Once upon a time, long, long ago, a woman named Ida Froemke experienced an unconventional haunting. Actually it was only six months ago that the haunting happened. But for Ida Froemke it felt like a lifetime ago. I know this for a fact because I am Ida Froemke. How’s that for some serious grammatical rule breaking: switching from third person to first, and from past tense to present all before the first paragraph of a story is completed? My mother would roll over in her grave. But when a ghost is involved, the past and present can seem irrelevant and so can grammar.
Before I tell you about the ghost, you might be wondering about my name, Ida Froemke, and perhaps visualizing me as an elderly old lady who lives with her six cats, wears floral belted dresses, knee high support hose and drives a 1985 Subaru with only eighty two thousand miles on it. This seems kind of judgy of you to assume this about me just because I have a name that has not been on the top ten list for well over a century. I’m actually forty three with only ONE cat and two very big dogs. I’m relatively fashion conscious, though drawn more to the comfortable side of clothing and I drive a big black truck named Samantha.
I was named by my mother, Dr. Natalie Jones a professor of literature at Stanford University. She named me after Princess Ida in the Tennyson poem called “The Princess” which is sort of a poetic political parody about the subject of women’s rights, a rather new and frowned upon topic back in the mid 1800’s. My mom was a feminist who raised me, all on her own, to be a strong, independent woman. The name Ida Jones for sure has a strong ring to it that makes me wonder in hindsight if I hadn’t impulsively taken the name Froemke from a raging lunatic when I said “I do” I’d maybe have done a better job at living up to my namesake. Though Princess Ida wasn’t perfect; she made some mistakes too.
The spooky stuff began when things started to go to hell with me and John, which was about six months after we got married. Now, for the record, I never actually thought I would get married especially now that I was in my forties and set in my ways. Also, I believed no one could be as great as the man I madly loved and who madly loved me back until he died in a car accident twenty years ago. The same accident that I walked away from physically unharmed, just months before we were both supposed to graduate from college. I decided that horrible night at the age of twenty two that Matt Carmichael would be the last man I would ever allow myself to love deep down to the insides of my bones. He was handsome and kind and wicked smart: a genius in all that was music. He took part of me with him when he died. There is no going back to who you were before something like that happens.
I finished school with my degree in nursing, as planned, specializing in geriatric care and got a job at a beautiful assisted living community called Majestic Manor where I have been able to put my love and energy into supporting the elderly and their families in the last phases of their visible presence here on earth. I have worked there contentedly my entire career where hundreds of experiences and beautiful stories have been embedded in my heart from the lives of my clients and their families. It was a gift I was given, my profession. Soothing and healing others has kept me safe from my own sadness all these years.
I met John a year ago when he was visiting his mother, Jane Froemke, a newer resident at Majestic Manor, who had been encouraged to come live in an environment more equipped to help clients and their families bear the horrific symptoms of alzheimer’s disease. Jane was a beautiful woman in her late seventies who was losing her marbles quite marvelously in my opinion. One time I found her sitting in a meditation pose on the yellow couch in the reading room wearing nothing but a pretty red hat and a long pearl necklace. Her hands were extended up and open to the sky as she hummed some kind of buzzy chant. I remember sitting patiently next to her on the couch in the same pose, a blanket in my lap ready to cover her when was ready to snap back to the present and perhaps not want to be quite so naked. Many nurses feel differently than I do, but I think there is no sense being too abrupt with patients who are doing quirky things, unless there is immediate danger to them or others. To me it’s no different than the rule about not waking up a sleepwalker. It feels more gentle to just meet them at their crazy. And I’m damn good at that.
John was an attractive man in his late forties who had beautiful blue eyes that when I first met him were filled with sadness and a hint of embarrassment over the the idea of his mother going bonkers. I was able to help him lighten up just a bit and embrace a bit of the cray cray. He and I hit it off well enough and started seeing each other casually and then not so casually until the next thing I knew he had planted himself in my simple, carefully constructed life. I remember thinking that perhaps John was the prince I was supposed to finally accept and love and marry, like Princess Ida finally did at the end of the poem, despite the fact that I didn’t need him.
