Doing radio every day has cut into my fooling-around-with-the-blog time. So here’s something that’s been sitting in my Drafts file for a while.
Here’s something you may not know, even if you’ve been reading this blog for a while: I have an interest in the paranormal. It goes back to grade school. I’ve read all of the most famous paranormal populizers, from Charles Fort and Colin Wilson to Frank Edwards and Brad Steiger, and I follow a few paranormal feeds on Twitter. My interest is in oddities and strangeness, as opposed to ghosts, monsters, and aliens. I am, however, a skeptic. Like Fort, who did not often attempt to explain what he reported, it’s enough for me to know that something happened. If it can’t be explained by our current knowledge of the world, that’s OK. I don’t need to know the reasons for everything, and I have no patience for speculations that the evidence won’t support.
If I were a more credulous person—if I, like Fox Mulder, wanted to believe—maybe I would have a lot of personal experiences involving the sort of oddities and strangeness that interest me. But I have had only a few.
At some date I can no longer recall, we were going through an old house with my parents, one that they were thinking about buying. My brother and sister-in-law were there, and her dog steadfastly refused to go upstairs with us. He strained at the leash to get away and nearly jumped out of her arms when she tried to carry him up. Mother and Dad ended up not buying the house mainly because it would have cost a lot of money to bring it back up to code. What the dog saw never entered into it.
My best friend died when we were 24. Three or four years later, I was having some problem, one he and I would have been able to talk about. In the car one day, thinking of the problem and of him, I said out loud, “I really need to talk to you, man.” And for the rest of the ride, I did, with the strong perception that he was sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I don’t know if some ephemeral part of him really was there. My natural inclination is to doubt it, but I there’s not enough evidence either way.
One afternoon late in the fall, sometime in the mid 90s, while I was a student at the University of Iowa, I was in my favorite coffee shop, a place called Uncommon Grounds. The place was bustling as afternoon classes let out, downtown offices closed, and people came to campus for nighttime classes and events. I was at my usual table scribbling in a notebook when a woman came through the door. She was about my age, long coat, brown hair, plain features, carrying a shopping bag. We made eye contact, and more than just incidental eye contact. The look on her face was bright and smiling and purposeful, like I was the person she had come to see, and she was happy to have recognized me right away. But she kept moving and our eye contact broke.
I felt like I should know who she was, a classmate or some professor’s secretary, maybe. So I looked up to see her again, but she was gone. I looked behind me at the counter, but there was nobody in a long coat, nobody carrying a shopping bag. She couldn’t have gone to the restroom or anywhere else, because it had been literally one second since she’d walked past me. I sat a while thinking that I must have lost track of her somehow, because people don’t just disappear. But she had done exactly that. Was she a vision, or a ghost? I can’t say, because there’s not enough evidence to judge. All I can say is that I saw someone, and one second later, she wasn’t there anymore.
Twenty-five years later, the look on her face sticks with me. Like I was the person she had come to see, and she was happy to have recognized me right away.