I remember after spending a year at SUNY Brockport, that I’d taken an English essay writing class at Monroe Community College. The professor gave an assignment: Write about something that affected your life in some way.
Not very specific. Actually, quite the opposite. It was a very general assignment.
I thrived in English and writing classes. While students asked for bare minimum guidelines, I asked if there was a page maximum. I knew what I’d write about, didn’t have to think about it, and didn’t want to be held back by word count or page limits.
Although we had a week to complete the assignment, I completed mine that night.
I wrote about Jenny.
I got the paper back the following week with a “D”. Under the grade it said: “Too much like King/Poe. This was not a fiction assignment.”
Jenny affected my life forever. So, you tell me, whether I imagined the below tale or not, regardless of what you think, I believe it happened … therefore, it affected me. Forever.
When my parents bought their second home in Gates (Rochester, NY), I was nearly two-years old. It is where they still live today. Three bedrooms upstairs, a living room and kitchen on the first level, and below, a family room, and under that a full basement.
If you stood in the living room and looked up the stairs, you’d see my sister’s bedroom door, on the wall hung a painting. A young girl, in a white dress stood in a field of yellow flowers.
I always disliked the painting. We all know that when you walk by one, the eyes of the person depicted are said to follow you. The girl in this particular painting was no different. Her eyes followed me. Really followed me. I swore I’d seen them move on more than one occasion.
When I was fourteen years old I could stand it no longer. I took the painting down and put it out into the garage. I used a grilling fork–the ones with two long, sharp tines—and forked the eyes out of the canvas, and dropped the framed and ruined artwork into the Dumpster.
Two days later, when I went into the garage, I stopped short. Against the far wall leaned the painting. Eyeless, but somehow still staring at me.
I snatched up a hatchet and hacked the thing to pieces. I gathered the destruction in my arms and once again dropped it all into the Dumpster. My parents had claimed, and still claim, they took the painting out of the garbage that first time. Said they wanted to hang it back up.
But without eyes?
I don’t think so.
This was when it all started. My nightmare.
Had my actions caused a stir in the spirit world? Perhaps.
In no particular order, I want to inform you that since that day I never slept in my bedroom again. I spent the next four years sleeping on the sofa in the living room until I moved away to college. And when I returned from school, I still slept on the sofa.
That first evening I fell asleep on my bed. I was on my back. My hands on my chest. I woke up. My right hand was numb. Under it, I felt another hand, a third hand. I lifted both my arms in the air. The other hand was still on my chest. I could not see it, but felt it. Cold. And now my chest, too, was numb.
I screamed. I called for my mom, and for my dad.
When my bedroom door banged open, the hand flew off my chest, and a cool wisp of wind blew by my face.
I fell out of bed and scrambled for my father, who told me I’d just had a nightmare.
I was prone to nightmares. Walking and talking in my sleep. My waking up screaming was nothing new. But this was different. I knew the difference.
Something of a slob, each morning I took my blankets off the sofa and rolled them up in my arms. I’d go up to the hall closet. Open the door, throw the blankets in and slam the door before the ball of fabric rolled back out. One day when I did this, a corner of blanket got caught in the door jamb. My sister was right beside me. Laughed at the fact I’d have to open the door, and try again. When I opened the door, we both gasped. Literally, gasped.
Every blanket in the hall closet was folded and neatly stacked. Including the ones I’d just tossed in. There was no corner of a blanket by the door jamb.
One night when my parents were out, some friends were over. It was winter. I was sixteen. They were headed to Blockbuster to rent a movie. I stayed home. In the living room I watched TV. Alone. I heard floorboards creak. (The house was carpeted. No hardwoods). Someone was behind me on the stairs. I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. No socks. No shoes. I needed to get out of the house. My legs didn’t seem to work. I couldn’t turn around. Wouldn’t.
Instead, when I could finally stand, I stood. I kept my back to the stairs. I moved along the back of the couch slowly, and when I reached the door I booked out it. Into the snow. Feet cold, and ran for the street. Once in the street I turned back to the house. The front door slammed shut.
I waited outside for nearly twenty minutes, shivering, waiting for my friends to get back home. They all had a good laugh at my expense. I laughed along with them. Inside, my heart beat wildly against my ribcage.
It was on one night in particular that I learned Jenny’s name.
I was asleep on the sofa. This may have been a dream. Felt like one. I’d opened my eyes, and seated on the chair across from me was a girl in a red robe. Her hair was wet, long, worn down over her face. (I wondered later if her hair covered her face because she had no eyes…)
She told me her name was Jenny. That she was not here to hurt me, but that she wanted a friend.
One weekend when I was home for the weekend from Brockport, I’d brought a friend. She and I were in my room. We sat on my bed. She opened up to me, told me that she “saw” things no one else could see. I just politely nodded and listened as she counted off strange things she’d encountered. Know what? I didn’t believe her. But I listened. Why not. I was just waiting for her to shut up, and take her shirt off. Figured I could stomach a few minutes of jibber-jabber.
And then she looked at me with wide eyes. She told me, we’re not alone. I almost laughed. She wasn’t joking. She asked me, “Who’s Jenny.”
My breath caught in my lungs. “What?” I asked.
“Jenny,” she said. “Who’s Jenny … because she’s not happy I’m here.”
I grabbed the girl’s hand. I got to my feet and ran for the bedroom door, pull/dragging her with me. As we stepped out of the bedroom, the bedroom door slammed shut. We practically flew down the stairs. Up in my room, things banged, and thumped and fell.
We ran out of the house … breathless …
Jenny might have wanted a friend, but she was jealous, it seemed. I don’t think she liked me having a girl in the room. In fact, I think she was pissed.
Unfortunately, I never looked into Jenny, to try to figure out who she was, why she was haunting my parents’ house, the way people do in movies, and in books …
After getting married, and moving out of the house, I never saw signs of Jenny again. I’ve been back to my parents’ house, have spent nights there, and nothing. Nothing.
I wonder if Jenny left; if she actually was a figment of my imagination, or . . . real?
To be honest, at this point — I just don’t know.
What I do know is, from the time I was 14, until I was 21, something kept me from sleeping in my room, kept me from ever getting a solid night’s sleep. And, from the time I was 14 until I was 21, Jenny was as real as any ghost … real. Whether she existed or not, whether you believe me or not, it happened.
That professor giving me a D was uncalled for. And I fought for a better grade, explaining all of this to the professor who, decidedly, changed my grade to a B.