My mom had gotten tired of fighting cancer and left my presence a few years before I met John or she might have lain herself across the train tracks to protest me getting on that particular crazy train. I think she had loved Matt as much as I had and she was the only person in my world who understood how his leaving had changed me. But she left just like Matt had. I’m pretty sure John tricked me but I had no family or close friends to help me see this. All through our dating months he came across as one of those wonderful, ‘just do you and I’ll do me’ kind of guys. He was an accountant in a large firm for over twenty years, had never married, was loyal and loving toward his mom and seemed like a solid, steady person to enjoy the second half of my life with. And while I never felt that deep, all the way inside my bones love for him like I did for Matt, we seemed to be good companions. I thought maybe this was my destiny in being Ida.
But when I said “I do” it was as though Mr. Hyde came to dinner and slowly but surely moved in, replacing my decent Dr. Jekyll boyfriend with a controlling, crazy man. Though I may never know if he was born the kind of guy who would smack a woman around or if he just went crazy after he met me. It does take two to tango.
It started with lights flickering on and off throughout the old rancher I had purchased about ten years ago. We had both agreed to live there, since I had two dopey mastiffs named George and Penelope and a big fat tabby cat named Mabel, who lived to torment those giant babies called dogs. John lived in a condo that didn’t support the idea nor the space needed for pet chaos. It made sense for him to move into to my (our) house and so he did.
At first I figured it was just the crappy wiring that hadn’t been updated since the house was built in the 60’s. But then I started to notice that it happened every time John yelled. Which had become more and more common after we moved in together to live in semi holy matrimony. He would come home from work angry and just start yelling about things: cat hair on his chair; dog shit in the back yard; my lack of cooking skills; no clean socks; the expense of his mother’s care at the “dump” I was employed at. Every time his voice raised above casual conversation volume, what ever light he was near would turn on and off. Sometimes he would pause in mid rage and kind of blink back at the flickering lights in puzzlement but most of the time he didn’t notice. This went on for several months, building, like a gust of wind does when it is destined to become a tornado. It got to the point where I dreaded even coming home after work and were it not for my pets I might not have. It was not at all what I had signed up for but it didn’t feel right to give up so soon. I continued to hope it was simply two people set in their ways from so many years of independence that it was taking time to adjust to the merge.
Then one night I arrived home from work late. A beloved patient named Hector had passed on and I had stayed to sit with the man’s big, beautiful family, while they grieved over a man who had clearly impacted their lives. I had been privileged to hear story upon story over the years from Hector about his life experiences. I was sad and weary when I walked through the door where the dogs greeted me in an unusually silent and still manner. At first they blocked my way out of the kitchen where I had come in from the garage but then they walked on each side of me almost steering me as I walked into the living room where John was sitting in the dark in his chair.
“Hey sweetie. What’s up? Why are you in the dark?” George and Penelope seemed to draw closer to me, almost guarding me from each side as John let me know in an angry voice that he had been passed over for partner again at his firm. This had apparently happened several times in the last few years. “I’m so sorry. That’s just terrible. Why don’t you just quit that awful job and take a sabbatical? I make plenty of money and we have a pretty decent stash built up. Your job is clearly making you crazy John. And quite frankly a little mean.” I immediately knew I had said the wrong thing by the look on his face. He stood up and for the first time ever got up in my face when he yelled and jabbed his finger into my chest.
“Mean? Could it be because I am realizing I married a woman with a heart of stone?” My heart actually contracted at those words, thinking of the silent wailing I had done in my truck after the death of the dear man I had come to have great affection for. But I’d made sure my eyes were dry before I walked into the house and I wondered at that. I had kept such distance from the man I had married. He’d never seen me cry or grieve or yell. Did that mean my heart was stone? Or did it mean I had possibly chosen the wrong man.
