Thursday, July 10, 2014

Once Upon Another Lifetime...

Let me tell you a story...

This story begins eighteen years ago. It was 1996, 2 years after I graduated from the streets. I was a new mom. My daughter Meredith was just three or four months old. Her dad and I were young--I was 20 and he was 22--and we were poor and had no idea what we were doing. And we'd just moved back in with his parents. I had half an inkling that maybe I should get my GED, because high-school drop-outs accomplish nothing. Of course I had no idea what I might want to accomplish. Just...something. Anything more than nothing.

1996: the year Alanis Morissette showed the world that she doesn't know the meaning of the word "ironic."
1996: the year all of America was doing the Macarena.

1996: the year my dreams started.

I had my first dream on a week night. Back then me and Meredith's dad didn't sleep in a bed. I mean, we had a bed but we didn't use it. One of us had read something somewhere about how sleeping on a hard surface is better for you or something so every night we laid blankets and sheets down on the carpet in front of the couch and slept there. Merely thinking about this makes my 38-year-old bones ache, but we were young and it really did seem to help my sore post-childbirth muscles.

(My ex's parent's bedroom was right beneath ours. His mom used to complain that she could hear me snoring through the floor.)

I was exhausted when I went to bed that night because I was exhausted twenty-four-hours-a-day back then because I was the mom of an infant who seemed to be incapable of sleeping more than two hours in a row. So, as was normal for me at the time, I fell into REM sleep almost immediately after I closed my eyes. Then: BOOM! The dream started.

 The Dream

I'm going to spend some time describing THE DREAM to you now, because I'm going to be referring to it for the entirety of this story, and I want you to have a clear picture of it in your head. 

I was in a large old-fashioned house. It was a four-story rectangular building. In the middle of the structure there was a large open space filled with ornate Victorian furniture and so many trees, flowers, and potted plants that it gave you the illusion of being outside. The open space stretched up all the way to the roof. Each of the floors wrapped around it, so that if you were standing in the middle of the first floor and looking up, you would see three nearly identical floors above you bordered by an intricate railing that looked to be wrought iron. I couldn't see the ceiling in my dream, but I imagined there to be a skylight or something like it up there because of the large amount of sunlight that shone down. 

There were many, many bedrooms in this old house. They lined the walls that wrapped around the open space on each of the four floors. I had a sense that there was more--perhaps a lot more--to the house than that, even, but I didn't stray far from the middle of the house in that first dream, and rarely did in the years that followed. 

I need to stress that in all my dreams before this one--before THE DREAM--I almost never dreamed in full color. It's not that I dreamed in black and white, but colors in my dreams tend to be muted and the images are sort of fuzzy. In my dreams it's as if I'm looking at the world with my glasses off while half-asleep and also hungover. 

THE DREAM, however, was in full-on technicolor. Dreaming THE DREAM was like being Dorothy and making the transition from black-and-white Kansas to beautiful, gorgeous, colorful, acid-induced Oz. I saw every pink and red and yellow flower. I made out the gold accents in the wallpaper. I could practically see my reflection in the polished wood desks and tables that seemed to be everywhere. The sheer beauty of the place was overwhelming.  

My ex was with me in the house. I seemed to be showing him around, sort of like a tour guide. I took him to a bedroom that was on (I think) the first floor. There was a canopy bed inside. I did something to the wall and it opened up, revealing a darkened passage. 

"This is the secret passage," I said.

Then I was filled with the purest terror and the strongest sense of deja vu that I had ever felt in my entire life. I woke drenched in sweat. My heart was racing and I was out of breath. It took me hours to get back to sleep, but I never fully got over the emotion of that dream.

Over the next few days I told everyone about THE DREAM. I told my ex and my coworkers, my sisters and even my mom (she and I were on speaking terms then). And when I told everyone about THE DREAM, I prefaced the story by asking them if I had ever said anything to them before about having lived in a house with a secret passage. 

Now let me say something before you get all judgemental and call me nuts and ask how could anyone ever have lived in a large old-fashioned house with a secret passage and then forget about it? Because that's not normal, right? But you have to know something about me: I'm not normal. 

