By the third night, I awoke in a panic.
My chest felt heavy, almost swollen and tight. My lungs couldn’t get enough air. My fists were clenched by my side. And my body was filled with a sense of dread, of anxiety, of stress as a dead weight.
The first night I woke up like this, I wrote it off as the inevitable side effects of a bad dream. The second night, I wondered why nightmares kept visiting me when I slept. The third night, I realized there was only one thing it could be.
It had to have been a sitting ghost.
“What are you talking about?” my boyfriend asked in a sleepy confusion after I woke him up that third night, insistent that he hear my theory.
“A sitting ghost!” I cried. “Right here.” I placed my palm on my chest. “I can still feel it. It’s like it’s still pressing down on me.”
“You felt… a ghost…?”
“Yes! Well, no. Actually, maybe. Yes?” My words were all jumbled in my head, and I couldn’t get them out right, and I could tell already he wasn’t going to believe whatever it was I had to say about my sitting ghost, but I was determined to tell him anyway. “It’s been three nights that I’ve awoken from this pressure on my chest. It’s like the sitting ghost has been visiting me, night after night. You get what I mean?”
My boyfriend is generally very patient about listening to my whims, no matter how nonsensical, far-fetched, or superstitious they may be. This time, though, he wasn’t having it.
“It’s probably just stress,” he said. “You’ve been having bad dreams every night, so your body and mind are in distress. It’s not because of a sitting ghost.”
“But what else could have been weighing down on my chest like that besides a sitting ghost?”
They visit in the night, sitting ghosts. They press on your body, or on your bed, and make you feel like you can’t breathe. Sometimes you’re alert when they visit, sometimes you’re not. Sitting ghosts are heavily linked with nightmares, depicted as scary beings, and associated with sleep paralysis.
I used to scoff at the idea of sitting ghosts. I read the chapter on them in The Woman Warrior and, while I was enthralled by the story of Maxine Hong Kingston’s mother outsmarting and overpowering her sitting ghost, I recognized the story for what it was: a work of symbolism, allegory, and a little bit of fiction. Because, after all, there were no such thing as sitting ghosts.