Something about movies I watched when I was 13, 14, 15 years old. They left an impression on me that no other films seem to have done since.
There was Jaws. I remember sitting in the dark theater, my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me. When the great white shark emerged from the ocean as the police chief leaned over the side of the boat, I jerked so hard my wafflestomper hit the back of the person’s head in front me.
But the movie I really want to talk about is The Omen. In the original 1976 film there was a black dog, maybe two, that appeared whenever something bad was going to happen. I don’t remember everything about the movie, but I remember the black dog.
When I was in my early 20s, I wanted to move into an apartment by myself. I’d lived with my parents, my older sister, and my friend Ellen — but never alone. I found a studio converted from a detached garage. It was one room with a tiny kitchen, sitting area, and space for my bed.
Shortly after I moved in I started getting phone calls in the middle of the night. I’d answer the phone; the person on the other end sounded like a child. He (or she — I couldn’t tell) would ask for his mother. It sounded like a party was going on in the background. The calls came at 1, 2, 3 in the morning, and each time I asked, “Where are you? Are you alone?” The caller always hung up before I got any answers.
One night my pillow flipped off my bed and landed on the floor heater. I woke up choking on smoke that filled the room. I pulled the pillow, which was at that moment bursting into flames, off the heater and threw it out the front door into the cold night. I was sick for days from smoke inhalation.
Soon after that I opened the front door late one afternoon on my way to meet up with my boyfriend and there stood two big black dogs. I gasped when I saw them. I didn’t even try to call out to them, whistle or say, “Good dogs.” They stood side by side, showing no signs of friendliness nor fear. I shut the door, phoned my boyfriend. By the time he arrived the dogs were gone.
A friend from high school, Patrick, came to my studio to give me a prognosis. He had powerful perception, a sixth sense, and his ability to tell whether a house was haunted was legend among our circle of friends. He walked into my place and immediately turned to me and said, “You have to move.”
I didn’t spend another night there. My friends and I moved me out during daylight hours the following weekend.
Nowadays one of the first things I notice when I walk into certain places is how they feel. Were the people who occupied them happy? Sad? Angry? What lingers in the walls?
Perhaps the black dogs were nothing to be afraid of. Loneliness, my own or someone else’s. (Does melancholy have its own spirit?)
I’m not afraid of black dogs now. I’m more superstitous of black cats, to tell the truth. But I still can’t swim in the ocean.