, then would go out to a dance at the Moose with a group of their close friends. Neither Tim nor his wife drank alcohol, but they loved dancing together. It was truly amazing to see them and to realize just how much both were still in love with each other. Tim’s wife would also call the barber shop, every day, just to see if he would be home on time. She never missed a call until the day finally came when she did not call. Tim did not think much about it. He closed his shop and drove home. When he came into his living room, he saw that his wife was lying on the couch with her eyes closed. “That explains it,” said Tim, “she fell asleep.” Tim started to get dinner ready and eventually decided that he had better wake his wife. When he tried to do so, he soon realized that she was not sleeping but rather, had passed away.
Early the next morning, before anyone other than Tim’s family had heard the bad news, I drove down the street to the mail box, which was directly across the street from Tim’s barber shop. I looked over and saw Tim and his adult son standing on the sidewalk in front of the shop. I thought that was odd to see him at such an early time. Nonetheless, I parked my car and walked up to say good morning to both. When I approached Tim, he didn’t say anything at first and instead, put such an incredible bear hug on me that I was certain I could feel one of my ribs getting ready to break. I did not think anyone who was almost ninety could be that strong. Tears streamed down his face and soaked the collar of my shirt. He explained, in between sobs, how he found his wife dead on the couch yesterday afternoon. Eventually I freed myself from his grip and expressed my sympathies to his son. Then I just stood there. What more could I say? Tim hugged me again and continued to cry some more. After about ten minutes, I made sure that both knew I was around to help in any way that I could and how truly sorry I was for their loss. I drove home and changed my shirt.
A couple of days later, my father and I attended the funeral mass. Tim was a wreck as was expected. A few weeks later, he was back at this barber shop. He cut hair in between his sobs which, by his own admission, had not stopped since finding her dead on the couch. Every time a customer or friend came into the shop, Tim would start to tell the story of how he found her and would start to cry. It was honestly one of the most heart-wrenching sights I have ever witnessed.
And I think it is odd how we, as a people or at least as a western culture, learn about death before we ever learn how to live. In early childhood, we learn about the finality of death. We learn that death is not reversible or curable. We learn that whatever is alive will one day die and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop it. Maybe some of our religious beliefs teach us that life may exist in Heaven after we die and there are some that believe that and there are some that do not. But regardless of how long we have had our understanding of death and what it all means or what our religious beliefs tell us, it doesn’t make it any easier on the person who loses someone near and dear to their heart. Especially in Tim’s case. His wife had lived a long life. She enjoyed a story book marriage, she raised beautiful children, loved grand-children and had survived breast cancer about a decade before her passing. Her death was natural and peaceful. She died in her sleep at her home, not hooked up to machines in a sterile hospital. We should all be as fortunate as she in that regard. And Tim truly believed she was in Heaven. And he truly believes that now she is his angel. Still, nothing made her passing any easier for him.
I wanted to help Tim. I wanted to do more than just sending flowers to a funeral home. I wanted to help carry his cross and I was sincere about that. All I can say is that I hope my efforts were somewhat successful in helping to relieve him of some pain because I have never experienced two weeks of pure terror like I experienced in the days that followed.
I remembered what my Nonna had said and what she had taught me. One evening when I decided that I was serious about this endeavor, I lit my candles. I said a few prayers. I asked God to give me the opportunity to help carry Tim’s cross. Soon thereafter, ShowTime.
At first, events were just a bit odd. I was talking to my boss one evening around 10:00PM. We were working on a big project and when these work situations occurred, I often worked late hours and long days from my home office. As I was talking to my boss, I heard a phone ring.
“Did you hear that?” I said.
“Yeah, sounds like a phone. Did you get a new cell phone or something?”
“No.” I looked out my windows to my next-door neighbor’s yard to see if she was outside and if it was her phone ringing. Negative on both as the ringing continued.
“Where are you?” asked my boss.
“I am in my house. That ringing sounds like it is coming from my living room.”
“OK, stay on the phone with me. Check it out. If something happens, I will hang up and call 9-1-1 for you.”
“OK,” I said as I slowly started to walk downstairs. The ringing continued for almost a minute. Eventually it stopped. I found the culprit. It was not a person in my living room, but rather, it was my I-pod. My I-pod that is not set up to be a phone in the least. It had never rung like a phone before. It has not done so since. Odd, I thought. But it was a sign of things to come. I went back to work.