“And HONESTLY. Do you think I would ever in a million years let a woman support me? Especially one who thinks I’m crazy? What the fuck Ida? ” he raged on and on ignoring the flickering light next to the chair he had been sitting in and the very soft warning growls coming from the throats of both dogs, neither of whom had ever growled a day in their lives. At least not THAT kind of growl. He jabbed at my chest a second time and ALL the lights in the living room turned on then off then on again. John blinked. “This fucking house. It’s a miracle it’s still standing. I’m not sure why I agreed to live here. I wish you would just get rid of your fucking pets. My condo was so much nicer.” It was the first time he had actually come out and said that he did not like the crew he had inherited when he married me, but there had always been an underlying sense of distaste for the animals. I wondered why I didn’t see that more clearly in the beginning. He continued yelling but I stopped hearing his words as I focussed in on the lights. The dogs were wagging their tails at the lights, but still growling, eyes focussed on John, making it weirder. They had not left my side since I walked in the door. I looked out the window and realized the street lights had gone out along with all the lights in the surrounding homes. Ours were the only ones flickering on and off. But then I looked out into the dark and saw one house, higher up on a small crested hill, that had lights flickering on and off just like ours. Peculiar. And just as I was going to interrupt John’s tirade and point out that something very, very peculiar was happening, John let out a curse as he jerked back from me as though someone had yanked him away. He spun around looking for someone or something. “What the fuck was that?”
“What John? What?” My heart was racing.
“Something just grabbed at my belt. It must have been your stupid cat.” The lights continued to flicker for a second more and then the house went black. But I noticed the house on the hill’s lights were still shutting on and off and it made me think of a lighthouse, a beacon of warning for sailors.
It’s funny how sometimes the simplest thing can just wake you up and help you suddenly see clearly through the fog. “John. This is not working. It’s clear neither of us love each other. It’s clear you are unhappy. I’m sorry but I think we have both made a mistake. You need to go.” The dogs moved in closer and then Mabel came wandering in from the other room, slinking strangely on her belly. A look of confusion passed over John’s face at seeing the cat who had clearly not been in the room to pull on his belt. Then came rage. He stepped toward me.
“You stupid, stupid woman” he screamed as I stared at him in shock. “I rescued you. I saved you from being alone the rest of your life and this is the appreciation you show.” He lunged toward me, his hands around my neck and all the lights in the house came back on. The last thing I remember is seeing foamy spittle coming from his angry mouth like a rabid dog. His shouting faded away as his vice grip hands clenched the life out of me and then everything went dark.
But things continued to happen after I blacked out or I might not have lived to tell this story. I have been able to piece much of it together with the help of the man in the house on the hill who was forced into my drama by a ghost and his dog. He is sitting here next to me right now. The man not the ghost. Though I guess the ghost could be here too. Who knows. Jeremy is going to tell his part of the story now. I’ll just be the typist for a bit here.
“My name is Jeremy Carmichael. I’m Matt Carmichael’s cousin. I know. Crazy. I’m sure I met Ida at Matt’s funeral all those years ago. But we were both too deep in our own grief to remember ever meeting each other. It’s crazy to think that I have been living so close to her all these years. I bet our paths have crossed hundreds of times. We just never connected. Until it was time I guess.
I remember being startled awake by the sound of the piano playing, or more like banging, as though a toddler had found the keys and was pounding away. I’d dozed off in my chair with a book after a twelve hour shift in the ER. I’d been exhausted but still kind of keyed up so I hadn’t gone to bed yet. The piano scared the shit out of me. I thought maybe it was Ralph, my German Shepherd, who was now barking like crazy at the big front window of my house that looked over the surrounding neighborhood. I stood up, dropping my book to the floor just as the lights in my house all turned on and off and the piano started to bang again to the rhythm of the flickering lights. Ralph was still barking at the window so I ran to it just as the lights in my house stopped blinking. The entire neighborhood below me was black except one house whose lights were flashing on and off like mine had been. Ralph made a weird whining noise in his throat and the piano stopped its racket. Something was going on in that house as well. I stumbled to the kitchen and fumbled in a drawer where I kept a pair of binoculars and ran back to the window, unable yet to really grasp that something paranormal was going on in my own home.
