Monday, July 5, 2010

Freaky Happenings: Believing in Spirits

(Some of my Twitter friends requested this piece, so here goes:)

It sounds slightly absurd to report this, but I am always losing my left earring. It's as if there is some strange burst of energy on that side of my body, some force constantly flicking my earring out of my ear.

I often come home to find my earring gone for good, or it falls into my lap. Trust me, my left ear-piercing is normal. There is no reason for this to happen.

The left side, in my ear, is also where I once heard a strong voice warn me (very distinctly), "Duck!"

I never use the word "duck." I know what it means, but it is not really part of my everyday vocabulary. The term "duck" (as in, "watch out and get down") seems dated, somehow.

I heard this word spoken softly but firmly in my left ear as I walked on an utterly deserted path by the side of a (strangely empty) road in Westchester County, NY.

I ignored it. What was that supposed to mean? And who could have said it? I must have imagined it. Weird.

Then I heard the voice again--more urgent, almost angry. It was a man's voice. "Duck!"

I looked up to see a battered Chevrolet speeding down the road toward me, weaving wildly. All of a sudden, a heavyset guy stuck his torso out from the backseat window. He was clutching a huge (large watermelon-sized) rock in both hands.

With a savage roar, he whipped it at my head.

I ducked.

The rock--which definitely would have killed me--whizzed over me and fell with an ominous thud on the dirt just behind my back.

So that's why I had been told to duck (and no--the guy hurling the rock at me hadn't given me this warning).

I didn't even think to duck. I just ducked. Which made little sense, because what had just happened was so odd, so uncalled-for, so insane, that I normally would have just stood there, dumbfounded, thinking, "Could this possibly be happening?"

Why would a total stranger try to kill me, some unknown young woman, by shot-putting a small boulder?

I had never really given much thought to guardian angels before hearing the command to "duck" and fatefully avoiding being hit by a large, nasty rock. But I did now.

Even so, I tend to forget about this seminal moment, or others like it. I get absorbed by my own life, my own worries.

When I was fretting about buying a house, and worrying if I'd be approved for a mortgage, I found--one day--an old greeting card lying on the center of my bedroom floor.

This card was from years ago, maybe seven or eight years. It was relatively nondescript, just a basic Hallmark-with-flowers.

The card had been signed by my late great-grandmother (I called her G.G.) It may have been the last time I saw her writing. We didn't really correspond much via mail, and she was 104 when she died, so it was impressive that she was even still signing birthday cards until the end.

I had not pulled this card out recently and looked at it. I hadn't even remembered it at all. I assume it had been jammed in an old file cabinet--and I never open my file cabinets.

But when I saw the card, I knew that G.G. was with me somehow. Watching over me. Trying to ease my mind about the mortgage. (I got my house.)

A few times after that, I came across the card again. I always put it away. It always reappeared on the floor, or my dresser.

One night this past fall, I could not sleep. I was very worried about a teacher observation scheduled for the morning. I did not feel adequately prepared for it, as I'd been so busy that I hadn't had much time to think about a specific new lesson to write.

I got up at 3 a.m. because I suddenly felt alert, awake, and driven to go to my computer and work.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. For some reason, I typed those words into Google.

Why, I am not sure. I don't teach history; I taught AP English Language (among other subjects). I hadn't been thinking about this particular historic event. But I needed strong visual images for a lesson on the interpretation of photos and political cartoons.

What I found amazed me: brilliant posters and murals filled with social commentary. Striking photographs, stark with emotion (see above: it's so harrowing, it seems unreal).

I wrote a good lesson in record time. I got an excellent observation report. (Whew!)

Then I realized the day it was. Friday the 13th. That was my great-grandmother's birthday. She always said it was a lucky day.

And she also told me once--as I interviewed her for a high school report--that her most vivid memory was watching girls jump from the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

My great-grandmother--whose real name was Elsie--was on the street that day, in the midst of the horror. She never forgot it.

When I needed a lesson, she was there for me. Again.


  1. Duckworth (you know it!)July 6, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Damn girl, you floor me every time.

    Powerful, creepy, fascinating. It's all there.

    Keep cool!


  2. One of my friends/readers told me he was most interested in the greeting card part of the story...which I never assumed would be the most interesting part, but perhaps there's a little something for everyone here. Unless it just sounds weird.

    Thanks for reading!



  3. Amazing! I believe in angels and you obviously have one that really looks out for you....awesome!

  4. Well, there are human angels, too. Thanks for all your support!



  5. Dear Elizabeth,

    The "Duck" story is worth the price of admission all by itself. It is so strange. I hope you'll consider developing it. Eudora Welty would love it. Peace,


  6. Thanks, Diane,

    I know, it's a strange story. And, for what it's worth, I seem to have a snippy guardian--quite brusque, no nonsense (from the voice I remember hearing). That plays against stereotype, too.