I fell in love with the apartment on 17th Avenue in Denver’s Uptown district the moment I saw it. The leaves were just beginning to turn gold and red. Three weeks later, in late October of 2004, I moved in with my cat Leon. My new home had lofty ceilings, immense windows and ornately carved cabinets dating back to the early 1900s.
It also had a ghost. But we didn’t meet until December.
I was still smoking then. There were only two places I could indulge my habit: downstairs on the front steps, where irritating neighbors inevitably gathered; or the second-story balcony just across my hallway. I preferred the latter.
Two heavy wooden doors granted access to the balcony. The “public” door was situated off my hallway. The couple occupying the apartment at the opposite end of the balcony had their own entrance. They generally kept to themselves.
I was free to inhale my solitude with my smoke — until that December twilight.
It was an ordinary winter evening, cloudless and dripping with stars. I remember gazing at the high trees and hearing people laugh as they left the upscale restaurants across the street. I wasn’t wearing a coat.
I finished my cigarette and put it in the coffee can. Then I turned the scaly gold doorknob. The door refused to budge. I tried again. Nothing. I rattled the knob, kicked the frame. Did someone lock it? Impossible. I live upstairs. No one has a lock to this door!
I banged my bare knuckles on the door for about five minutes, maybe longer, and I was really cold. The apartment on the other end seemed dark. I decided to try anyway.
“Is anyone home? It’s Andrea, and I can’t get inside!”
It was obvious they weren’t home. I could jump off the balcony but probably wouldn’t live to tell the tale.
One more time, I whispered. Try it one more time. I grabbed the knob with all my might. And the second I touched it, the door opened wide.
In retrospect, what scared me most was not getting locked out. It was being allowed back in — so effortlessly and inexplicably.
I closed the balcony door and stood in the empty hallway. I was two steps away from my apartment when I saw a blurry shadow fly straight into the wall, and beyond. It looked like a little girl in an old-fashioned dress. Although I never saw her again, she didn’t leave for a long time.
Over the next four months I experienced small-scale occurrences. When I came home from work, pictures tilted or swooned on the wood floor. Carefully arranged knick-knacks on the shelves had switched positions. I was convinced that she, “it,” was harmless yet puerile. She played with me.
“What do you want?” I’d ask the silence. She never answered, at least not in words.
“Yes,” it pointed after Shari asked whether someone else was in the apartment.
“Yes,” it was a little girl.
Then Shari broke up. Chris too. They had planned a nice trick, and in my eagerness I fell for it. The wine helped.
The last experience was the most frightening. It happened about a month before Leon and I relocated to Washington Park (not because of my apparitional companion but an obstinate lack of heat).
I woke up about 5 a.m. My left hand hurt terribly, like it was gripped in a vice. I was lying on my other side, the painful hand freely exposed. I bolted upright. Leon was sound asleep at my feet. I turned on the lamp next to the bed.
I was alone.
My hand was red. I could barely move my fingers. I massaged it for several minutes. Eventually the gripping sensation relented. “Go away!” I yelled. “I have nothing to give you!” That was our final encounter.
I don’t know about God or the devil, let alone ghosts in girlish dresses. But as I reminisce on this page, I’m reminded of a passage from Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.”
Whoever or whatever haunted me on 17th Avenue gave me just enough light to glimpse the darkness. It’s real. I will always be grateful that I was allowed to enter the mystery — and allowed to leave.