house head

head houses

(…this post is continued from here…)

My father wanted a bigger house so we moved around the corner to 94 Roosevelt Avenue, a cavernous old haunted thing under deep shade. Even from the outside you could feel the psychic congestion emanating off its weathered wood shingles and inside, it felt like a tragedy. (Did this feeling seep into the walls before or after we moved in?) It had high ceilings, hardwood walls and floors, and a little cupola on the top where my father installed a padded meditation room accessible only by ladder.

If I were to psychologize that house I would say something about this room, its brightest, its headspace, the room with the best view, ostensibly designed for meditation but probably used for smoking dope or escaping from the kids. Even as a kid I wondered why it was so hard to get up there. If I could get 86 Roosevelt to lie down on my couch and answer a couple questions, I’d ask about what really went on in that meditation room and I’d want to know about its past.

Because that house was creepy. I didn’t like to play inside and the back yard, shaded by redwoods, felt uninviting, so I played in front in a bed of soft-leaved stachys lantana which my mother called “lamb’s ears.” I imagined a flock of little green lambs buried there with their ears sticking up and I’d pet those ears and whisper, “Hello lambs. Your ears are so soft. Just sit still, don’t move, it will all be over soon.” I remember parties where the adults would smoke and drink and tell snide jokes and laugh deliriously while kids ran from room to room. Someone played a frantic tune on the piano to accompany the Charlie Chaplin movie projected onto the living room wall.

I had many nightmares in that house or, to be exact, one repeated nightmare: I’d be lying on my bed, stuck fast, as if the sheets were made of dry ice, while a thin, jaundiced man paced the room, ranting at me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that he was so full of self-righteous anger and disgust it emanated from him in sour waves and I could not move or speak to interrupt him. All I could move were my fingers, and I’d rub them against the silky edge of the blanket I used to comfort myself. The next morning I would ask my mother to please not let that man come into my room again and she would tell me it was only a dream.

According to Wikipedia,

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. More formally, it is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g., an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis. Sleep paralysis has been linked to disorders such as narcolepsy, migraines, anxiety disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea; however, it can also occur in isolation.

What a relief. For years I thought the angry man was my goblin godfather or a ghost and that he’d keep coming until I learned my lesson.

When I was 5, my blanket disappeared. Years later, my father admitted to confiscating it and throwing it in the trash. I think he saw the blanket as an unreasonable weakness and thought that by taking it away, he’d magically erase my need.

My room shared a wall with my parents’ bedroom and sometimes, late at night, I’d hear the ominous rumbling of their voices. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I knew it wasn’t good.

When they separated, my brother and I moved away with my mother and the nightmares stopped. But still, a setting gets into your head and sticks like wallpaper. Because I lived there and because I remember, somewhere inside my head there’s the ghost of a livid man pacing back and forth, spitting criticism.

(…to be continued…)

I still want to hear about where you live or where you came from.  Oh come on, just a little story?

About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. Good to have left that house – no matter the circumstances. Some places are a negative sort – and nothing good comes from staying there. Scary (shivering waiting for the next segment)

    • Thank god we didn’t stay there. Weirdest thing– a family bought the house from us. I met the girl who grew up there and years later, I heard she was killed tragically. Of course, the part of my brain that likes simple stories of cause and effect wants me to believe that the house somehow did that to her.

  2. Sleep paralysis is so scary! My college roommate had lots of dreams like that. I can’t even imagine what that must be like!

  3. Between this post and your last, Anna, I don’t know where to start! Last night I was reading both you and Averil and thinking, “this is better literature than the book I’m reading.” You two make me so proud!

    Houses. Wow. Some really do have a negative vibe. A friend of mine once bought a certain house —- she was so excited about it, but when she took me there to see it (before they bought it) I knew it was all wrong the minute I walked in the door. It was a custom-built home, and the builder/owner had a strange affinity for points and angles: long windows with triangular bottoms, rooms set unevenly next to each other, odd-shaped doors, kitchen counters that came to points on the ends (triangular points!!!) that made you feel like you were being stabbed when you walked into the room. It turns out the builder lived in the house only a year — and the house wasn’t completely done — when his wife was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and died. He sold the unfinished house, claiming it was now “too big” for one person. The family that bought it ended up divorced within 2 years. They didn’t finish the house either. Then my friend decided to buy it and finish it.

    She finished it alright. And it just about finished her. She invested the money to finish the house, and no sooner was it finished than her husband divorced her. They started fighting more the minute they moved in. He started sleeping in the basement and, in lieu of speaking, they would send each other nasty emails …. her from the kitchen, him from his basement bedroom. They eventually split and had to sell the house, but there were no proceeds to split, only debt.

    No one can tell me that house wasn’t cursed.

    • Now that’s a story for sure. I can see that horrid house in my mind. You build a house like a sharp object– what do you think is going to happen? (When my daughter drew her dream house, it was covered in fur.)