I've lived in a ridiculous number of places with a ridiculous number of people. When I had THE DREAM for the first time, me and my ex and our daughter were living in Ohio. Before then, he and I briefly lived in Pennsylvania, and before then I lived in California. Thats where I was born and raised. I was born in Azusa (that's in LA County), but moved twice before I started kindergarten. I went to 9 schools before I started high school, and then I attended upwards of 20 more before I finally dropped out in my senior year. I've had more foster parents and siblings than I can name. I've lived in apartments, group homes, foster homes, institutions, and under bridges. So if there's anybody on this planet who is capable of having lived in a four-story victorian mansion with a secret passage and then forgotten about it, it's me. 

Part of me didn't really believe I could have lived in that house in real life, but another part of me insisted on thinking it was entirely possible. Why? Because that sense of deja vu was just so strong. I had been there! I had to have been. But no one I talked to had ever heard of any place like it, and all of them said that I had never mentioned it before. So if I hadn't been there in this life, did that mean I'd been there in a different life?

But that's just stupid. Right?

After The Dream

Here's the kicker: it didn't end there. I kept having THE DREAM, and dreams like it, for the next several years. At first they came frequently, like, 2 to 3 times per week. Then, over a period of six to eight months, they slowed. I had THE DREAM a few times per month. Then they slowed even more, to just a handful of times per year. Then, inexplicably, they stopped. The dreams were never identical, but there was definitely a pattern. I woke in the middle of either the first or second floor. If I was on the first floor I was in the middle of the open space. If I was on the second floor, I was on the balcony overlooking it. And I was never alone. There was always one other person with me that I knew in my waking life and I was always showing him/her around. And we always wound up at one or the other opening to the secret passage. Then came the terror, and then I woke up. 

At first, when the dreams were still happening with astonishing frequency, I became sort of obsessed with them and with the house itself. Where was that house? Why did I keep dreaming about it? Why did I feel like I knew it--I mean knew it, the way a drunk knows his favorite beer or a new mom knows her baby's giggles? What was the secret passage about? And why did I get so scared whenever I was near it? Was THE DREAM a memory of a past life? Had I lived there? Had I died there?

Eventually, however, THE DREAM stopped dominating my waking thoughts. If I had had something to go on, some tiny piece of evidence or some fact that I could build on, then undoubtedly I would have kept it up. But all I had was THE DREAM, and the terror that accompanied it. There was no research to be done. And then the dreams just stopped coming, and life went on. I did get my GED. Me, my ex and our daughter moved to Tennessee. I earned an associates degree, then a bachelor's degree, then a master's. I left my ex. I met Brandon. Meredith and I moved to Austin.

Then, this summer, Brandon and I decided to take a little weekend getaway. We didn't want to do anything major because we didn't have a lot of time or money. Basically, we wanted to be alone and away from work and life stress for a few days. We decided on San Antonio. It's close and although I've lived in Austin for nearly 2 years now, I had never seen the Alamo or the river walk. I even found a haunted hotel to stay in that was in our budget and located right in the middle of everything we wanted to see: the famous Menger Hotel! We were so excited. Especially me. I told everyone I work with that if we didn't see any ghosts I'd just make up some stories to tell them. 

Weekend Getaway in Haunted San Antonio

Brandon and I planned our weekend getaway for the Fourth of July weekend. Who doesn't want hot, crowded, drunken fun? We arrived at the Menger Hotel, put our stuff away, then set out for a little look-see. We were staying in room 2085, on the second--and, as it turns out, most haunted--floor, right down the hallway from the infamous King Ranch Suite. Richard King, the famous Texas cattle baron, died in the bed they still keep in that suite. They say he haunts it to this day.

The King Ranch Suite is also right off the mezzanine: the balcony area on the second floor that overlooks the hotel's old Victorian lobby. The Menger Hotel has two lobbies, or really just one large lobby. The area that is referred to as the old Victorian lobby no longer functions as a lobby. It's just a beautiful open area that feeds into the part of the hotel that now serves as the hotel lobby. The ceiling of the Victorian lobby is a gorgeous skylight. Here are a couple of my pictures:

As you can see from these pictures, the Menger Hotel still retains much of its Victorian splendor. Most of the furniture in the common areas is original or refurbished. Everything: from the wallpaper, to the paintings and photographs on the walls to the carpeting and the drapes and the columns is traditional. You feel like you stepped back in time. 

The second we came upon the old Victorian lobby I felt dizzy. I didn't think anything of it, except that I was excited and looking for a dangerous thrill. Then we saw a framed photo on the wall taken from the mezzanine before a series of large structural improvements were made to the hotel around the turn of the century.