Ralph was still there at the window making his strange noise when I returned with the binoculars in hand, focusing them onto the big picture window similar in size to the one I was looking out of. I was just in time to see a man get up into the face of a pretty, dark haired woman with two big dogs on each side of her. He was pointing and yelling and every time he poked her chest with his finger the lights flashed on and off. She was yelling back and must have said something to push him over the edge because he reached for her neck and started to strangle her. I fumbled for my cell phone that I kept charging by the front door and dialed 911 and reported what looked to be an attempted murder. I continued to watch through my binoculars while I tried to explain the general location of the house to the dispatcher when I saw her go limp in his grip. ‘Shit! He’s choking her to death! Hurry! I’m going to try and find the house myself. I’m maybe a two minute drive from there. I will keep my cell phone with me so you can track me.’
Just as I spoke the words one of the dogs leaped at the man to try and loosen his grip and the other gnawed at one of his arms and then suddenly the strangest thing happened. He was literally pulled up off her almost like he was on an invisible pulley. He hovered in the air for a second but then was flung like a rag doll about twenty feet from the woman. I ignored the voice in the phone telling me to NOT to attempt to go to the house, that authorities were on the way. Dropping the binoculars I ran out of the house with my keys and my phone, slamming the door behind me where Ralph continued to bark, clearly feeling left out, and leaped into my car, instinctively following the street lights that turned back on as I approached them as though guiding me to the house.
I arrived in less than a minute thanks to the lights, about two minutes before the police did. The front door violently flung open the very second I approached the house and a fat tabby cat ran outside, then anxiously back in again as though to tell me to hurry. The lights in the house were still turning on and off and the two big dogs were barking ferociously from inside, making me hesitate for a split second before I forced myself to cross the threshold of a complete stranger’s home, just as the man leap onto who I now know to be Ida and reach for the fire iron next to her, raising it back in aim over her head like a spear. She was still unconscious but just as I yelled “Stop!” Ida’s body did a strange, puppet like roll to the the left, her head moving just enough out of the way that when both dogs pounced on him from behind, the metal poker stabbed the floor instead of her face. Then from the impact of the daring mastiff duo, his own head hit the floor with a violent smack, knocking him out cold. And that’s when Ida came to.”
Jeremy is looking at me right now as I type this. Ralph, George and Penelope are also staring at me. Though this could be because we promised them a walk as soon as this story is down on paper. Mabel is pouting somewhere. Two dogs she could handle. Three hanging out is going to take some adjusting. They all love Jeremy. Which is quite telling for me. Though the bold presence of a ghost certainly helped steer my heart some. It’s hard to ignore the prompting of the paranormal.
We have both speculated as to who the ghost might be. Was it Matt who led Jeremy to my rescue? There was music involved after all. Was it my mom who flung John off me and rolled me away from John like a rag doll? She was ferociously protective of her causes in life, why not in death. We found out later that Jane Froemke died that night, minutes after I had sorrowfully left Majestic Manor. She was found on her favorite yellow couch, this time fully covered in a bright purple bathrobe and bright pink fuzzy slippers, her mouth in a permanent, red lipstick smile, hands clenched in prayer. I sometimes wonder if it was her, perhaps rescuing her son from himself that night. He went to jail for a brief period but is now on the special floor of a hospital reserved for people who have checked out mentally. The divorce will be tricky but I’m working on it. I don’t regret my time with him because I know it needed to happen to get me where I’m at now. The ghost or perhaps ghosts have not made themselves present since that night but Jeremy and I sometimes flick our lights on and off at night when we are in our separate homes, as though to honor them and give comfort to each other while we take our time with our growing love for each other. But I do believe in my heart that it took a group effort of magnificent proportion to create the unconventional haunting needed to get a woman named Ida to finally feel a deep inside her bones love for a pet loving prince named Doctor Jeremy Carmichael.