Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Case of the Unresolved Footsteps

The year was 1995. Katie and I were married that August and were living in Provo, Utah that fall, where we attended the BYU. To help with rent and to help Katie’s family, we lived in the basement apartment of Katie’s grandfather's house. It was a yellow, two-story house on 50 East, right behind the Brick Oven, if you’re familiar with that Italian eatery. Rather capacious for the location, and quite outdated in comparison to the new student apartments across the street, it looked out of place.

Katie’s grandfather had experienced a number of strokes and in his old age and was not the picture of health. He could barely move on his own and required others to help him bathe, eat, and change his clothes. He didn’t need any help going to the bathroom, however, because he did that wherever and whenever he pleased.

Though the bedrooms were on the second story, to help Grandpa get around, he and his sleeping arrangements had been moved to the main floor. The four bedrooms upstairs were spacious, along with a full bathroom and several sizeable closets that were used for either storage or just left empty. With nobody living up there, and no maids, the upstairs was always very still and dusty. It was like nobody had been up there since 1857, when the Saints built the first two-story house in Provo. Sometimes, when I was the only one home (besides Grandpa), I liked to go upstairs and pretend I ran an old museum. I would give tours and explain how the rooms were used to house all 18 of George Soderborg’s children, and how the oldest children would actually select one of the roomy closets as their bedroom, just for the sake of having some privacy! (Then I’d chuckle to myself, assuming the folks taking the tour would equally be amused at my witty monologue that juxtaposed the children of centuries past with the children of today, and how they really aren’t that different after all.)

The main floor featured the front room, where Grandpa spent most of his time watching television and spitting out his pills that we had given him about 10 minutes earlier, with a dining room and a kitchen behind the front room. Off to the side was a parlor that had been turned into Grandpa’s room. And our basement apartment was directly under his bedroom. There was a set of stairs that went up from the back of our apartment into the kitchen on the main floor, and that was the path we usually traveled to go up and check on Grandpa and take care of him.

One night, in the middle of the night, Grandpa fell out of bed. Turned out he was coherent enough to recognize he had to go to the bathroom and wanted to try and make it on his own, bless him. Unfortunately, he got as far as sitting up in bed…then he sort of just fell out of it and onto the floor. The thud woke me up and I went upstairs, hoisted him up off the floor, checked his diaper, and put him back in bed. I mention this only so you understand how clearly one could hear things going down in Grandpa’s room.

We had lived in the apartment just shy of two months when one of the most unsettling things took place one evening, ‘round midnight.

Katie and I were going to bed and had most likely just finished chatting about how nobody could possibly ever be in love as much as us, and even though we were newlyweds, we would totally act the same giddy way our whole lives, because we were awesome and we would always find each others’ belches endearing and everything we did would be cute forever and ever. We had been lying there in the dark for just a few minutes – you know those minutes, when it’s late, dark, and quiet, and you are juuuust about to doze off, but still about 15% alert. Somewhere between conscious and unconscious. I was almost there, when suddenly, there were five distinct, deliberate, and pounding footsteps running across the floor above us. We both shot up in bed, looked at each other, and shouted “What was THAT?!” I’m telling you, it couldn’t have been better choreographed if we were on a movie set.

I physically jumped out of bed. “Did you hear that?!”

“Was that right above us?!” asked a panicked and newlywed-cute Katie.

I understood what she meant – she was saying. “Isn’t that Grandpa’s room?”

“That couldn’t have been Grandpa,” I said. “I hoisted him off the floor the other night. He’s like an enormous sack of Hogi Yogi. That was something else. Somebody is in the house.”

Having almost drifted off for the night and then to be shocked into a state of panic, my adrenaline was already hummin’. I ran up the back stairs, through the kitchen, and into Grandpa’s room. He didn’t budge. Still snoring, wrapped under his blankets, he was unaware of anything. I did a lap around the main floor – through the front room, the dining room, the kitchen – I saw no signs of anything. My guts imploded, I grabbed the fireplace poker, and I took off up the stairs. I could almost hear the people yelling at my movie screen “Don’t go up the stairs!!!!! You’ll kill yourself!!!! WHY is he going up the stairs?! Oh, now I HOPE he dies if he’s THAT stupid!”

I didn’t turn on any lights, for fear of giving away my exact location to the intruder. I ran into every bedroom and closet, ripping the doors open, each time fully expecting to confront somebody. I had never been so hopped up on adrenaline. When I tore open the final door to reveal absolutely nothing, I paused only for a second before the horrible thought came to me, “He’s run down the back stairs into my apartment and has Katie!” Faster than I had run up the stairs, I ran back down, through the kitchen, down another flight of stairs and into my little apartment. There was Katie, sitting up in bed with the covers pulled up to her chin.

“Who is it? Who was there?”

“There’s nobody there. There is not one soul in this house except us and Grandpa.”

I went back up and took a more calculated and leisure trip through the house, paying more attention to detail and looking to see if there were any small signs of disturbance. I couldn’t see a thing.

It was a few months after that, when we were sharing this experience with some of Katie’s family that we were told Katie’s uncle used to live in that very basement apartment, years before us. Used to. He had moved back home, due to some struggles with emotional and mental imbalances. He had struggled for year with some very real bouts of depression. He killed himself in that very apartment.