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Years ago, right after I moved into my last apartment in Chicago, the one I expected to die alone in to the soundtrack of an NCIS marathon, I thought I had a ghost. Several nights a week, I would be awakened from a dead sleep by this—I don’t know how to describe it without sounding like a fucking moron, but I’ll try—vibrational energy? I’d be knocked out atop a pile of pizza boxes and magazines, then be jolted fully awake by a humming and swaying feeling in the air.
I am a dumb person who doesn’t understand building structure or architecture, but it didn’t seem like the kind of thing a fucking midrise apartment building should be doing. It was like my room was droning at me. Every morning while getting ready for work in those days, I would listen to this ridiculous show on Kiss FM hosted by a dude I’m pretty sure called himself Drex. You know what makes me wistful for a happier, simpler time? Thinking about when I could actually crack a fucking smile at prank mother-in-law calls on drive-time radio shows before living turned to hell and I had to be mad about everything all the goddamned time. You know what I listen to now? Pod Save America, on a phone I come perilously close to dropping in a toilet full of feces every single morning. Because we live in a fiery hellscape, and I don’t know what the three branches of government do exactly, I need three IPA bros to explain our crumbling democracy to me between ads for sheets and Bluetooth speakers while I wonder which of the six washcloths scattered around the shower is mine.
So early one morning Drex on Kiss FM tells this riveting story to the other hosts (you know how those shows are: pop hits interspersed with prank calls and ticket giveaways, and they feature a woman of color who is funnier than the host is, but who is forced to play sidekick, and featuring “my old pal Clown Car with the traffic and weather on the twos!”) about how he had a ghost in his place. And he knew it was a ghost because he’d come home after work and cabinets would be hanging open and shit would be rearranged, and no one else had a key to his apartment. I immediately glanced around my clothing-strewn apartment and wondered, Was that novelty Taco Bell bag filled with Corn Chex cereal on my nightstand when I left yesterday? Drex had consulted with a paranormal expert who told him that the best way to deal with a ghost is to firmly yet politely demand that they leave, because apparently ghosts have some strict moral code that they are required to adhere to. And so, the day before, when he’d gotten home from work to find yet another rearranging of his belongings, he yelled at the ghost to leave him alone, and lo and behold, IT DID. I was gobsmacked.
I was brought up in church, but taken there by people who smoked and drank and had multiple children out of wedlock. Whatever lingering side effects I have from my many years of being expected to recite the Apostles’ Creed from memory by a woman who was probably high with a cigarette in her mouth manifest themselves in this way: I’m not really religious and I am ambivalent about church except for the music, of which I have many secret playlists that I listen to on the regular, but I also don’t like to mess with “the devil.” I mean, he’s definitely not real, but just in case? I’m not fucking with a Ouija board or pretending to cast spells I don’t actually understand. I do believe ghosts can be real, especially because I have very little tolerance for “science” and like to leave inexplicable things unexplained. Life is just sexier and more mysterious when the flickering lights could be a poltergeist rather than a fluctuation in voltage or a loose cord.
Okay, so, in the wee hours of every morning, I would be jostled awake by this low-pitched hum, literally feeling my bed swaying beneath me, like I was Rose clinging to that Titanic door. My brain, molded by years of grainy exorcism videos on 20/20, immediately leaped to the conclusion that my apartment was haunted by a pissed-off demon. This was pre-cats, before I full became a spinster witch, so it wasn’t like I had a creature around who could tip me off. By the third or fourth night of this, I was sufficiently spooked, trolling Craigslist for mediums on my lunch breaks and googling “can you legally break a lease due to supernatural inhabitants.” Then I remembered Drex. And his advice to, you know, politely ask a ghost to leave. Sure, I could’ve looked up banishing spells or bought some potions from the occult store, but this is where I remind you that the lingering effects of Many Years of Bible School kept me from dabbling in any Satanry. Or perceived Satanry.
That night, I performed my usual evening routine: dinner for one consumed zombie-style over the sink; many episodes of reality television devoured with rapt attention, my face pressed against the screen; falling asleep fully clothed, with my phone in my hand. And there it was again, at two or three in the morning, a loud humming-slash-vibrating that made my bed quiver so hard I bolted upright the minute it started. I lay there massaging the sleep out of my weary eyes and suddenly remembered what Drex had said to do: acknowledge the ghost’s presence, then politely demand that he leave. Easy, right? Please pack your things and get the fuck out, sir, I have to be at work in four hours! I sat up and looked around to see if I could make out any floating Big Gulps or candy wrappers in the dim light provided by the street lamps in the alley my apartment overlooked. There were no tipped-over bottles or clouds of ecto-mist swirling near the baseboards, nothing other than that weird, ominous moaning and the rattling of the walls that accompanied it. I cleared my throat and in my most authoritative third-grade teacher voice said, “Okay, I hear you. I’m tired of this. Please leave me alone.”
The wailing continued. Louder, I declared: “I pay six hundred and ninety dollars to live in this asbestos closet and I don’t need a roommate. You have to leave!” The droning paused, and for a millisecond I felt like a capable person who could solve her own problems; then it came roaring back even more intensely. I am not so attached to living that I would willingly survive a supernatural terror that would torment me for the rest of my days, so I started feeling around in the sheets for a stray sock to asphyxiate myself with in case some monster with dripping fangs rounded the corner ready to eat me. Bitch, I can’t fight! When the zombies come or the aliens land or whatever dystopian shit that is bound to happen in our lifetime happens, I’m not stockpiling buckets of slop and batteries or any of that doomsday shit. I will be in the fetal position somewhere waiting for them to lobotomize me. I gave it one last try, plugging my ears with my fingers and shouting, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” at the top of my lungs. The noise stopped immediately. I couldn’t even believe it! First, I couldn’t believe that I had anything in my useless collection of trash and novelty gifts that would be of any interest to someone who had actually been to hell, but more important than that, it seemed unfathomable to me that I could then convince that someone to leave my apartment! I am a horrible negotiator! I pulled the blanket over my head and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.
The ghost appeared to be gone for good; make me an honorary fucking Ghostbuster! A week later I was downstairs in the lobby deciding whether or not to take someone else’s Cosmopolitan magazine upstairs when this good-looking young dude in a cardigan smiled and said hi to me. He flipped his locks over his shoulder and noted my open mailbox door, then asked if I lived in 309. I don’t trust the motives of attractive people, so I just stared at him with my mouth open, hoping he would walk away and forget that he had caught me reading someone else’s steamy sex tips. “I’m in 409,” he said, unprompted. “Right on top of you.” Hot men know what the fuck they’re doing when they say shit like this, with their perfect teeth shimmering through their perfectly groomed beards. I was supposed to think about him grinding on top of me, WHICH I IMMEDIATELY DID. “Anyway,” he continued, “I heard you yelling the other night. Sorry about that. I didn’t know you could hear the reverb from my bass amp so much. I had a friend come soundproof my place. Has it been less noticeable?” And this is why I stopped taking my ass to church. Would a loving God actually humiliate me like this??
Samantha Irby is a writer whose work you can find on the internet.
Excerpted from Wow, No Thank You.: Essays, by Samantha Irby, just published by Vintage Books, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Samantha Irby.