Saint Nazianz: I Inhaled
By Jasmine Glasheen
My friends and I were ghost hunters. We had to figure out how to entertain ourselves in a shit town in the early 2000s. It was par for the course for the social outcasts in my neighborhood to drink at playgrounds and graveyards. A fun night was grabbing someone’s dad’s VHS recorder and trekking it to the latest location listed on Haunted Wisconsin.
I had a few things working against me at the age of 16. My height, intensity, and hair color meant I always came across as ten years older than I was. I lived in an affluent small town, and I was poor, which told me I was #fairgame for men with nefarious intentions. And I looked ambiguously ethnic. Where I grew up, when I grew up, that meant people would flat out stare me down and make lewd comments that they wouldn’t make to a girl with a strong family name or a girl who looked more like their own children.
This caused a great deal of social anxiety. I’d stand in front of my mirror, hair straightener and black eyeshadow in hand, feeling like I was painting my face to enter battle –– and not just the Quick Trip down the street. It took hours of preparation to leave the house, knowing what I was about to encounter.
(Sure, you may have been bullied. But unless you’ve been an adolescent being bullied by adults –– your friends’ parents and the teachers who were put there to protect you –– you really can’t speak to the psychological impact of the experience.)
But I digress.
For this ghost hunting excursion, we were taking a trip to an old haunted school called Saint Nazianz. I had talked my mom into buying me a lavender “crinkle silk” shirt from Express. It felt so cosmopolitan and was like nothing I had ever seen. You stored the shirt in a matching silk bag after hand washing, so it dried with a rippled, textured effect. I couldn’t believe I had found it on the clearance rack at T.J. Maxx.
I owned two bras at the time, and both were dirty. I was a scrawny, underdeveloped kid. Two of my friends were coming to pick me up at 9 pm for the trip, so I opted to wear a tank top underneath instead of a bra. It was going to be a good night. It was already dark, we were going straight to Saint Nazianz, and my friends had already procured a bottle of Jack Daniels and a dime bag for the trip.
After an hour of drinking and chain-smoking out the window, we had to use the bathroom. We were on a dark highway in No Man’s Land, Wisconsin, and were pleasantly surprised to spot a sign for a gas station 10 miles up the road.
When we pulled in, I threw my sweater over the empty bottle. Typically, I’d be going through the checklist –– Visine, body spray, put cigarettes in the glove compartment –– but we were in the middle of nowhere, and our parents were a safe distance away back home. I was in that perfect headspace between being drunk and too drunk where you feel like you’re about to win a million dollars or be spontaneously cast as the lead in a breakout film. The sweet spot.
We went inside in a flurry of activity. I walked in-between my two friends. It was shockingly bright inside, and there was a group of men in their mid-forties sitting at the table wearing hunter’s neon orange. But I felt like I was floating into the gas station bathroom. It was the kind of night that seems built for future nostalgia. Until my guy friend veered off to go into the Men’s restroom, and my girlfriend yelled that she was going to pick up some Pepsi for a mixer and would meet me at the car.
The lights in the gas station bathroom were suddenly glaring and abrasive. The air began to press upon me as I washed my hands. But it was nighttime—my time. And I didn’t pitch in two weeks of allowance for a bottle just to let walking a few feet alone ruin my buzz.
I opened the heavy door and started walking through the lobby to the car. The hunters had spread out to two tables on either side of the walkway to eat their gas station sandwiches, so I had to go between them to make it out of the building.
What happened next took a whole of about five seconds, but it happened in slow motion, almost underwater, at the time. The two tables of hunters were staring into my eyes and at my chest as I walked. They leaned towards me as I walked by. If they had leaned any further, I’d have to push past them with my elbows to get through.
Suddenly I was completely sober. My breath started to catch in my throat with that familiar stifled nausea. I could feel my knees lock up. My drunken strut became a stilted march.
Then, just as quickly, I was past them, and my friend’s car was in my sight. I was 3 feet from the gas station door when one of the men yelled,
More chimed in.
“Wait a second.”
My body wanted to freeze mid-step, but I forced my feet to slowly keep making their way towards the exit. My hand grasped for the doorknob. I was going to make it. Then one of the men called out louder than the rest:
“ARE YOU EVEN WEARING A BRA?!”
Silence. All movement in the gas station ceased, including me. The PTSD kicked in and I was immobilized. My blood stopped circulating… I was suddenly freezing. My hand that reached for the exit started to shake, and I pulled it into my side so that they couldn’t see. My breath caught again. For an instant, I thought that I would start coughing.
Another night out would be reduced to a panic attack.
I inhaled. Then I felt something new. It was like a warm wave flushed over my body. My chest burned with rage. My spine tingled. Blood rushed to my hands and fingers. I felt like my hair was standing on end with the electricity around my head. For the first time ever, I turned around.
I marched up to the hunters, my eyes locked with the cold blue of the man who had yelled the question.
‘Do you know how fucking old I am, buddy?’
A flicker of fear in his eyes.
‘I am sixteen. I’m fucking underage. And all of you just sexually harassed me. I could get my friend’s phone and call the fucking cops on you right now. It’s illegal.’
Their hands were waving in the air as if to push away what they’d done. In an instant, the imposing men with guns became wide-eyed and childlike in their 40-year-old skin.
“Whoa umm… sorry. Sorry, lady.”
Oh, I’m ‘lady’ now.
‘The fucking cops could come right now for what you just said to me, and you would go to fucking jail.’
The hunters looked around at one another and shook their heads. As if, had one of them had been aware of my underage status, he’d raise his hand and step up to take accountability. Only the speaker met my eyes again.
“I didn’t know.” “We didn’t know.”
My feet felt like they were drawing energy from the ground. I inhaled power. The gas station lights softened, and it felt like they were spotlighting me. Working for me. Every element in that small room had my back. And these terrifying men shrunk into the palm of my hand A palm which I could snap closed to crush them at any second.
‘It didn’t matter. I’m going to the car to think about it. And I might just have the fucking cops come to arrest ALL OF YOU for what you just fucking did.’
I stared the hunters down, one at a time. I turned, as if to walk out, stopped, and locked eyes with the speaker of the group one last time.
‘Oh, and buddy…’
“Yeah,” he said.