So, it all started with the dysfunctional Playstation – reading a disc, then not, then reading it. We thought it was just a “computer” issue. Then the light upstairs started behaving in the same way. Off, then on, then back off, back on. It made no sense. Mr. Velvet said laughing – “Do you think it was a ghost?” (We had a friend who stayed with us a few months and she was certain we had a ghost. While she stayed with us we had strange experiences like the garage door opening on its own, light fixtures falling from the ceiling… Amazingly, the activity stopped when she left, so I think maybe she was the one who was haunted.) We laughed.
But then, it happened, the Friday after Thanksgiving. We were visited by a spirit in the form of Mae West. It wasn’t Mae West, but it took the form of Mae West because, “It is better to be looked over than overlooked,” and you cannot overlook Mae West standing at the foot of your bed, even if she is a bit wispy and diaphanous and feels like she could disappear any second. “I’ve been places and seen things,” the spirit said doing its best Mae West imitation…” and I came to warn you. You will be visited by three spirits, the ghost of years past, the ghost of the year present, and the ghost of years future.” And then, Mae West disappeared. “What time is it?” Mr. Velvet asked. I looked at my watch. “1am.” “Time for bed now,” he said as he rolled over and went to sleep.
The next thing I knew we were being woken by a very sharp repeated bark and then I felt a paw insistently pressing on my feet. “Stop it,” I said, kicking towards the paw thinking that the stupid dog would just shut up and leave me alone if I could knock her off the bed. But I kicked at the location where I felt paw and my foot did not touch dog. And yet, I still felt paw. What the hell? I looked up and there looking at me with his little bat-like face was Quincy, the Boston Terrier. Or rather, the ghost of our Boston Terrier. I nudged Mr. Velvet, who was almost awake but trying to ignore everything around him. “Look – It’s Quincy!” “Wha…” he uttered as he reached for his glasses and put them on. Quincy bounded over to us and we started petting him, which was difficult because sometimes you could feel fur and then other times it was as if you just were petting air.
Then, Quincy maneuvered in between the two of us, snuggled under the blankets in the bed and it was almost as if the bed became one of the canopied cars at Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Mr. Velvet and I sat as passengers and Quincy was our hitchhiker ghost.
The images started appearing before our eyes and we saw the same things, occasionally looking at each other in amazement. It was as if the bed was transporting us through different times and spaces although it continued to rest firmly on the wood floor of the house. It wasn’t like watching a movie, it was as if we were right in the room as things were happening in front of us, but it was things in the past, scenes from long ago, in both of our pasts. Mr. Velvet as a child, running into posts, pestering his brothers, running around the neighborhood having a snowball fight where the drifts of snow were so high in places that the kids could jump on and off the rooftops with ease. Me, sitting under a Christmas tree wrapping packages as our cat proceeds to climb it and then both the cat and the tree fall onto my head. And then, both of us together, our wedding, Christmases in Louisiana and Quincy himself as a live dog ripping apart the stuffed animals “Santa” brought him in his Christmas stocking. Times with friends, family, and our major life accomplishments were relived. There were some bad moments, but mostly good, and we thanked the Quincy spirit for these reminders of the past and the wonderful memories we shared. Then he got up, gave us each a long look as if to say goodbye and hopped off the bed.
“What time is it?” I looked at my watch. “2:45.” “Mmm… time to sleep,” and then Mr. Velvet curled back into the blankets and closed his eyes.
Before I really got into slumber mode, I felt something sliding onto me, something heavy. I reached my hand out and felt the smooth skin, the round hard length of muscle. Snake… my brain registered. I opened my eyes and wrapping himself over the both of us was Samson, our departed Burmese Python. He was mellow and slow, and didn’t seem to resent us for failing to bury him in the yard like we had the other pets, but then it difficult to bury a ten foot snake in the yard, especially when you have sold your house and will be moving in a mere matter of days.
As he continued slithering around us, we sat up, propped up on the pillows and he made a complete circle around us, as if we were lassoed together. His tail resting on my leg and his head draping over Mr. Velvet’s shoulder. Samson’s only movement was a periodic darting tongue, eyes open and unblinking. Again, the bed becomes an apparent transport devise, or viewer, into the past – but only this past year. Recent events. Here there was more of a mix of the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. We saw last Christmas, quiet time spent in Southern California and moments spent with our families. There were annoying or frustrating moments, Mr. Velvet embroiled in arguments with the school, the administrators, colleagues. Me, sitting in a hotel room working on my computer and driving through traffic jams and freeway gridlock in Los Angeles. But there were the good moments, too, and sometimes the moments that weren’t really good at the time but are rather humorous after-the-fact… Like going to Ren Faire in all of our Ren Faire garb and sitting down to eat our lunch. Me, giant turkey leg in hand, become an attractant for what I first believe to be bees, but then as they start landing on my turkey leg and then actually chewing on it and eating it themselves suddenly reveal themselves as the nasty wasps that they were. At that point I had decided I had enough turkey for the day and the wasps could chase it into the trash if they wanted it.
There were the accomplishments, me winning “Most Humorous” at the Great Burlesque Exposition in Boston, performing at the Ohio Burlesque Festival in Cleveland, and at “Burlypics, The Burlesque Olympics” in Los Angeles. It was fascinating seeing snippets of preparing and performing our big DIVAfest Burlesque show – At the White Rabbit Burlesque – from the perspective of an observer. Having only seen the show as a performer, it was a new experience watching myself in what appeared to be real time, three-dimensionalality in my role as “Red Queen.” It was a spectacular show with a stage set and costumes that were veritable eye candy, but with a general story and plot line and unusual, although believable, burlesque characters. We had hordes of photographers – this may be the most photographed show that they have ever had at The Exit Theatre (our little stage home). I also did my first real singing on stage this year, so watching that was a total trip!
