Like so many haunted houses, you could walk past it nearly every day and never give it a second thought. Only during certain times of the year did it take on a special quality. Eerie. Creepy. Haunted. That is not how the Gresham house felt to me. It was scary year-round.
I ride my bike past that house twice a day and it has always seemed like a bad place. A pistachio-green duplex that has had some level of disrepair hanging around the edges. It was the place where the Christmas lights never seemed to come down and the space next to the fence filled with pieces of bikes, rusted barbecues, and car parts that may have been on their way to one of the cars parked perpetually at an angle on the driveway. It was where the Gresham kids lived. When I was a fourth grade teacher, I had first the older sister and then the middle brother in my class. That didn't work out quite the way I wanted it to.
With the daughter, I was in my first year as a classroom teacher, after six years as computer teacher. I wasn't prepared to deal with parents in the full measure that having just one class demanded. The Gresham girl showed up with a neighborhood feud going against another young lady in my class. From the first day, they were at each other: on the yard, in line, at lunch, and in my room. I used all my training and all my tricks to get some order out of the chaos these pre-teens brought every day. Eventually this led to a meeting with the mothers of both girls in the principal's office. The mother's eventual solution was to flip a coin to see which girl would stay in my class and which would be moved to another fourth grade. I was never clear what the winner was going to get: me or the switch. I do remember that two years later I got the middle brother. He wasn't feuding with anyone. He was feuding with everyone. He had no interest in being in anyone's classroom, to the point that he would on a regular occasion, make himself throw up underneath his desk so that he could be sent home.
Back to that house. Eventually, the Greshams decided that we were not the school for them and they took the rest of their elementary education to another school in the district. I would imagine they chose that school based on a roll of the dice or a flip of the coin.
They didn't move. They stayed in that house, where I rode my bike past twice a day. The perpetually inebriated father shambled about and nodded in my direction in a way that seemed vaguely friendly, but never committal. He was the guy who didn't bother taking down his Christmas lights, but took great care each Halloween to decorate his front lawn with styrofoam headstones and severed body parts. Fake severed body parts. Each year brought a new addition to the display, culminating a few years back with a ten-foot-tall inflatable black cat.
This week there were no tombstones. There was no inflatable black cat. There was a freshly installed chain link fence around the entire property. The Greshams have moved away. It could be that they finally found someplace better to be. Better schools. Better neighborhood. Maybe they were looking for a living room that could hold all their furniture without feeling crowded by the big screen TV that dominated the room. That big screen TV that was kept on and blaring when I stopped by to talk about the kids' progress in school. Maybe they were trying to get away from their past. The past that saw that middle son accidentally shot in the bathroom of their grandmother's home. The ghosts of the past. The ones that haunt me still.