Phantom phantoms.

Last night, before I settled in at the computer to make my nightly post, I saw a phantom figure of a young girl in the hallway upstairs.

Phantom may refer to:
Ghost, in traditional belief, a physical manifestation of the soul or spirit of a deceased person
Illusion, a distortion of the senses

It was late, of course. All the living souls – human and animal – in my house had been asleep for  hours. As usual, I was tidying the bathroom as I brushed my teeth. I adjusted the shower curtain, wiped off the edge of the tub, straightened the bath mat. I turned toward the sink so I could spit out my mouthful of foam. From the corner of my eye, I saw the girl – simply standing – just beyond the threshold of the open bathroom door.

She was wearing a pastel nightgown. (Pink? Peach? Yellow? Certainly very pale.) Its bodice was smocked; its sleeves were short and puffed; its hem reached mid-shin. The girl’s bangs obscured her face because, I think, she was looking at the floor. By the time I registered what I had seen, and wrenched my neck to look directly at her, she was gone.

I do not believe I saw a ghost.  Nor an apparition – at least not in the usual sense. (I mused on the difference between ghosts and apparitions in my post I am not a ghost hunter.) In the ten years I’ve lived in this house, I have never sensed a spirit presence. My cats have never stared into empty corners. My children have never complained of boogie-men in the closets. I have no reason to believe my home is haunted.

Besides, I know what happened. I saw the girl because I needed to be reminded of one of my quirks.

When tired – spacey tired, I mean – I’ve seen all sorts of things. Things like a bowl falling (but not really) off the edge of a counter when I go to fetch another soda from the fridge, or a pedestrian strolling the shoulder of deserted road when I’m driving at midnight.

I’m not a good sleeper. Never have been. It’s hard for me to sustain slumber. As a child, I sleepwalked. As a teenager, I had nightmares. As a young mother, I had to check on the children, multiple times, throughout the night.

Even harder than staying asleep, though, is falling asleep. My mind doesn’t like to shut down so – when I fail to keep it busy with other things – it keeps itself awake by gnawing on all my fears and worries. I believe this problem is common to many adults, but for me it’s been true since I was little.

I used to wait about an hour after being tucked in, then pretend to fall out of bed, so that my mother would come switch on the radio to lull me back to sleep. It helped, but often listening to music wasn’t enough to quiet my mind. Then I would think of sad things, so that I could cry, which made me sleepy. (I adored songs like One Tin Soldier and Seasons in the Sun.) As soon as I could, I read anything I could get my hands on – including, I swear, hundreds of Harlequins – until my eyes burned. (Which worked just about as well as a good cry.)

I spent most of my childhood being really, god-awful, exhausted … and seeing a whole host of not-real things.

Somewhere around the age of 13-14, I discovered that I could painlessly drift off while watching television. I’ve rarely since slept in a room that didn’t have one.

In recent years, I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid becoming spacey-tired. I’ve convinced myself that my children are probably breathing. (Now that they are 25 and 16.) I’ve become a connoisseur of documentary narrators. (Peter Coyote and Paul Winfield are the best of the best.)

Since I recommitted to writing fiction and blogging, however, I’ve been getting by on less and less sleep. I checked my sleep log today, and discovered that in the last week I averaged five hours a night. Apparently that is not enough. When I saw the little girl last night, I realized that I have to be careful – even if I’m very much enjoying my new schedule. I won’t be a very reliable paranormalist if I keep this up.

RCA Indian Head Test Card ca. 1940

Go to sleep, already.