Thursday, February 24, 2005

Only an Italian would yell at her guardian angels

For as long as I can remember, I've been more frightened by the supernatural than comforted. I suspect a large portion of this fear has to do with being raised, in part, by my Nonna. I spent a lot of time with her while my mother was working, or when my Nonna was just lonely and wanted someone to stay the night with her. I remember being freaked the hell out when she'd talk about having dreams about her dead father, then wake up to a bird rapping on the window. Or her stories about ghosts or spirits disturbing houses. When you're Catholic, the idea of an apparition is usually thought of as an honor. I used to remember saying my prayers with my grandmother before bed, then adding a silent one just before I ducked under the covers, asking God NOT to send an apparition, speek to me in any overt manner or reveal himself, the blessed mother or any of his angels in a frightening manner.

I used to sit up at night, staring at the round shadow created by the nightlight, wondering if what they said was true, that when you got a sign from God, or one of his workers appeared to you, you'd have a sense of calm or peace. It seamed reasonable, this was God, after all. He's benevolent and stuff, right?

But I really didn't want to test that theory.

I remember one night I was sleeping in the larger bed in the spare room at my grandmother's house. The door was opened, and I could see into the bathroom across the hall. We had no nightlights at my house, so it was weird to sleep with them on. There was something almost mythic about the almost broken glow of lights guarding my way to the bathroom, the light bouncing off the enormous bathroom mirror, and warming the green tile. Maybe it was the night lights. I swear, those freaked me out even worse than the dark. You couldn't see what was coming to get you in the dark. With a nightlight, you had an infinite amount of shadowy shapes to be afraid of.

I had to have been up late, that's just usually how things worked at my grandmother's house. I think we were playing cards before I was shuffled off to bed (no pun intended). I was tucked securely beneath a tan blanket and pink pin stripe and floral comforter (stripes and flowers at the same time--the late 80's were a freaky time for patterns). I had to have been sleeping. You know when you've been sleeping when you wake, but when you are asleep, you don't know that.

The room was lit by the flashlight at the foot of the bed, just as when I'd drifted off. But now there was a veiled woman in heavy long white robes sitting at the foot of the bed, one leg drawn up so that she was able to turn and face me. I remember the heaviness of her clothes, the perfection and youth of her round, wise face. There was nothing intimidating about her. In fact, it seemed as though she belonged there, like the way a mother who was not my mother would sit at the foot of a beloved child's bed. It scared me to death.

I remember starting, not quite as drastic as when you wake from having that sense of falling. The room just went dark around me, and I couldn't open my eyes nor move my body. It took a moment for me to realize that I hadn't been seeing the room, that I hadn't even been awake. It took a long time for me to screw up the courage to open my eyes, knots in the pit of me that I would see something frightening. Veiled women with kind, round eyes were a terrifying thing.

Unable to even swallow my fear, I got up to get a drink of water. I grabbed the olive green tupperware glass off the sink and turned on the tap. When the glass was full, I lifted it to my lips. Looking past the glass and into the mirror, I saw across the hallway, to the bed. To the lady sitting there. Both feet on the floor, patiently waiting.

Trying to finish my water in one gulp, I ended up leaking it from both corners of my mouth and onto the blue flannel nightgown I was wearing. By the time I slammed the glass down on the sink, the foot of my bed was empty. Even better, when I looked back in the mirror, I realized it was impossible to see the foot of the bed from where I was standing. Maybe I was still asleep.

Tired and cold, I wanted to crawl back into bed and go back to sleep, and maybe forget about my mind playing tricks on me. I just didn't have the nerve to go back into that room.

It wasnt until then that I heard noise on the other side of the hall door. Making a flash decision, I reached out, opened the door, ducked through and closed it again. The dining room lights were bright compared to the nightlights and the slate foyer stones were joltingly cold on my feet. The shiver from heel to neck was enough to make sure I was no longer dreaming.

I didn't know what time it was, but my grandfather was home from working third shift at the post office. He had a plate of sausage, and my grandmother was doing something in the kitchen. Somehow I convinced them that I wasn't tired any more, and that it would be of no use to send me back to sleep.

I must have lost five games of 500 that night.

With the childish innocence of a deteriorating mind, my grandmother explained that last night, she saw three angels sitting around her bed. And she asked them, rather angrily, what in the hell they were doing there. And they looked at her, and didn't say anything. Then they were gone. She woke my grandfather up. The incident--dream or not--was impressive enough that she remembered it to tell me today. SHE believes it's real. When you're lost in the corridors of your own mind, that's sometimes enough.

I just always figured I was a sissy. I still close my eyes when I'm washing my hands in the bathroom in the middle of the night. My house's sole nightlight is in the kitchen, an entire floor away from where it would do me any good. I've been known to try to pray away the shadows.

It took me years to discover that there's a part of the Italian culture that fears the spirit world. Why else would mourners take a circuitous rout home from the cemetary, in the hopes that the soul of the dead would get lost, and not follow them home? Why else would my grandmother start with the Hail Mary's every time a bird looked into her window? There are some things imprinted so heavily on us, it's impossible to sand away what's been carved into us.

Italian heritage: it's not just all sauce and psychosis :)


Blogger Linds said...

Geez, that would totally give me the creeps. Thankfully, all of my nightmares are about falling. Not even falling off of buildings, or down stairs. Just... falling. I mean, at least I know when I'm awake, right? Yeah.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a strange little prizon you Catholics confine yourselves to.


p.s. - yes I know I spelled prison wrong.

1:51 AM  

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