The Haunting of My House (And How it Made Me Question Everything)
I am awakened abruptly by the sound of someone opening cabinets in the kitchen. I text my brother to check if it’s him, assuming the resident night-owl might be roaming for food. Instead of a text back, I hear my brother and father frantically search the house for someone they wouldn’t find. Every night after that, I fell asleep with my ears perked, waiting for anything unusual. Then I started to pay closer attention to the other nuances of the house: dishes that would fall off the kitchen counter, no one near them, or the perpetual coldness in the front guest room, the former owner’s office, or the time my two year old cousin was screaming and pulling her hair in that cold room, unwilling to stop, not even when my aunt prayed for her.
I remembered these happenings years later, sometime in 2015, when my mother told me in passing about a dinner party she attended well after we moved into that house. Some woman asked her how she could move into that place after what had happened there. What she was implying: how could my parents buy the house knowing the previous owner had committed suicide there. My parents hadn’t known this. And as for me, I, of course, didn’t find this out until we didn’t live there anymore. When she casually shared this with me, we lived in a house in Phoenix, where my mother smelled burnt toast and cologne at night and I had begun to question my Christian upbringing.
Shortly after my mother told me about the suicide in our old house, I was sinking into an abyss of horror related content online. I stumbled onto a video depicting the questionable tactics of the real-life paranormal investigators, Ed & Lorraine Warren and how they’d weasel their way into people’s homes. This added to my pre-existing (and somewhat fearful), but now accelerating fascination with haunted houses, paranormal investigations, and the occult. I’d watch borderline sketchy videos of people exploring alleged haunted houses or spend countless hours watching horror movie reviews and analysis. I slowly started to dip my toes into more and more horror films. I realized I actually liked horror.
I had previously had a cautious, restrained interest in horror. The first horror film I saw was Paranormal Activity, around the age of 13. It was shortly before we moved to our alleged haunted house and I didn’t sleep for two days. Anything related to the paranormal or demonic deeply disturbed me and I swore off horror movies for many years after that. I grew up going to church. I heard horrifying stories of possession and exorcisms, like a kid at my brother’s camp whose eyes turned red and proceeded to go ballistic. I was too scared to even consider whether or not it was real. I was told that if you mess with dark stuff it will take over your life.
Despite this belief, I still watched what some might call “beginner” horror, like Scream and Final Destination. It wasn’t until college when I opened myself up to new realms of horror. I still remember the night at my brother’s apartment in Flagstaff where I first watched The Blair Witch Project. There was something about witnessing the three of them mentally deteriorate as they wandered through the woods, followed by something unseen. While the movie left me terrified as usual, something changed that night. I’d stopped going to church and now I was questioning the Christian dogma I was raised on. I can’t say for certain that The Blair Witch Project caused this, but somehow the two are parallel in my mind.
My upbringing in Christianity deeply shaped the things I was fearful of growing up. I remember being an impressionable and highly sensitive kid (I’m still sensitive, but less impressionable now), I believed everything. Not necessarily because I believed it all to be inherently true but because I was too scared to question what I was being told. Too scared that they might be right, that it might be real, that I could be possessed, and too scared to accept that they might be wrong. If they were wrong about that, what did that say about the rest of the things they believed in? That I believed in?
As I got older, more and more of Christianity began to make less sense to me, but living in that house in high school made me fearful. I spent a lot of energy trying to refuse the idea that some demon is haunting us, following us to every successive house. But at 18, I got tired of justifying the toxic and detrimental behavior I lived through for the sake of something I didn’t even know was real. My new interest in horror opened me to a new perspective: I was only ever really scared of the demonic because I was told to be scared of it.
I consider myself agnostic, not atheist. I do not believe in nor do I disbelieve in a higher power, I simply do not know. This transfers over into the belief of paranormal or supernatural entities. My instinct says no, but I think there will always be a small part of me that will say “what if?” simply because of how I was raised. Regardless, knowing that I had the choice to be scared of something changed everything for me.
Now what do I believe about my high school house? I believe living in that house sparked an innate curiosity in me to know what’s real, one that came alive after the moment my mother shared that story with me. I believe I will always wonder if that house was truly haunted. One might say I have faith in that.
Michaela Emerson is a poet, avid horror fan, and proponent of buying books when she already has plenty to read. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her cat Dexter.