This weekend, I finally got around to some overgrown weed patches in my yard. While I like to think of them as “re-wilded,” in truth they’re just neglected because I hate yardwork.
So I dug out my weed wacker, checked and re-wound the string, bought new gas and treated it with oil per the instructions.
Then I spent an hour trying to get the gods-damned thing to start. Unsuccessfully.
And I got mad. Like, seeing-red-throwing-things mad. And I suddenly felt myself thinking about certain family situations and dynamics that I thought were laid to rest.
I finally put the thing away, got some water, and tried to cool off (physically and metaphorically) a bit. And it got me thinking.
The history of the weed wacker
This particular gas-powered weed wacker was a gift from my aunt. She had no use for it after my uncle died a couple years ago. My uncle bought it from a rental place, so the weed wacker is already in questionable shape.
My uncle was exactly whom you might imagine if you thought of a privileged conservative white man who listened to Rush Limbaugh. He didn’t like to work, but he would get after his employees (who were sometimes family members) if he thought they were being lazy. He appointed himself an “expert” on politics, economics, international policy, or any other conversation topic based purely on his entrenched sense of ego and authority combined with what he heard on conservative talk radio.
He could dish out cruel barbs under the guise of teasing, but when his victims shot back, he got quiet and you could almost see angry steam boiling out his ears. And gods help you if you were a liberal (or said something he thought was liberal).
In the family business, my dad had to threaten to quit if my uncle didn’t start rotating for weekend on-call service. Work for my uncle didn’t start until at least three cups of coffee at the local greasy spoon, or 9:30 – whichever came last.
As for me, I was the butt of enough teasing from him that (obviously) I’ve still got trust issues and a chip on my shoulder.
So this is the guy the weed wacker belonged to.
The source of my reaction
As I was trying to get the weed wacker to start, I became extremely frustrated. Nothing I did made a difference. In hindsight, it felt exactly like trying to have a conversation with someone who is simultaneously trolling, and who is so entrenched in their ego-centered perspective that they refuse to hear anything they don’t agree with.
Sort of like trying to talk Paganism with an Evangelical Christian. Or to talk COVID-19 with a Republican.
Now – from where I sit, it very much appears that the weed wacker is holding some of my uncle’s weird energy, and it’s bringing up a lot of thoughts and feelings I associate with my interactions with him. Plus he’s dead, which I think increases the possibility of a spiritual influence.
(And I’ve had multiple instances throughout my life in which objects seem to retain a person’s energy. Like, I have trouble with second-hand and antique stores. It sometimes comes through in visions or emotions, and always like that kind of tired itch you get when you’re trying to have a conversation in a loud bar. I find it tiring and overstimulating.)
But I’m a science guy, so first I’m going to consider all the ways that this might not be a haunted weed wacker.
First, I ate light that day. I tend to be prone to low blood sugar, so there’s the definite possibility that I was hangry and the frustration was getting to me.
Second, I had a lot of obstacles trying to get to the point of using it. I had to get new gas, I had to read the manual, I had to re-wind the string, I had to run other errands while getting gas, I had to keep the dog from running out of the yard – you get the picture. Any time I run into a lot of obstacles for a project, I tend to get frustrated, so I might already have been primed for a reaction.
Third, it was hot, windy, and the pollen was high – all things that put stress on my body.
Fourth, on some level, I know that the tool used to belong to a problematic family member. That could be influencing me, even if it’s not on a conscious level.
Even though there may have been other mitigating factors, I’m pretty sure the weed wacker is haunted. Here’s my thinking.
First of all, the experience I had with trying to start the weed wacker was eerily similar to my experience trying to interact with my uncle. Not just in its obstinate refusal to cooperate, but also in the way it triggered a specific emotional response in me.
Second, I kept having thoughts of my uncle while trying to use it. Some of them were even complete phrases, like “Just like him to leave the company’s tools in bad repair.” These are not thoughts that I have very often, especially since he passed away.
It is possible that this is an artifact of my subconscious, but I never actually watched my uncle use the weed wacker. I don’t have any kind of sensory association with him using it – only that it belonged to him, and was gifted to me after he passed away. So it’s not impossible that it’s a subconscious association, but it seems unlikely.
Ultimately there are really two components that are true – the first is it’s impossible to know whether the weed wacker is haunted or not, and the second is that it doesn’t matter.
The story that the weed wacker is haunted both adds meaning to, and fits within, the metanarrative of my worldview. Whether it’s a conflux of memory and suggestion, or whether an actual supernatural force from the tool influenced me, the influence was still there. Real or not, the haunting still affected me.
Further, a haunting fulfills most of the narrative requirements of a haunting. A troubled spirit, who died before he was ready, and who left unresolved trauma in his wake. An unsolved tragedy of how he was too stubborn to see things differently, which ultimately cost him the chance to connect and be in a family relationship with a nephew.
In the time since I drafted this article, I watched the documentary movie The Unbinding. (It was good, mostly accurate, and less problematic than similar films.)
In it, one of the paranormal researchers describes some objects as “haunted for the owner, but I couldn’t duplicate the phenomena.” It reminded me of my weed wacker – someone else might be able to pick it up and use it with no problem, but for me it misbehaved.
I’ve also, since, been able to fire it up and get it working. That tells me that either my reactions to the situation (and all the memories it triggered) forced a spiritual change in the energy around the weed wacker; or that the haunting was circumstantial.
Back to my final analysis – utlimately, it does not matter whether the weed wacker was objectively haunted. I experienced it as haunted. Labeling it as such did not cause me any harmful delusions or inability to navigate my life. It’s no different than driving down the road, and characterizing an aggressive driver in a certain way – there’s no way to know the truth, but the story we tell about it makes a difference in how we perceive it.
Also, one last note – anyone want to buy a weed wacker?