I hear things my husband does not. See movement from the corners of my eyes. Watch as shadows fade and darken with the deliberate pulsing of our overhead lights. “It’s an older house,” he likes to explain. “Someday, you’ll get used to it.” The shoddy electrical work. The hiss-growling furnace. The groaning water pipes, rusted and straining with age. All of which neatly refutes what I think I’ve sensed.

Yesterday, when I left the room, the television volume read 29. When I returned, 47. “You adjusted it,” my husband accused. I was certain I didn’t. But not certain enough to argue.

It is true that I am mentally ill. Clinically depressed. Acutely anxious. Living with the remnants of anorexia nervosa and assault-related PTSD. I thrash myself to sleep at night—when I sleep at all—and see outright lies when I look into mirrors. I cry easily, feel nervous around most humans, and refuse to take medication.

When I shower, which is infrequent, my husband chaperones from the toilet. He makes conversation to distract me from my own thoughts, occupying with admirable diplomacy the narrow space between gentle interest and exhausted concern. “You’ll never believe this,” I sputter through the scalding water spray, “but it’s happening right now.”

And—I get it. People who stand in the bathtub and punch themselves in the head aren’t to be trusted. Especially with perception. Especially when they say things like, “We aren’t alone in this house.”

My first night here, I lay on our displaced couch, listening as two men whispered a conversation mere feet from my head. I didn’t open my eyes. I was tired from the move and neither curious nor afraid. Besides, I knew I wouldn’t see them.

My mom expresses a theory. “Angels!” she trills. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in angels. They’ve been sent to protect you. In your new home, as you start your new, married life.” I laugh at how wrong she is. Because I don’t believe in ghosts either, and certainly not in angels. But I’m still sane enough to know the difference.

“I will not be co-opted into an irrational viewpoint,” a writing teacher once said of my work. He said it with enviable disdain and confidence in his rightness. As though I had not long since been aware of that simple, irrefutable fact:

My brain is not good.

“But what if I’m just perceptive?” I ask my husband. “What if the troubles have sharpened my senses? What if your brain is just incapable of processing this kind of thing?” I smile to show it’s a joke hypothesis, not a plea, the concern that is gradually becoming my conviction.

Not crazy, just funning.

Ha ha!—did you see that flicker? Ho ho!—did you hear that static? Tee hee!—did you see the garish plaid sock I pulled from our laundry, an object which neither of us owns, would never have owned, no I didn’t put it in there myself, it was RED for christsake. What sort of sociopath owns a single red sock?

When I leave the room, the television volume sits at 29. When I return—47 and loud. “You adjusted it,” my husband accuses. I’m certain I didn’t. But not certain enough to argue. A state of limbo that allows enough room for self-doubt but also a lingering notion of the paranormal. A constant second-guessing. A lifetime of hearing, “You’re nuts.” An acknowledgement that my reality falls along fault lines, that not even I can trust me anymore, so it’s best to just keep quiet.

I reside in creeping duplicity. I learn our house’s frequencies. Its sense of humor. Its shifting humidity. Its means of communication electronic. I ask, too often, if my husband regrets marrying me. Sometimes he hesitates. And on the nights I do go to bed, I lie awake too long, listening.

Until, finally, I hear it.

“Honey, did you leave the stereo on?”

It’s an offhand question, sleepy and sincere. But then I’ll know he hears it, too. A man speaking through crackles in radio waves, the lapping cadence of a wood-box broadcaster, authoritative and antiquated, far away in time but not in space. Here, but where?


But where.

Doubt suspended. Senses revised. Distance bending, breaking, closing. Two people bound, in marriage and by the joint pull of exhaustion. Realities met, united, merged—if only long enough to ask and to answer.

“No, I didn’t. I promise I know I didn’t.”

Heather Cook-Mihalik lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her kindly, practical husband and her many beautiful cat babies. Her essays have previously been published in Moon City Review. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Missouri State University, where she taught creative nonfiction for nearly a decade.

Artwork by Marvin Liberman