I can’t quite say I believe in ghosts, and I can’t quite say that I don’t. I find myself talking to them all the time – not a visible phantom before my eyes, but a mental thing, a conversation, a memory of presence. There are more of those as each year passes like my mom and dad, friends and associates. I will say that I’ve heard things, maybe seen things that freaked me straight the hell out: footsteps on the floor above when no one else was in the house, the old man sitting in the car he used to own when he was living, running into an old dude out walking his little white dog and then remembering he shot his wife and himself last year and the house just sold.
My father’s ghost is very strong. I find myself talking with him frequently. He was my best friend. I miss his love and wisdom. He was one of the rare people with whom I could really talk things out. He loved nice clothes and now when I see him, he’s always “dressed to the nines” and looking great. Sometimes I channel him. I’ll be talking to one of my own sons and I’ll hear my father’s voice coming out of mouth. It’s a weird feeling and more than a memory of presence.
Mother’s ghost visits me mostly in dreams. We’ll suddenly be somewhere doing something mundane. We may speak and we may not.
There’s the ghost of me at 7 in Texas in 1959. Texas was a great place to be a kid if you were a cute little white boy whose daddy had some money. I will find myself on the banks of the Navasota River fishing for catfish and watching carefully for snakes.
There’s the ghost of Texas itself. There was a Texas I knew that was good and true and American. People were polite to each other. The streets were safe unless Bonny and Clyde were in town. My memories are so bright of that time and place, and I tell stories out of that sacred space, knowing that it has utterly vanished. My grandparents lived there too; normal people, a mix of good and not-so-good, but they made my childhood fun.
There’s a ghost of me at 18 in Kentucky with a motorcycle, strong, foolish, immortal. That ghost is particularly troublesome and causes me to avoid mirrors for a week. I was beautiful then – trim, thick blonde hair and bedroom eyes. The girls noticed me then and seldom turned down an invitation for a date.
There are a couple of great loves. I won’t name names, but at times I miss them terribly. When they are present with me I savor them for as long as my mind permits. The women are still living and doing fine, but the relationships are dead. Those relationship ghosts, you don’t shake them. They come back, whether you want them or not.
But what about the other kind? The footsteps on the stairs, the old man on the sidewalk, the shades you see at the corner of your vision? The boundary between imagination and reality is not so clearly defined, in fact, it’s vague. And then there’s the alchemy between my internal reality and external, commonly experienced reality. For me, the final measure of reality is what I experience, so if I experience a ghost, it’s real.
The old man who shot himself: one time I backed out of the garage and hit his little white dog which he walked daily. The dog was only lightly injured but I paid the vet bills. I know what he looked like. His wife had Alzheimer’s disease and he was unwell. One day while they were sitting on the sofa together in the living room he pulled out a gun, put five shots into his wife and saved one for himself. A year later I was coming home from work and there he was on the sidewalk, walking the little white dog. What did I see? Was it something “real” or just the reverberation of my own sense of horror that an old couple who had lived together for sixty-some years went out that way? Is that not “real”? It’s real enough for me.
The ghosts cling to my notebooks and photos – so many photos. My life is documented well with my family, friends and lovers. I have at least one photograph of everyone who was ever important to me. The photos are an easy point of connection for the ghosts. There’s a lot of energy in sadness and the ghosts feed on it. Sadness energizes them. There is sadness in the photos, of beautiful times and people who have passed. But would I, as a rational person might do, throw them all away? No, never. I love them, even with the sadness.
If there were some sort of pill or course of therapy that would exorcise these ghosts, make them go away forever, would I take it? I doubt it. What would I do at night without my ghosts to whisper and debate with me? I suppose I could sit like an old man and watch football games, but I don’t like football. I could eat more and put on weight. Who would remind me to turn off my phone to listen for them? Who would break my heart all over again and again, like a priest saying the perpetual mass, “Accept, O Lord, this, our sacrifice?”
No, I suspect they are necessary strands of the fabric of my being. All the stories that I tell, even the ones I make up from scratch, the ghosts bring me. It is a distant and vanished land that I dream of at night, that place they inhabit. My stories live there and I need to tell my stories – sometimes it seems to be all that matters. So, I talk to my ghosts.