No doubt, for all of us, the past six months has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions — name it, we’ve all felt it, or are still reeling from it: anxiety, uncertainty, despair, helplessness, even anger, just to tick off a few. And it seems like a ride that won’t be ending any time soon. It sometimes seems like we’re stuck on a rollercoaster from hell! Let’s just hope it isn’t making a round trip.
A YouTube video called “Regulating Emotions and Building Resiliency in the Face of a Pandemic” by the Harvard Medical School says that fear and anxiety during an extraordinary crisis like this is a normal part of our biological response to help us deal with a threat. And the coronavirus, as the entire world agrees by now — save for a few rotten eggs — is a real, clear and present danger.
However, when you’re stuck at home 24/7, trying to rationalize how your whole life has been upended, the last thing you want is to have to deal with an otherworldly presence. The home has become our only refuge from this virus. It’s become our office, classroom, cinema, a gym, a playground. But what if you found out your home is probably haunted?
I had turned off all the lights and had barely closed my eyes when I heard someone — or something — with a deep, raspy voice whisper in my ear: 'Gising ka pa ba?’
I took a break from work one late night this week. It was past 12, so I figured a midnight snack would be justified. As I made my way to the kitchen through the living room, I heard a click to my left, which I ignored. A lamp had turned on. Unfortunately, it took a while for the one in my head to do the same. It took five solid seconds for me to realize the darn thing turned on by itself, and then the surprise gave way to worry, which then gave way to fear. A little.
These things don’t normally happen to me, but it did remind me of that night in our childhood home in Manila. Growing up there, my grandmother filled my head with tales to thrill and frighten: phantom footsteps by the stairs and the disembodied voices of Japanese soldiers. As old houses go, this one, I knew, had stories.
So back to that night in the early 2000s: alone in that old house, I had decided to turn in, per habit, past midnight. I had turned off all the lights and had barely closed my eyes when I heard someone or something with a deep raspy voice whisper in my ear: “Gising ka pa ba?” (“Are you still awake?”). Startled, I leapt out of bed, turned on all the lights in the house and played the stereo as loud as I could all night long. I don’t remember if I got to sleep at all that night, but maybe my neighbors didn’t, from all the ruckus I was deliberately creating.
This reminded me of a friend’s story. They were at a school retreat and for some reason one participant was struggling to say a prayer that the priest had asked them to recite. It took a few minutes of mumbling and mouthing to get the words out, but when the poor kid finally got to “Amen” at the end, a voice whispered in his ear: “Kaya mo kaya ulitin yun?” (“Do you think you can say that again?”). Panic ensued, as the story goes.
In the ’90s, I joined a spirit hunt with the Questors group of the Ateneo for a TV show I was helping to produce. I was told that there were spirits hovering over us the entire time, and one even sent me a message through a medium. I had been given advice to keep true to my values, which, I thought, were being challenged. I was changing at the time. I left television two years after that.
I don’t normally scare easy. I’ve gotten lost up in the mountains here and abroad (I’ve a knack for random recklessness when I travel by myself), jumped out of an airplane, gotten held up by a tour guide in the middle of nowhere and survived. Lost and alone on an ill-advised night trek up a mountain in Batangas, with the battery on my borrowed flashlight dying, I prayed to God to keep me safe from evil spirits.
But the most scared I’ve ever been didn’t involve a disembodied spirit or anything of the paranormal sort. It was in a hotel in Bali one morning, when a client decided I was late for breakfast and sent an attendant to make sure I woke up. Oh, I woke up all right — shrieking, screaming like I was being bloody murdered, which I thought I was! You would, too, if you woke up to a strange man kneeling over and shaking you in bed. It was a king-size bed and I was right in the middle, so the poor guy — he was short — had to climb up on the bed to get to me. I came to my senses a few second later, apologizing to the attendant who was as shaken as I was. Best wake-up call ever, and the most frightened I’ve ever been.
There are so many stories of the supernatural in my head, placed in there by all those books I read in school, back when I preferred the company of books to people. To be sure, there are many things out there we can’t explain. Things that go bump in the night, a creaking floorboard and that lamp turning on by itself. In a moment of rationalization, I thought, do I need to deal with this, too? That video on regulating your emotions I mentioned above taught me to slow my emotions down so I can process them better. That gave me time to decide that the things to be afraid of are out there already: in the news, on a podium, in the streets, where the damage, whether small or significant, is real.
The Questors taught me it’s not good to challenge or even acknowledge a paranormal presence, lest you provide them the energy to manifest themselves. With everything going on in the world, the paranormal is going to have to try harder to get my attention. Let’s just hope we get off before it makes a round trip.