A couple of days later, I was doing laundry. The washer and dryer are in my basement. My basement has been remodeled into a game room which includes a nice new bathroom. I rarely, if ever, use the bathroom in the basement. I live by myself and I just use the bathroom closer to my bedroom and home office. As I was walking past the game room bathroom, something caught my eye. I set down the laundry basket and opened the door to see that one of the hooks used to hang a shower curtain was sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor. That is strange, I thought to myself. Maybe the last time I was cleaning the bathroom, I knocked it off the shower curtain and did not notice it until now? Maybe that explains it…maybe? I bent down and picked it up. It was warm. Almost hot, but not quite. I set it down on the sink then went to the shower curtain to see where it had come from. To my dismay, all the hooks were accounted for and none were missing. Apparently, an extra hook for a shower curtain had just appeared and presented on the middle of the bathroom floor.
“Seriously, how the Hell did I just gain an extra curtain hook?” Oh well, at least now I have an extra in case one breaks or I lose one or something.
About this time, I started to have sleep problems. Actually, I was having more of a something-keeps-waking-me-up-problem. Every night, though at different times, I would hear what sounded like footsteps coming at me and they were fast, like a child who was speeding up to jump into the high bed of a sleeping parent. But they were heavier than that of a child. And thankfully, there was no jumping. They just stopped short of my bed. But enough to wake me. Every night this happened. It was frightening to say the least. I swore at the footsteps constantly but to no avail.
Then the odd, weird events took a turn for the worst. One evening, I was again working late and again talking to my boss on the phone. It was around 10:30PM or so. I had both monitors running on my computer and the floor of my home office was covered with papers that were spread out. As I was talking to my boss, a bug flew onto one of my monitors. It was bigger than a gnat and smaller than a mosquito. It was about the size of one of those creepy ants with wings, but I had never seen anything like it before. I flicked my monitor with hand and was pretty sure that I had got it. I kept talking to my boss. About ten seconds later, it was back or another one had landed. Not exactly sure. But thinking that maybe I missed the first time, I rolled up a piece of scrap paper and swatted it from my monitor. I check the rolled-up paper. Sure enough, I smashed it this time, no doubt. I continued to talk to my boss. About thirty seconds later, three more appeared on my monitor.
“What the hell? Where are these bugs coming from?” I said out loud.
“What?” said my boss.
I reached back on my chair to retrieve my rolled-up paper swatter I threw to the floor after using it and when I went to pick it up, I noticed that there were about ten or fifteen similarly situated flying bugs on my homemade swatter. I then looked back to my computer screen…both monitors were now covered. I looked up at my ceiling fan…possibly a hundred or so in the air. I looked down at the floor…all my papers were covered with these creatures.
“Holy f#ck!ng Sh*t!” I said into the phone.
“Excuse me?” said my boss who was now quite confused.
“Never mind. I have to call you back,” I said as I hung up the phone not even waiting for his response.
If you have ever been on a trout stream to see a mayfly hatch, that is what my home office looked like. If you have never experienced a mayfly hatch, I am sure that you have been to a baseball game at night and looked up into the stadium lights to see all the bugs just flying around them. That was the state of my home office. I looked into the hallway and its light, but there was not one single bug. I looked into the bathroom which also had the light on at that time, but not one single bug was there either. Hundreds of these bugs were only in my home office and were nowhere else in my house.
“Flying-ant-poser-devil-bug creature sons of bitches,” I mumbled to myself as proceeded to make a significant homemade swatter from several pieces of rolled-up paper. While I swung wildly at this airborne spawn, I danced around the room and killed hundreds of these bugs that were on the floor and on my papers. In the end, I had won the battle. All bugs appeared to be dead. All papers were ruined and needed to be reprinted. The socks I was wearing for my death jig were wet from bug guts. I didn’t bother to launder them, I simply threw them away with the bloodied papers. That may have been the only instance in my life when I was both disgusted and grossed out while being equally terrified at the same time.
