Over the course of a few weeks in third grade I convinced myself that the school was haunted. On a breeze-less day, I saw some branches move outside and I was like, “How did they move? There must be a ghost up there.” I soaked up Are You Afraid of the Dark and the Twilight Zone like a mini-goth sponge so it was relatively easy to convince me that anything was haunted. My imagination would take off like a racehorse. I saw a twig move and I quickly fabricated an entire plot: that a young boy had been murdered by a group of math teachers and he would haunt the school until someone dug up his corpse and unmasked the math teachers as the murderers that they were. These thoughts jumped in my head so randomly and fully formed that I often attributed the formation of such notions to be a psychic message that the ghost himself had sent me.
I spent my recess time and after school time going to the library to research murders and deaths around our school. There were a lot of murders and disappearances in my home town. It’s weird how small towns are always thought to be idyllic and a safe place to raise kids, and then you hear about some old man climbing into a girl’s bedroom, chopping her up, making it into stew, feeding it to her parents, and then collecting and spelling “I love you” with their excretement. I think my parents had been like, “Let’s move to North Bend!” And someone was like, “Oh shit where the green river killer dumps his bodies?” And they were like, “safer than in Seattle, where some black people live!”
Around that time, a girl named Katrina asked me over for a sleep over. Katrina was the first in a long line of girlfriends known as my unhealthy friend crushes that caused me to yell, “If you don’t want to hang out with me, that’s fine, I’m not going to beg you!” And then proceed to beg profusely. Her house was terrifyingly large. Her parents terrifyingly large and I did not want to be there. No one had taught me that it wasn’t polite to say to someone’s mother, “Sorry, my parents and my body don’t let me eat high fatty foods.” No one had taught me that I should say, “What do you mean say grace? Like… un-clumsy?” And no one had taught me that when a religious round woman asks you what your faith is, you’re not supposed to start rambling about ghosts and murder.
The next day at school Katrina came up to me to ask about the ghost. I was so excited. I had a friend and she liked spirits too! I took Katrina out to the far end of the playground during recess, where we sat behind a big tree and couldn’t see anyone else.
“We’re going to do a séance and figure out where he's buried so we can find his body,” I stated matter of factly.
“I do not want to find his body. I don't want to do that at all,” Katrina said.
“Don’t you want the math teachers to face justice?” I said.
“I don’t know….”
I started chanting in a weird language that I made up on the spot (improv, hey!) and dancing around.
“How do you know how to do that?” the Christian girl asked.
“I think Freddy the ghost’s spirit is guiding me,” I answered.
“That was his name? Freddy the ghost?”
“It used to be Freddy the human, actually.”
I tripped and fell on an old dusty yellowed baseball. I picked it up in my hands and screamed.
“This was Freddy’s baseball,” I gasped.
Katrina, who had stopped believing in my shit a while ago stood up and dusted off her knees. “I’m going to go play kickball.”
To me organized team sports were much scarier than a revenge thirsty ghost. I still have nightmares about dropping a ball I should have been able to catch or striking out in front of everyone. Embarrassment haunted me like a ghost I could never exorcise.
“Fine, I don’t need you!” I snapped to her retreating back.
After Katrina left, I spent the rest of recess chanting in my made up language and dancing around underneath the tree. Routinely I would take a break to run to the outskirts of the playground and dig in the bark hysterically, thinking that I might unearth some bones. I was so wrapped up in my energetic séance that I failed to notice when all the other children heard the bell and headed back into the school building for class. No one came up to me to warn me that recess had ended, can you believe it? And about fifteen minutes (which is hours in kid time) later I realized that I was the only one out there. Shame faced, sweating, and dirty, I ran back to my class room. When my teacher Mr. King, who was a very nice man, asked why I was late, it was probably with a worried confusion, but I heard it with incredulous rage. I turned bright red, shook so much I couldn’t talk, and about four tiny droplets of pee came out. That was the first time I peed my pants since potty training. Peeing my pants turned out to be my body’s fight or flight response defense mechanism. Like my body was like “oh predators, you know what will make them leave her alone? Urine stains on the back of the skirt.” But what the body doesn’t know is that third graders are the worst predators and what might be disgusting enough to scare away a lion, would only make a third grader write about it on a bathroom wall.
That was the first time I got detention. I remember being terrified about something called a permanent record, that didn’t really exist. During detention, Mr. King was very kind to me and just had me help him write out math problems for the following day’s class assignments. So actually I had spent a lot of mystical time and effort trying to make sure math never happened at our school again, and as punishment I ended up doing more math. I clearly needed to think these séances through better.