  4. Spookily written Anna, nice job!
    When I was working on night duty as a nurse in a hospital for people with Learning Disabilities, back in the late 70’s ( horrible places they were too but that’s another story), I had what used to be called Night Nurses Paralysis and several times too. It happens to people when they are extremely tired but unable to sleep.
    On one memorable occasion I was sitting in a reasonably confortable chair in the Nurse’s office and thought I was wide awake. It was about 3 in the morning and the night superintendant Mr Bennett came in, on one of his rounds. I saw him come in and sit in the seat opposite me but I was completely unable to move or speak, which was rather frightening.
    He obviously recognised what was happening and told me not to worry and that I would come out of it in a minute or 2 and to concentrate on him talking to me, which I did.
    What seemed like ages later but which was probably only the minute or 2 he had predicted, I came back to myself.
    The mind is capable of shutting the body down or capable of doing all sorts that we probably have no idea about..

  5. Wow, you know how they say truth is stranger than fiction. You couldn’t make up this kind of stuff and the layers of meaning there. I’ve never seen ghosts and who knows about that…but I do believe some places have bad karma. It’s like they collect and store the energy in them. Glad you got free of it…

  6. I grew up in a house with a yellow wallpapered kitchen – that same sort with “sprawling flamboyant patterns”. The real presence in the kitchen, though, was a white wicker rocking chair. Thick with paint. It belonged to my grandmother, my mother, then me. In a way, I think of it as a sieve for maternal generational memories.

    Speaking of presence, in that same house was a small pink bathroom. More often than not, when I entered that room, I would feel a cold chill through my body. A physical sensation, not scary, but it has always perplexed me. That old house had stories to tell and it knew I would listen.

    But I also grew up outside, on the land that held the house. In a tree with a book. Barefoot on the grass. In and out of the river. In a field of hay bales. Balancing on high beams in a barn. Sliding down huge snowbanks with a winter runny nose.

    Your captivating writing stimulates all those memories …

    • Ooooo. I want to hear more about the small pink bathroom. That sounds like the title of a short story; The Small Pink Bathroom. (I worry that my kids aren’t outside enough. Being inside, even in a nice place, can be so oppressive.)

    • the house i grew up in, and then later bought with my husband to gut and resell, had one (working) bathroom that was tiled in pink, white and black tiles. when we renovated the house, (we redid a bathroom in the basement which ended up being the equivalent of installing an entirely new bathroom.) after adding the bathroom in the basement, we gutted the main bathroom that my family had used years before. my husband did the tile himself and it took an entire summer. it still blows my mind that my family of six (mom, dad, 4 kids) lived with that one tiny pink bathroom all those years.

  7. i love, love love this post and the whole idea of the psychology of a house. i truly believe that your home is a reflection of what is going on in your head. (right now mine says my head is a mess of preschool and grade school homework sheets cluttering up sticky counter tops.)

    when we renovated my childhood home (what i often refer to as the excavation of my personal history), my husband was pulling down the ceiling tiles in the basement to make way for the drywall ceiling we were installing. midway through the task, he came upstairs holding an old memorex cassette tape and said, “look what i found.” it had been hidden in the ceiling for a good 7 to 10 years. it was a recording between my mother and stepdad one night when he had come home drunk and she was goading him into a fight.

    my parents kept their weed in a burnt orange, tupperware container that was no bigger than a slice of bread. sometimes they would forget and leave it under the couch where i would see it the next day while laying on the floor, coloring or reading a nancy drew book.

    • Was the tape yours, Josey? Who recorded that fight?! How poetic if you, the child who made a mental and physical record of that fight in that house, who grew up to transcribe it in some way or another, would find that tape in that house. Gives me goosebumps! Love that!

  8. Todd

    Ok, I counted all the places where I can remember living… 27. The first was a mid-century modern that my parents built in the early Sixties. Two were boats, one docked, the other at sea. A couple hundred-year-old Victorians in San Francisco. A two hundred-year-old Adobe in Chile (muddy wall when it rained). The rest were various apartments or shared rentals. The last is the house I bought two years ago for my family to live in.

    We love this house. Partly because it’s ours… no guy downstairs banging the walls every time the baby toddles across the floor… no guy upstairs practicing bongos at 2am (really). Partly because the backyard is an oasis of green in the middle of a city. Pines, fruit trees, grape vines, a vegetable garden, flowers butterflies, hummingbirds, even grass to roll in. This place was built in 1929 and you can feel it’s been a happy 84 years. There are no dark corners, no spooky whiff of something ugly from long ago. No ghosts live here.

    Places really affect me, they do have personalities, auras, energies. Some of the places I first lived had a darkness to them that dragged my soul down. The bleakness rubbed off on me and the smell festered in my nose. I became depressed just being there. Since then, I always spent the time and money to find a place in the light.

    In all my ramblings, my mom has been in the same old house we grew up in since 1975. I never really liked it there under all those beautiful but dark redwoods, but it still feels like, and I still call it, home. In a year or so we have to move on and find another house in a better area so our son has a good school to go to. Maybe the next place will be the last, the happiest, our home.

  9. hostn I was little not only did i have sleep paralysis and see a ghost I often have the same ghost now 25 years later in dreams where I am in the same room.

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