My ghosts are a collection of my past. And yours, too. I feel their cold touch. See their shadows pass in front of my television, or in the crack of the door near the hinges. Sometimes, they flit across the ceiling. But mostly, they just listen; it’s why they’re really here. A few have even attempted to give me advice. One in particular is very loud these days:
“Dag-gum fool t’aint worth your worry…forget ‘im, darlin’.”
He shakes his head, swats his hand in the empty air in disgust, turns, and limps away. Rather frustratingly. Then he turns back and begins to rail again, threatening to “tan that boy’s hide” while showing me a large metal belt buckle, and a number of images from the past that make us both cry.
“My fault, darlin’," my ghost-friend says as he nods his head from side to side, "I did it…forgive me, girlie.”
An older lady with a kindly face, her plump body in a blue flowered dress, stands behind my loudest ghost. She puts her hand on his shoulder as he wrinkles his brow, shaking his bowed head in utter grief. The scent of gardenias mingles with stale tobacco as she does.
Almost every day this past fall, I would sit in my house, lonely, afraid, crying, pleading with my ghosts, “Please help me…please help me.” And they did. Just not in the way I expected.
Or, did I…?
My ghosts want me to go back to Germany. To visit my uncle’s grave again. So they can come with me and see people they once knew, too. They want me to walk through the same quaint Dutch village, into the chocolate shop, and taste the wonders they can sense through me. They want me to see my friend there, “a nice boy,” my grandmother promises. They want me to have fancy dinners, attend his hockey games, and drive the Autobahn again. But this time, to avoid that speeding ticket.
Some urge me to go to Ireland. To see new things. Green hills. Rolling waters. High cliffs. And Celtic castles.
Yet others whisper secrets about my future. Show me things I shouldn’t see. Like my death.
All urge me to get out of bed though, to open my blinds, and pull myself from the murky depths threatening my once brilliant fire.
My daughter, Emma, is there, too. She is very small, but very present. She stands with a tall, spare man who nods reverently at me. He appeared before she died. Her great grandfather, I think. He walked through the very mountains I was navigating when I lost her. A smaller, older woman—his mother, or perhaps a sister—is also there.
My loudest ghost, sensing my concern, pipes in that Emma is safe with her “kin.” But they are not my kin. He reassures me he’ll keep an eye on her, too, because he wishes things were different: “Was so sure, darlin’…damn fool.” He shakes his head in disbelief. I nod at him in agreement.
But the very tall man holding my daughter’s hand turns his back, letting me know his disdain for my loud friend. Either way, Emma’s safe while she waits.
A beloved uncle and aunt emerge next, urging me on. The same aunt whose portrait hangs in my dining room. I was her doppelgänger. She is mine. Her husband, a broad, tall man with soulful eyes, a deep voice, and large, strong hands, stays near the portrait, guarding it. He smokes a cigar, holds a glass of bourbon up in greeting, and smiles, letting me know everything will be okay. He shows me that they were listening when I visited their graves during a trip to Boston this past July. Everyone was. And they’re all with me now. A crowd of eager relatives to usher me out the door, moving with me into the wider world. They will not let me fall. Or falter. Their promise, a six-pointed shield protecting my life:
L’dor v’dor. From generation to generation.
The irony of the dead encouraging me to live is not lost. But then again, the absurd defines human existence. Albert Camus takes the opportunity to speak softly from a dark corner, answering the question playing on a continuous loop in my mind, “Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.” His words further prove that (neither) the dead (nor the living) believe in the single soul I so dearly miss. My dream before I woke this morning promises a future, if not fleeting, meeting. One where I still love while the other stays lost. Even my faith is beginning to waver….
If I could but forget…reprogram my brain. Rewire the memories so they no longer exist. Trump the last 15 months with the almost 42 years that preceded them. That’s why I write. To reverse the sad effects of the last year. To revise my world. Create a noble order out of the savage chaos.
Being haunted helps. Even though not all the ghosts who haunt me are dead.
Camus calls out from his corner once again:
“Remember, we always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love—first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.”
Though I’m not certain what these final words are meant to convey, my muscles begin firing as if to anticipate movement. I’m not ready. And I am not willing.
But perhaps, somehow, I am still able….