I saw that and my knees buckled. I said "Oh, my God," and stumbled over to a love seat. Brandon asked "Are you all right?" And I nodded but I just kept mumbling "Oh, my God," over and over again. Because suddenly I knew. It has been a good seven years since the last time that I had THE DREAM, and at least half that time since I last thought about it, but standing on that mezzanine, looking at that photograph, I knew. 

THE DREAM had never been about a house. It had been about The Menger Hotel. The Menger Hotel was the setting of my dream. 

(Here's another old-time photograph of the balcony. I found this one online.)

Get your laughs out of the way now.

I know this sounds crazy. If I were in your shoes, dear reader, I would likely be laughing too. Why in the hell should you believe me? It makes way more sense to take the perspective that my daughter Meredith has taken. At nearly 18, and a self-professed cynic, she believes that what really happened is I checked into the Menger Hotel expecting to have some sort of paranormal experience, and that this is the experience that I got. 

I love Meredith, but that's just a bunch of skeptical nonsense. I checked into the Menger Hotel hoping to see some ghosts, but not expecting to see or experience anything other than a cool weekend getaway. I expected to toast Teddy Roosevelt in the Menger Bar, where he recruited his famous Rough Riders (and I did).

I expected to feel a delightful fluttering in my chest during our ghost tour (and I did).

I hoped to hear unaccounted-for footsteps or to feel a sudden chill in a darkened hallway. I hoped to see the ghost of Sallie White carrying clean bedsheets in the hall in the middle of the night. But I didn't hope or expect to find a connection between this historic hotel and a recurring dream that I'd stopped having years ago. No way.

But I could not and can not escape the Truth that I discovered. And I spell the Truth with a capital T on purpose. I've always known that I had had THE DREAM for a reason. Even years after they stopped coming, I knew they weren't random. I had just stopped looking for an explanation. Then, all of a sudden and years after the fact, an explanation--the Truth--landed in my lap on July Fourth weekend. 

So now I'm back to my original obsession and my original questions: what does this mean? How am I connected with the Menger Hotel? Is THE DREAM a memory of a past life? Did I work there? Stay there? Die there? And how weird is it that I picked that hotel to stay at for our weekend getaway! Was that a coincidence? Or fate?

I'm super uncomfortable with the idea of fate.

But there it is: the Menger Hotel is, in every sense that I have seen and felt, the setting of my DREAM. The only potential divergence between the two is, interestingly, potentially the most important: the secret passage. I didn't find any evidence of a secret passage while we were there, but then how could I? Such things are supposed to be secret, right? Since Brandon and I have returned home I've begun to research the hotel. I bought The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel by Docia Schultz Williams and read it cover to cover. I've Googled until my fingers were numb. The only mention anywhere that I have found about the possibility of a secret passage in the Menger Hotel was a comment made on the Facebook page of an Austin country radio station.

But I'm not done with this. I'm going to keep researching the Menger Hotel. I'm going to uncover the answers to my questions. I'm going to find out why I had THE DREAM and what it means. Was I there in a past life? Or was the DREAM a message sent to me from someone else? Some restless spirit who had a message?

Brandon and I came across a book at Half Price Books in San Marcos on our way home: Haunted Texas Vacations: The Complete Ghostly Guide by Lisa Farwell. I didn't buy it but I did glance through it and I made a few notes. The author mentions some things that were told to her by Ernesto Malacra, director of public relations for the Menger Hotel. One of the things Mr. Malacra told her is that there had been increased spiritual/psychic activity in the hotel in 1996. 

1996? The year I began to have THE DREAM??

I read that and nearly fell off my chair. 

(By the way, Mr. Malacra, if you read this before I have a chance to contact you PLEASE get in touch with me. I need to pick your brain!)

So, what now? I'm uncomfortable with fate but I can not deny that something or someone else has been trying to tell me something for quite some time. How did I wind up at the Menger Hotel over July Fourth weekend? Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe it was design. In the end it doesn't matter, because either way I'm taking the reigns now. I'm going to solve this mystery. 

Call me Nancy Drew.


  1. What an unnerving and yet wild discovery for you. If you ever need someone to talk to who has spent their entire life dealing with this area, you can contact me. Either here, twitter or by any other means. Even just for a sounding board because TRUST me when I say you are so not alone nor crazy nor anything else, but open.

  2. I was there and I am still a little surprised by the strength of the feelings she had.