Last October, I went on a Ghost Hunting expedition in Salem, courtesy of an irresistible too-good-to-pass-up Groupon. For the uninformed, Salem MA is one of the most supposedly haunted places in New England, and probably the country. The event started at 10pm and involved using equipment seen on shows like Ghost Hunters, such as K-2 meters. We were instructed to wander around supposedly “active” areas and see if we could record any electrical or radio activity. The outing culminated with an EVP session in the pitch-black basement of the Salem Firehouse.
I recently told this story to a friend and began by saying, “Don’t laugh, but….” I’ll say the same here: Don’t laugh, but….
At the end of the EVP session, we were each given a small crystal of sea salt to keep in our pockets, in order to ward off the potential ghost that may follow us home. To avoid being haunted. I laughed it off at the time, put the crystal in the pocket of my black faux-leather jacket, and headed home.
But for some reason, I kept the crystal in my jacket pocket. Call it habit, call it laziness, or maybe call it some kind of unconscious superstition. It stayed in there for months, and I never threw it away. I’d reach in my pocket from time to time to touch it, and know that it was there. I didn’t think I cared too much about it until I accidentally dropped it in a Starbucks a few months ago. I had taken it out to show Connor – “Can you believe I actually still have this thing? Ha ha ha ha, I’m so weird!” and then I dropped it. And then, (seriously DO NOT LAUGH), I actually bent down on the dirty floor of Starbucks to retrieve it, not caring about the weird looks from strangers. I found it, giggled, only a fraction embarrassed, and put it back in my pocket.
I’m not sure why I went through the effort of retrieving it. It’s not because I seriously believe I’ll become haunted or possessed, Paranormal Activity style, but maybe more because I’d simply kept it for so long, and was so used to feeling it there whenever I’d stick my hands in my pockets absentmindedly. It felt somewhat wrong to not make an effort to find it.
Ultimately, the story of the Starbucks incident is moot, but simultaneously poignant. The sea salt crystal is gone at this point; I lost it somewhere on 3rd avenue in Manhattan two weeks ago. Sometime between 10pm and 4am. I’d noticed when I was in the elevator, heading up to my friend Elle’s apartment, and I reached into my pocket, expecting the crystal, but found nothing instead. I know I’d had it while walking to the bar, because my hands were cold, and I put them in my pocket. I distinctly remember thinking - I wonder if Elle and Roberta would find my ghost hunting story lame or fun - but then got sidetracked by another topic of conversation that burst up, as conversation often does with friends who haven’t seen each other for months.
So this little sea salt crystal was lost during several hours in which I reunited with people from my past. Friends from elementary school, who knew me when scrunchies were the coolest thing ever and the most important daily item was what had happened on 7th Heaven the night before. Friends from high school, who would sing along with me to NSync and Backstreet Boys songs in parking lots with car doors wide open and the radio blasting. And friends from college, friends who I’d sit out with on the quad, sunglasses on and work forgotten.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because over-analyzing is my specialty. I am pretty careless with most of my clothing, this jacket included. My “walk-through-the-door” routine involves taking off my jacket and tossing it on the back of a chair until I remember to hang it up later. At work, it gets stuffed in a shelf behind my desk. How did this tiny sea salt crystal not fall out until now?
There was a time in college when I referred to myself as “the girl I am now” and “the girl I used to be”. I truly believed in this idea of separate selves, that maybe I could create this newer, better, quieter version of myself with big hair and skinny wrists. If I still held that mentality, I’d probably leap to some kind of conclusion of: Haunted by the past, these people are my ghosts, or maybe New York City is my ghost. But I don’t think like that anymore, and I don’t believe in separate selves.
The beauty of crossing that invisible border into your ‘late twenties’ and living so many stories is that you learn some invaluable lessons along the way. We are all still the people we were at age 5, age 10, age 15, 20, 25, etc. The “way we were” doesn’t disappear as we age, it just evolves and shifts shape, but our hearts are our own.
I’m still the same person who made this amazing NSync collage (don’t be jealous) back in 1999.
Roberta and I are still the same girls who tried on identical outfits at Target and then took this picture in the mirror because everyone said we looked like twins and we loved hearing it.
We are ALL still these girls — the girls who would drive down River Road with the windows down, buy cheap wine and dressing up as Quentin Tarantino movie characters, girls who spilled whispered secrets over lattes at the White Rabbit, girls who loved and had hearts broken together, who still, to this day, will always be the greatest of friends.
I’ve come to the conclusion that nostalgia is a pointless emotion that romanticizes the past, obstructs one’s vision of the present, and ultimately leads to regret in the future. “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way” and all that. But maybe we should all replace nostalgia with an acceptance and a movement to embrace oneself as a collage of every place, every moment, every piece of history – that is the step forward. I am made up of everything I’ve ever done, every person I’ve ever known, and every place I’ve ever traveled to. We are our own histories, and each person has a story.
In conclusion: Ghosts are real, but they’re not what you think.