One aspect of performing (and watching myself) that I am still getting used to doing – I had to hold Mr. Velvet’s hand for those little moments. And MCing for the first time – another new accomplishment this year to be proud of. I figured people would laugh one way or the other – they would either laugh with me or they would laugh at me. My dad stories seemed to be particularly popular…
Then, there were the experiences – the surprising but lovely fireworks show at the beach at Capitola where we went for my birthday, the conference in San Antonio, TX where I finally saw the Alamo and the little riverwalk area that looks like something out of Disneyland, my first trip to the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas (lots of sparkley clothes and peoples, but the constant heat outside and the indoor smoking inside was enough to make me not want to hurry back to Vegas.) There was the work trip to New York, where I dragged Mr. Velvet and we stayed downtown right at Grand Central Station and I rode the subway to the bank every day. We went shopping, exploring, went to burlesque shows and musicals, and had a lot of good meals – but not as good as San Francisco.
Our two cast parties for At the White Rabbit Burlesque – the all girl meal out (we had an all female cast this year, plus one female costuming assistant and our token male technician) and the potluck party at our house which included some spouses… and the mixed experience of the Annual Award Ceremony in DC where I was part of a group award for educational videos we developed for the banking industry. Both an honor and a boring and poorly planned event, emotions were mixed, but the plaque that I have no room on my office walls to actually hang is a nice one. The teaching moments, too, mostly good, sometimes tiring or annoying (not all students are a joy to teach) both for Mr. Velvet’s classes and my cancan, Duncan, and burlesque classes. There was a day where I went with Mr. Velvet to his campus where I talked to his English class about fraud investigations and gave an hour and a half presentation and exhibition to the dance department’s dance history class – all about Isadora Duncan.
Overall, we looked back on it and it was a good year, but also a stressful year, a busy year. We made it through re-visiting our quiet and homey Thanksgiving and then Samson slowly unwound himself from the two of us and slunk across my back and down the bedpost and then under the bed. I knew he was actually vanishing at that point because there is no room for a live Burmese python under my bed with all of the plastic boxes of clothes that are smushed under there. “Time…” Mr. Velvet almost moaned… “3:40.” “That one was almost speedy. Can we get any sleep before the next one?” and we snuggled into each other with our blankets pulled up to our ears.
Our next awakening was the most gentle. It was the patter of teeny tiny little feet back and forth back and forth back and forth, so light I could barely feel it. And then, because my reaction was too slow, I felt the tiniest of little tongues licking my face. I looked up and there was our belated rat, my first rat, Aelphie. She reminded me of one of those pictures that changes depending on the angle. Sometimes I would look at her and there she was a cute fuzzy little rat, mostly black with a couple of smidges of white, and then when I would look again, there was nothing but a rat skeleton with blackness for eyes. And then the flesh and fur would be back again. I sat up scooping the Aelphie apparition into my right hand while nudging Mr. Velvet awake with my left. “It’s the last spirit. She’s here…” Mr. Velvet reluctantly sat up and then looked at my hand confusedly. I am guessing that his first glance at Aelphie was the skeleton version because his face softened in the next few seconds. Mr. Velvet and I sat next to each other in the bed as Aelphie crawled up onto my left shoulder. We began the journey of the future.
It was more snapshots and less cohesion, but it seemed similar to much of the past, but moving faster and faster. We were both still together, through the good moments and the painful moments, which made everything much easier. And we continued to be accompanied by pets – of various kinds, but less of them. We could see ourselves getting older, moving slower, retiring, but it seemed like we had lives worth living, worth moving forward towards. The story ended with our deaths. No comments about our legacy, our remains. I don’t care what other people think now and I don’t suppose I will when I am not around anymore. The ending just seemed peaceful. Aelphie, still shifting between flesh and bone versions, gave me a final lick on the cheek and then scurried towards the end of the bed, disappearing entirely before she reached the end of it.
The spirits weren’t frightening, they were a lovely reminder of where we have been, what we have accomplished, how we have changed and grown, and the abilities and knowledge that we still have left to contribute to our own little worlds, whatever and whoever we impact. “Is that it?” asked Mr. Velvet. “It was three, and it went beginning to end. Nothing else to cover I should think.” “Shall we do anything differently? Are we going to go buy Tiny Tim a turkey now?” He smiled. “I think we are good. We should continue to do and be who we are, continue to grow ourselves every day, continue to try to do what we feel is the right thing, and continue to share our knowledge and abilities with others. I think that is enough. If I meet a Tiny Tim, maybe then I can think about buying him a turkey, but for now, let’s just do some Christmas shopping for the family.” “Okay, but sleep first. What time is it now?” “4:45. At least it is Saturday, if it was during the week I would have to be up at 6.”
So, that is my pre-Christmas, post-Thanksgiving tale of the spirits we encountered and their visits to our lives. I hope that your spirits, if you encounter them, provide you with whatever you need to keep yourselves moving forward in the right direction, whatever that direction might be. As I finish this story, I see that the spirit Quincy is back, scooting a book forward with his nose and then flipping it to its last page clumsily with his paws. The last page in the book is the page with the infamous Dickens quote “God Bless us Everyone…” So I will paraphrase that to Velvet-2014-speak, which is:
“Happy Holidays –
and may you have a blessed* year and a blessed* future…”
*from me personally or by whatever deity or deities you choose to believe in…