In my parents’ house – the house I grew up in, home – the light switch to the garage is outside the garage itself. And, if you’re already pushing on the door, it’s behind you, slightly too far away to reach comfortably. To open the door truly efficiently, you need to turn left, switch on the light, turn right, open the door. Of course, I never mastered this. Always I would open the door and see the still-darkened room.
And back then, when I lived at home, I was a teenager. Closing a door, turning, switching a light, turning back, reopening a door – it was all too much. But eventually, I learnt that if I stuck my leg out I could prevent the door from shutting whilst I twisted and reached back to the switch, balancing on one leg. A slight energy saving.
This wasn’t an important part of my adolescence, wasn’t something that defined me, wouldn’t be a memory I cherished into old age. And yet.
When I was home in January I opened the garage door, saw the still-darkened room and before I knew I was doing it, I stuck my leg out, balanced, twisted, switched the light on. A muscle memory, dormant for more than a decade, suddenly in motion.
All of which is to say that I’ve been reading about Gothic story structure and if there are haunted houses, I think they’re us.
I’ve long suspected that I’m the protagonist in my own tale, but I didn’t know till now that I was the setting, too. The crumbling castle, the haunted mansion, the windy moors.
One website tells me that two key features of the Gothic are overwrought emotion and women in distress. And the typical Gothic hero starts out as a nice normal person, but is irreparably transformed by their battle with the monster within. My Gothic, myself. The theory checks out so far.
My favourite site has a section titled The Metonymy of Gloom and Horror. Metonymy, it explains, is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). There’s a handy list: wind (especially howling), rain (especially blowing), clanking chains, creaking hinges, crazed laughter, wind blowing out the candles, light in abandoned rooms, the baying of distant dogs or wolves. Among others.
Onomatopoeia, too: slam, moan, whoosh, shriek, crash, grind, growl, snarl, hiss.
Werewolves are a symbol of rage. Vampires a symbol of addiction. Ghosts, it says, are a symbol of guilt.
The key, of course, is that you don’t know what’s coming. Perhaps the ghost has long been dormant. Lurking, silently, in the hallways of your body, your self. Everything peaceful. Until, a twist… then whoosh: a howling wind, a creaking hinge. An unexpected light in a darkened room.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 24th February 2019 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.