I say a ghost, only because she seemed so present, like she must have been alive at some point in order to possess that skin-pricking immediacy which kept me so scared, bolted awake, eyes wide open, for hours and hours, staring at her. Staring. A waking nightmare. Don't breathe. Don't let her look my way. Please, morning which I know will come, parents who are breathing an impassable cavern of a wall away, don't let her see me breathing.
My bed was situated in the middle of the room. Head against the wall between two windows, but three other sides exposed, free floating. No moats of toys or childhood detritus to buoy my defenses. Chores-clean, only one stuffed totem to anchor me. A peninsula, which may as well have been an island in the midnight void of my too-large bedroom.
So a ghost. She was a woman, an old white woman. In two senses, really. She was white, bleached face, dressed in a long respectable skirt, a dowdy respectable blouse, the sense of something floral, so similar to the dowager proctors who oversaw my kindergarten routines. But white also in the same way television noise was white. Blurred and interfered around the edges, staticky with indeterminate angles. She would float around the perimeter of my room, bobbing as if on some gentle, inexorable current, brushing barely formed fingers against bookshelves and window sills.
She'd circle me, circle me, head turned benevolently away, but the very sense of her was enough to jolt me upright under blankets, back against my only wall.
Eventually, after hours maybe, they felt like hours but this was the 1980s, and I didn't have any sort of clock or radio alarm in my room, so who knows, but after a small forever, she'd stop her drifting. She'd float my way. Please please please, I'd whisper. Please no, please no. But she would settle, sit at the foot of my small twin bed. Such inadequate shielding against this nightmare, which must be a nightmare because ghosts are not real and I am only five years old, but my eyes are open and I am as awake as if it were noon, but this can't be real. This can't be real, as she inexorably tilts her parchment paper jaw towards me and fixes me with her patient, intelligent gaze.
And that is how the night would pass. The whole night, until dawn started to seep against my three windows. I would sit quivering, huddled against the wall, blankets up to my chin, eyes locked on the specter sat primly at the foot of my bed. She'd regard me, unwaveringly, moving as with breaths, part moonlight and part shadow, real as any other obscured form in my room. Breathing. Fixed on me.
She stared at me, and never said anything at all. I knew I could never move while she had me in her sights. I knew she had sights, and wasn't just a dream, because I was awake. I was by no means asleep. My eyes were peeled open, and if I ever looked away from her, what would happen to me then? I couldn't slip past her, to the door, out of the room. She had all the time in the night to look at me, look at me, unendingly. And I could not flinch away.
Eventually the sun would come, would soothe away the dark fuzziness of indeterminate corners, and her presence would seem to fade as well. Eventually, slowly, so slowly, it would be safe to pull my blankets further up around me, and I could sink further down, finally close my eyes, until my parents began to stir on the other side of the wall, flush toilets and run sinks, look in and ask why I was so tired, why I didn't want to get up.
But she visited me, that woman, for nights and nights. Separated by months, by years. Until I moved my bed against a wall and a bookcase, ensconced myself between three barrier edges. She visited me anytime my mother was too busy to read me three bedtime stories at night. She circled my whole faded daytime world and then would fix me, eye to eye, as if to say
you may not believe it later
but you're awake, you're awake and you know it
and you cannot look away.