Upon checking out of my ship, I’d been assigned to a barracks building that was pretty new. Part of me wanted to be excited about the fact that I was leaving my tight digs on the ship for a nicer room, but I could not hide the truth. I was scared, as the ship was the only home I knew. On it were housed my shipmates, my job, my friends, and my boyfriend at the time. Soon, my home at sea would push off the pier and would leave me stranded ashore during the most vulnerable time of my life. Still, I carried on.
My roommate did not show up that day. She didn’t show up the following night, or the night that following that one, either. But someone else did.
I went to bed the first night facing the wall, as I wanted all of the distracting entertainment media behind me. Still, I couldn’t get comfortable. Maybe it was because I missed my old rack and my old friends. Maybe it was because I missed my boyfriend (who directly contributed to my off-the-ship situation). Maybe it was because the sailor who previously occupied my bed had left a lot of her stuff behind (or worse - maybe the other roommate was a space hog).
I should have fallen asleep as I was very tired. Earlier that day, I’d walked all over the base to buy the things I needed for my room. I’d checked into my new command. I’d checked in medical too, which was a traumatic experience onto itself. I was exhausted. Still, I couldn’t sleep.
I’d woken up a few times to the feeling of being stared at. I opened my eyes to look at the wall before me. It was still dark and quiet. I turned around and looked at the space by my bed, by the window, and by the front door. Nothing. I closed my eyes and forced myself to not think about the stories I’d heard about the USS Forrestal sailors who roamed their ship long after they’d passed. I tried not to think about the story of the Electrician’s Mate on my last ship, who walked the p-ways at night, years after he’d been electrocuted. I also tried to ignore the memories of the place I grew up in - the house that never was completely devoid of occupants, no matter how empty it was.
Exhaustion claimed me, thankfully, but not for long. I woke up to the feeling that someone was standing by my bed, leaning over me. Panicked, I turned around and looked. Nothing, again. I didn’t sleep anymore that night.
I met my roommate the next morning. It was not a friendly exchange.
“Who are you?” barked a pretty, but very aggressive short woman.
I opened my eyes and turned to face her. “I…live here. Who are you?” I stammered.
“No,” she snapped. “I live here. Amanda lives here. Who the hell are you?”
I sat up straight then. I wondered if we might get into a more serious altercation. I hoped not, as I was carrying another life within me.
“I am OS3 Rios. I live here. I checked in two nights ago. Who are you?”
My roommate said nothing for a moment, but looked around. She then swallowed and looked at me again.
“No. This ain’t right. I’m going to look into this and I am going to be right back,” she firmly said.
She left our room in a huff. Unable to sleep, I sat up. What the heck had I gotten into?
My delicate condition was probably the culprit in what made me fall back asleep. Still, I quickly sat up as I heard the barracks room door open. My angry and attitude filled roommate had been replaced by a broken and crying one. She sobbed as she approached me.
“I am…so sorry,” she said as she sobbed.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. “Are you okay?” Any anger I had towards her dissipated as I saw her vulnerability. Something bad must have happened, I thought, as we female sailors were tough and very good at hiding our emotions.
My roommate shook her head. “No. You see…Amanda and I went on leave at the same time. That’s why I wasn’t here when you checked in. She went to Oregon, and I went to Everett to see my boyfriend.”
She paused to wipe her face and her tears. “But…no one told me,” she said as she broke down again. “Amanda died. She drove off a bridge on her way home to Oregon. She’s…dead. My roommate’s dead.”
My eyes widened and I began to shiver. “I…I don’t get it. I thought…,” I trailed off. “Isn’t that your stuff in my walk in closet?”
My roommate shook her head and walked to my closet. I pushed my covers off and followed her.
“No. This is Amanda’s stuff,” she said as she peered at the laundry detergent and cleaning gear that sat on the top shelf.
With shaking hands, I walked to the nightstand that sat next to my bed where perfume bottles and makeup still sat. Why was it still there?
I looked at my roommate in a panic. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. But I am going back to Everett. I can’t be here right now,” she said as she began to cry again.
Horrified and soon to be alone, I sat down. My roommate cried as she gathered her bags.
“I’m sorry that I was so rude to you. My name is SK2 Lee, by the way.”
“No, I’m sorry,” I answered.
She then nodded at me. “I gotta go.”
And she left. She left me alone in that room. No; she left me not alone in that room. I cried in fear as I lay back on my bed. I cradled my abdomen, trying to protect my unborn baby from whatever energy was in the room. I cried for my rack on the ship, for my distancing boyfriend, for the scorn and disappointment that I’d received from becoming pregnant while single and serving on a ship, and for the fear of being a parent for the first time - all alone.
But like it or not, I wasn’t alone. Even though I slept with the TV on and the lights on, I heard her - Amanda. I felt her. But most disturbing was the feeling of her displeasure I sensed from that un-empty/empty space by my bed. I was in her bed, she seemed to be communicating.
The reader and writer in me was amazed at the fact that I was living in a true-life ghost story. The craziness of that made me able to view the disturbing events with some detachment.
A few weeks into my occupancy of the room, my panic and fear gave way to pity and sadness. I remember sitting on my bed, watching TV with the remote control on the night stand next to me. Suddenly, I’d hear the remote control creak. I sat up and grabbed it. Surprised, I’d watched as I heard the plastic creak. My eyes widened even further as I watched the black casing around the rubber number cubes depress. What was she doing? Was she trying to change the channel?
There was a whole world out there, I knew. There was even an afterlife, I believed. Why was this poor soul keeping herself in the tiny barracks room that held nothing but a distant roommate and someone else living in her old space?
“I don’t want to be here,” I might have said to the air. “I’m scared. I’m not supposed to be here. I am supposed to be on a ship. But I got pregnant by a guy who doesn’t really want me or this baby. I don’t have a car, an apartment or a crib, but I need to find some way to grow up and behave like an adult.”
I might have only thought those things and not said them out loud, though. Still, they had an effect on her, as I felt her presence even less and less as weeks gave way to months. One day, she wasn’t there anymore and my other roommate was. We became friendly. I learned that she’d become pregnant too, with twins, but had lost them. She grieved for them greatly. Still, I did not have the time to foster that friendship as it was time for me to move on. After aggressively saving money and finding a sympathetic car salesman in the Yellow Pages, I took a cab to a car dealership. I got a brand-new car - my first one ever. I was so proud. I got myself a rundown apartment, a used bed, a futon, and a cheap nightstand. They weren’t much, but they were mine.
I moved out. I was still lonely, but I was on my own in an adult way, and no longer a victim of my choices. I’d broken up with my non-vested boyfriend and undertook the life of single parenthood all by myself. Thankfully, when Kiley was born, I was no longer alone.
Still, I wondered what came of the roommate. Did she know that she was dying when she drove off that bridge? Why did she hang on to the small barracks room that held nothing but grief, sadness, and fear - for both of us? Maybe she had her own stories and her own secrets; maybe that room harbored those for her. But maybe (hopefully) she left those behind (as I did) when she finally checked out of the barracks room.
original photo credit: Flickr