I don’t have any ghost stories.
Not the traditional kind, at least. There are no spirits lurking in the dark corners of my house, no monsters in the closet or under the bed. I lead what can generously be called a pretty humdrum life, a slave to the routines and rituals I’ve practiced for many years.
But I do have ghosts. Not the supernatural kind, mind you, but those all too real ghosts that haunt most of us from time to time. I’m often plagued by memories of people and incidents in my past, those sometimes tragic, sometimes embarrassing moments that I just can’t seem to let go of.
One of the memories that haunts me is my own insensitivity as a fifth grader, when I callously ripped up another student’s artwork after deeming it not good enough to be used in the school play. I’m not sure who that little bastard was, but it’s hard to believe he was me — and he certainly haunts me all these years later.
Another is the fumbling teenager who, in an equally insensitive moment, called up an ex-girlfriend (whose heart I had just broken) to ask her if her best friend had ever expressed any interest in me. The term asshole applies quite nicely to that particular memory.
These are the kinds of human failures that, while seemingly insignificant in the scheme of things, grab hold of us and never let go. That remind us of what we’re capable of.
Then there are the tragedies. Seeing my father lying naked in the ICU at his local hospital, machinery beeping around him as he struggled to stay alive. Running down to the parking lot to move the car, only to return and find him dead, looking like a wax doll, unmoving, unseeing, his body nothing more than an empty shell. Kissing him on the forehead and saying goodbye.
Or the young man who, at nineteen years old, had a promising life ahead of him, only to succumb to jaw cancer less than two years later. Seeing him on the last night of his life, looking very much like an old, old man, barely able to get comfortable in the Lazy Boy his parents had set up for him in front of the TV in their den. And later, watching his body carried away on a stretcher by two very somber paramedics.
These are just some of the ghosts that haunt me. Define me. The ones that, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to shake.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I need these reminders from time to time to keep me grounded, to help me to remember to be kind to my fellow inhabitants of this planet, to cherish family and friends, to appreciate what I have while I still have it.
Yes, I know this is a pretty depressing post on what should be a fun day, but these damn ghosts just don’t want to leave me alone.
So I have to ask: what memories haunt you?
We don’t really celebrate Halloween in the land downunder but yeah, ghosts…collected a few of those.
I was a right little fifth-grader princess bitch to a poor girl who everyone knew couldn’t read. Egged on by some “friends” I asked her the time. She wore a watch but we all knew she couldn’t tell the time either. I dont know who that little bitchy girl was – but I am ashamed of her to this day.
I work part-time as a PICU nurse and there are some faces that will haunt me forever. But you’re right Robert, they make me grateful every day for two live, healthy children. It’s scarily unjust how quickly it can all be snatched away.
Ah, Robert,Those ghosts . . . I’ve got too many and you’re right, they help define me.
One of the most difficult was a dear friend who’d decided to leave town. I took it personally and refused to go to her going away party. She died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (she was undiagnosed when she left) and I never saw her again. Her absence, and the missed opportunity of telling her how much I loved her, sadden me these 18 years later.
But, I did learn to pay attention to the altruistic impulse because of it. I don’t plan to miss any more moments of grace.
My mother, with Alzheimer’s, two days after my father’s death, asking me if she had missed the funeral because she couldn’t remember it.
I have a haunting memory of seeing this sick, twisted bastard singing MANDY over and over….
Halloween is fun, but it’s also a precious time. If the old Celts were right, and I do believe they were, Halloween is the one day of the year that the veil is thinnest between this world and the other. It is a time when we can issue invitations to those we wish to see again, to visit in their own way. Could be the faintest caress on the arm from a grandmother, or a glimpse of lost best friend in that old T-shirt he’d never throw away. Or the sense of peace when you just feel someone loving you as they did when they were with us here..
I think it is also a time when we can sit quietly and review those memories that haunt us, embrace them and let them go into the ether, then replace them with happier ones. Going fishing with your father or seeing him cheer you on in your first football game. Seeing the little boy before cancer hit, in his favorite Halloween costume. Remembering the many kinder things the child you were did for others rather than the times you caused pain, and forgiving the child within for the slip ups all human beings have.
We modern folks forget the holiness of some of our ancient blessed days. Halloween is great fun, but it can also be a great gift as well. Light a candle and see how it goes!
I agree with D.A. — what a lovely reminder.
I think if we don’t have ghosts that define us, we’re not complete. How could we ever learn from our mistakes?
Rob, your remembered ghosts are now vivid for me.
I wrote recently about one of my “familiars”: the rooming house guest haunted by splinters from New Mexico.
It’s not that we were evil as young adults. Just unthinking.
Maybe that’s worse.
Leave it to Guyot to make me laugh. Thanks, man.
Rob, this is an excellent meditation, and it has lots of meaning to me.
But such intense self-criticism outlives its usefulness once the lesson is learned (and I’m talking to myself, here, too).
Are we better people now than once we were? That’s enough of a challenge for every-day living. That and avoiding elevators with Muzak systems.
I think our ghosts, or skeletons, haunt us only when we don’t deal with them. Like the monster under the bed that goes away when we finally get the courage to peek under the bed at night.