Valerie Pavilonis

Babysitting is terrifying.

Not because you’re tasked with taking care of someone else’s young children (that is a far more rational fear, especially when you’re 12 and probably not qualified to do that), but because all of a sudden, you are in charge of someone else’s home, which includes their rooms, their furniture, their food and whatever haunts that building.

I would not consider myself a particularly religious or spiritual person. I also wouldn’t call myself superstitious — I’m not fun enough for that. But when I’m stuck in someone else’s home and I brush past a light switch, accidentally switching it on or off, I am affirmed in my belief that ghosts exist, and that they’re out to get us.

Yes, that’s right — I’m Owen, and I’m here to tell you that your biggest concern should not be the paintball perpetrator on the loose or the actual pandemic, but that odd rattling sound your crappy Berkeley dorm room’s heater makes, or the fact that your bathroom’s shower curtain was not open before. Happy Halloween!

To support my thesis, I’ve launched a formal journalistic investigation, which means scrolling through the “ghosts” note on my iPhone and asking for evidence from friends in our group chat. I’ve stumbled upon a few key arguments.

First of all, I come from the westernmost part of western Massachusetts, where we have had UFO sightings and where there are more cows than people — a prime location for ghosts, if I do say so myself. A rather unfortunate “mice infestation” in my attic has led me to fall asleep to the pitter-patter of what my parents labeled “the damn mice.” Were they mice? Possibly; possibly not — food for thought, I think?

I could give you more examples — when I walk around in my town early in the morning, I see street lights switch on at very random times (“Facilities has to turn them on,” I’ve been told unconvincingly); my friend hears doors slam in the middle of the night in her home (“The windows are open and let wind in,” her mother says unconvincingly); and my toothbrush has gone missing multiple times (“You lost it,” my parents tell me unconvincingly).

I’ve spoken to people who have had even more convincing experiences. One friend told me that once, lying semi-awake in a state of sleep paralysis, she felt a cold hand grip her leg — who else could it have been? Exactly. I spoke to another friend from Australia who visited a haunted site in Sydney. Yet another friend misinterpreted my question and simply told me about the men who have ghosted her over the years.

But my argument that ghosts are real and that you should be afraid of them is less about individual examples and more about the set of assumptions that we are forced to accept if we refuse that they do exist.

For example — Berkeley kids whose heaters are rattling: You can either assume that someone is rattling your heater, or that there is a specific technical issue with your room that has not been fixed. The latter justification is simply too rational for me. When you’re lying in bed, trying to sleep, should you be forced to consider mechanical issues, or should you think outside the box?

When I tried to explain this to a friend, she looked back blankly at me and asked, “So you believe in ghosts because it’s too boring not to?”

No! Absolutely not. I believe in ghosts because they feel true in the moment, regardless of what my logic later tells me. When I’m sitting on the couch of the family I’m babysitting for, and I hear a pan drop in the kitchen, I panic, because I’m easily terrified by these things. And my next immediate thought is that the kitchen is haunted.

Now, sitting in my college dorm room, I obviously could look back on that experience and ask myself, “Why on earth would you think that a ghost had knocked over the pan?” But by that point, I’m no longer having the same visceral experience that I was when I was in the kids’ home. I trust these individual situations more than I trust a broader rationalization for why they’re all untrue.

Why is this relevant to Yale students? I think there is a case to be made that deciding that ghosts are real counts as self-improvement. First of all, consider all the usefulness — you knock over a drink in your room, and instead of blaming your clumsiness, you’re provided with a quick, rational excuse: The ghost knocked it over! Alone in your room, frustrated by your work and feeling depressingly lonely? You are, in fact, not alone in your room — you have a friend with you! Sitting in that Berkeley room with the noisy heater, tired of blaming it on Berkeley’s inferiority and ready to raise your college-tied self esteem? It’s just a ghost!

Honestly, we all need to relax a little sometimes. I know that the pace of life at Yale can feel overwhelming at times, and that obstacles seem to constantly arise from every corner of our lives. Right now, a looming election that may play a sizable role in determining the future of our democracy and a worldwide pandemic are massive additional stressors.

I think the best first step to coping with these challenges is to accept the legitimacy of our fear. Why can’t we do the same thing for ghosts? If I’m alone in the house and I hear a door shut, and I decide a ghost shut it, then I’ve confronted my fears. My faith in ghosts also alleviates other concerns — I’d rather a ghost in my house than a human serial killer. Instead of worrying about why, I just assume the ghost did it.

So, reader, you have three choices here: Take a look at my evidence and decide that ghosts are real, shut your computer and go back to your stressful, ghostless life or believe that maybe ghosts aren’t real, but that in another sense, they are. And this comes at an apt time — you may not get to gather in huge crowds this Halloweekend, but ghosts aren’t infectious!

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu

OWEN TUCKER-SMITH
Owen Tucker-Smith edits the City Desk and is the Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine. He previously covered the Mayor's Office. Originally from Western Massachusetts, Owen is a sophomore Statistics & Data Science major in Ezra Stiles College.