Ghosts We Left Behind
Our children were two-and-a-half and nine months old when we moved into the Dakota apartments. The young couple we bought the apartment from had had a nasty breakup. Residual anger and disappointment that drifted through the rooms were quickly dispelled by children’s laughter and song. But the ghost remained, squeezed into corners in the high ceilings, envious, watching. She spilled orange juice and stole single gloves and socks. She opened the door of the birdcage and scared our parakeet, Bowser, out of the window into unforgiving 73rd Street traffic. She frightened tough men who came to work in the apartment, none would stay after sunset. Only those from Caribbean islands had the confidence to resist her intrigue. She required our golden retriever to stay in an armoire when we weren’t home, but she was never able to intimidate Lucy, our Aussie, even as a puppy.
When the children were at school and my husband at work, she sometimes acted as my muse, though more frequently as Trickster. She made me humble and strong. On cold days, I called downstairs for firewood and she lulled me into a cozy doze even when my mind danced with responsibilities and tasks.
Those were the days when Winnie ran the office with an iron hand. She was postoffice and screener. Those were the days when you might encounter Leonard Bernstein, Gilda Radner, Nureyev, the Lennons…and other less famous but equally impressive neighbors. We were there by fluke and yet, accepted fully at the yearly courtyard party. We took visitors up to the roof and once entertained H.R. Geiger who was unimpressed by our benign ghosts.
I often wondered who our ghost might have been in life. Was she a girl who lived in one of the small servant quarters on the ninth floor and worked for the owners of our apartment? Perhaps she’d never proclaimed her love for an employer who’s wife was ill or unpleasant. Perhaps she was that wife, jealous of a shy serving girl, or unable to bring herself to leave a husband she didn’t love. Perhaps she was a child who’d died young and was too timid to leave her home.
Whoever she was, she was unobtrusive, pleasant and accommodating except for Danny, our loving but dull-witted golden retriever. “The armoire isn’t a dog house, and Danny can have the run of the place when we’re out,” I’d tell her.
Still the door of the armoire would creak open as we left and we’d hear Danny get up from wherever he was and pad toward it. When we returned, we’d hear his tail flap against the side of the armoire and then he’d appear, happy to see us and unconcerned about his incarceration. I finally gave in and put a blanket on the floor to protect Danny from splinters.
One winter night as Danny cavorted about Central Park, a speeding car struck him and sped off. My husband alerted the doorman who called me and I called our vet. He opened his office to take Danny in. A policeman followed us and asked about the car that wasn’t supposed to be in the park. My husband was too traumatized to remember anything.
Danny didn’t survive.
The children were distraught. Gloom prevailed.
But sometimes when we returned home, we’d hear a faint knocking coming from the armoire, sometimes late at night, the sound of soft padding.
When we moved, the armoire came with us. Ghost and dog remained behind in the building more suited to accommodate ghosts. I wasn’t convinced that the new tenants would be compatible with our ghosts, but I felt secure that there were others in the building that would be pleased to welcome and nurture them.
The painted flowers on the old armoire have faded and the floor is cracked from several moves. It has served as pantry, closet, storage, but never again as refuge.