But the best was yet to come. A couple of days later, the big project I was working on was completed. I was about to use the opportunity to go to bed a little bit early to catch up on sleep if that was possible. I watched the first segment of the 10:00PM news, then went to bed. Just before I was about to fall asleep, the security system in my house started to blare. I immediately sprang from my bed. I grabbed a pistol and holster from my night stand. I turned off the alarm and listened. I did not hear anything. After about two minutes of waiting in silence, I started to turn lights on, then I went down stairs. I didn’t see anything. Nothing appeared out of place. I checked both doors on the first floor. Everything seemed fine. I reset the alarm and went back to bed.
About twenty minutes later, just as I had fallen asleep, the alarm once again blared away. Once again I jumped up, grabbed my pistol and this time, took it out of the holster. And this time, I was not waiting. I flipped lights on as I ran down my steps into my living room. Again, no sign of an intruder. No sign of windows or doors being opened. Everything appeared to be fine. I reset the alarm. I went back to bed. I could not fall asleep. So, I turned my clock radio on at a low volume and put my pistol on the nightstand and not in a holster.
About thirty minutes later it happened again. This time, however, when I went to shut off the alarm, it was flashing an indication for “Motion Detectors,” which meant some movement inside the house set off the alarm. Again, down the steps I go with a pistol. I am angry at this point. I walked into my living room methodically with deliberate pace and observation. I proceeded with my pistol drawn like I was a police officer or a soldier or just some really aggravated title attorney who was tired of being woken up by footsteps of nothing and tired of dancing on creepy bugs. But nothing in my living room was disturbed or was out of the ordinary. Windows were fine, front door was fine. Then I proceed into my dining room and damn near had a heart-attack. At that time, I had a window unit air conditioner in one of the dining room windows. I know of a friend who had one those real industrial air conditioners, like something from someplace like National Air Warehouse, but I didn’t have that. Anyways, It was secured from the inside with locking devices since it is a first floor and since I do live in the city. Additionally, in front of the air conditioner is a little stand that housed a few bottles of whiskey, gin and a decorative set of martini glasses. I figured that if someone somehow could get through locks on the air conditioner, pushing in the air conditioner would knock over all the bottles and glasses thereby setting off the glass-break on the security system.
To my amazement, the stand holding the bottles and martini glasses that used to be flush with the air conditioner had been turned away from the unit and now sat at a ninety-degree angle. I checked the air conditioner. It was still secure and hadn’t moved. And the simple laws of physics would easily make one realize that nobody outside of the house would be able to move that stand without first removing the air conditioner, which would first require removing the locks on the air conditioner which were also on the inside. Whatever force moved that stand was generated from the inside of the house. The stand being moved was what set off the motion detectors on the security system. I did not sleep that night. I put the pistol back in the holster and put it back into my nightstand. I knew it was a useless choice of weapon to protect me in this instance.
The next morning when the sun had risen, I again lit my candles. I said some prayers.
I thanked God for the opportunity to help my dear friend Tim and I hoped that in some way I was able to relieve Tim’s suffering to some extent. I then asked God if He would kindly accept this prayer as my resignation from this task. I explained that I just didn’t have anything left in me for anymore nights like the one before. I then said a prayer to my Nonna and one to St. Anthony as well, being her favorite saint.
And with that, the activity stopped. No more footsteps waking me up at night. No more bugs appearing or ancillary pieces of warm hardware on the floor. No more motion sensors being tripped or moving of furniture. For the time being, everything was again peaceful. But I will never forget those two weeks of terror that led up to that point of serenity.
A short time later, just to be safe, I went out and bought a kitten. She is a little black female kitten whom I have named Marie Laveau. Not sure if she is keeping away evil spirits or not, but at least I now have a credible source to blame disturbances on when they occur.
Wil 3 is a father, an educator and a retired college assistant basketball coach. Wil graduated from Washington and Jefferson college with a double major in Political Science and Secondary Education. Wil has worked as a teacher and curriculum developer in several school districts and post-secondary institutions. Wil is an advocate to end homelessness and currently sits as a Board Member at “Hearts of the Homeless,” a 501(c)3 non-profit and regularly volunteers at Light of Life Mission in the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pa. Prior to releasing “Heartly God?”, Wil authored several one-act plays that have been performed by various theater groups in Western Pennsylvania. Heartly God? is his first full-length novel. When not writing, Wil can be found trout fishing or on a stand-up paddle board with his son Rider and occasionally practicing law, if time permits.