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?