My Old Brooklyn Apartment Was Perfect—Except for the Ghost


A couple of years ago, I was performing my usual nighttime routine of reading five pages of a book until I felt ready to pass out, when I heard the distinct sound of paper ripping in my ear. It was my first time living alone, and the solitude had made me far more attentive to the myriad snaps, crackles, and pops that fill up an apartment, any of which might signify a stack of dishes tipping over in the sink, or a burglar coming through the fire escape to murder me. No big deal.

Upon Googling to confirm I hadn’t suffered some inner canal infarction, I found a random blog post claiming that the ripping sound was occasionally associated with a ghost sighting, signifying the spirit ripping through the veil separating our world and theirs. I didn’t think much of it, because come on, and once I was satisfied my ear canal hadn’t exploded, I went to bed. Later that night, I woke up with the distinct physical sensation that something, or someone, was looming over me. That sensation was accompanied by paralyzing dread; I just couldn’t turn over to see for myself. When I finally mustered the will to look, I found nothing.

Born in the city and raised without God or superstitions, I spent the first act of my life regarding paranormal phenomena as something conjured by charlatans, and kept alive by those without the precision or nerve to describe the world as it really is. Reality was scary enough; why imagine otherworldly forces leering at us from the margins? My skepticism sustained itself even as intelligent, rational people I respected shared their come-to-Satan moments. One example: A coworker went to sleep in the ancestral family home, and woke up to find what sure looked and moved like his dead grandmother standing in the doorway. “I don’t know how to explain what I saw,” he insisted, “but ghosts are fucking real.” I dismissed him, partly because of the bong rips we’d ingested beforehand, but primarily out of an evergreen, sight unseen belief that there was just no way, man.

My strange night occurred after I’d moved into an unrenovated Clinton Hill brownstone, built just after the start of the 20th century. After a few years spent living in the illogically mapped, poorly constructed prefab apartments now lining gentrifying Brooklyn, I was happy to rent a place that actually felt made for and inhabited by humans, as the structure had remained more or less intact since at least the ’30s. There were plenty of quirks—the floors slightly tilted, the oven dated back to the Nixon administration—but it was a good deal for the area, my landlady was a sweetheart, and I picked up plenty of fashion tips from the upsettingly hip Pratt students prowling the sidewalks at all hours. A GQ reader’s dream.

Some quirks were quirkier than others. A week after I moved in, I noticed that when I laid in bed or sat on the couch, I could feel the floor occasionally vibrate beneath me. But perhaps that was an aftershock from the expressway at the end of the block; when I asked my super about it, he assured me the foundation was up-to-code. Some unexplained issue with the pipes? Sure, maybe.

Or, I started to wonder after my nighttime visit, ghosts. Maybe a decade ago I would’ve chalked it up to an optical illusion, or a trick of the light. But now I wasn’t so sure. Many of my preconceptions about the world had been shattered in the last few years. I believed the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series, because they did in 2016. I believed in astrology now, sort of, because it was fun to blame everything on “Virgo season.” Sure, there was no truly convincing physical or ectoplasmic evidence suggesting what I witnessed was the paranormal. But why not?

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