When one mentions ghosts as a general rule the mind normally goes straight to bedsheets, rattling chains, and/or horror movies with lots of gore. Not all ghosts are bad and not all ghosts are paranormal. Sometimes we are haunted by memories that are so vivid that they seem to be in the room with you in Technicolor, High Definition glory that would make James Cameron and his SFX people jealous.
These ghosts are what keep us going sometimes when everything in our world seems to be spinning out of control. They give us strength with their presence no matter the hour of the day or night. They visit us in our dreams as we lay curled beneath layers of blankets on a cold winter’s night.
Two of my own personal ghosts are my parents.
Above my desk, hanging on the wall, is a framed photo of my parents from their first date back in the summer of 1965. It’s a black and white picture taken at a small country fair against one of those fake roll-down backdrops. My father is smiling, eyes shining with a happiness I rarely saw in them growing up. When I did catch a glimpse of that light it was when he was looking at my mother. My mother is leaning into his shoulder, contentment clear on her face, dressed in gingham trimmed in lace and ribbon. This photo, although taken before I was a twinkle in my dad’s eye, represents so much to me.
My ever present ghosts are so young, younger than I am now, and filled with such joy in that single moment. It’s clear that even then on that first date, my parents were in love. For me they are the epitome of love and always will be despite the fact they both have passed on to the other side. They live inside me always and it is in those moments that I feel like giving up that they call to me. I can hear my father’s gruff voice telling me not be scared and not to cry. I can smell his menthol cigarettes and his Old Spice aftershave. Against my cheek I feel the brush of my mother’s wild dark curls and that laugh that used to annoy me when I was a kid. It was as if she had a secret joke that she wouldn’t share. I can smell her scent, baby lotion, and sunlight.
They formed my idea of what love was. It’s not easy or perfect and often it’s painful, but moments like that one caught on film so long ago is all worth it. There is no need for words for all that needs to be said can be communicated with just a touch and a glance. They are the ghosts that haunt my mind as I spin my tales of love lost, betrayal, and love rediscovered. They are my muses when all else fails.
But they aren’t the only ghosts that haunt me.
The ghost of that little ramshackle house I spent my childhood in whispers to me as well. The rough siding, tiny pebbles against tar and beneath my fingers, metal roof shining in the summer sun, and the wild blood red climbing roses that wound around the silver pole of the television antenna just outside my bedroom window. Cool worn linoleum beneath my bare feet, pale lilac colored walls in the living room, and that old high-back chair sitting in front of the small black and white television that was one of my many escapes.
A huge oak tree and towering sugar maple shaded the front yard, flowers of every description surrounding the fence line and house with explosions of color. Then there was the swing-set, pale green, yellow, and rusty orange that sat beneath the widespread branches of an old catalpa tree. In late spring and early summer it’s branches were heavy with virgin white bell shaped blooms that nearly hid the huge green leaves. I would sit on the swing and stare up into the white cloud of flowers and imagine that each blossom was the cap of a nature spirit, beautiful ethereal creatures that watched me with dark eyes. The first good summer storm would send the flowers spinning through the air and dusting the grass with a carpet of white.
I remember storm clouds rolling in over open fields, dark underbellies shimmering with the distant lightning and the echoing thunder swirling around me on the rising wind. My mother scuttling between the clotheslines and fighting with the sheets that whipped around as if they were angry ghosts. Then raindrops begin to fall, hesitant at first, as I turned my face to the sky, laughing, and stretching out my arms to dance barefoot in the thick grass.
Yes, memories are just like ghosts. They haunt us at the most inopportune times, inspire our imagination, and linger long after they are nothing more than dust on the wind.
Would I perform an exorcism against those ghosts if given a choice? Even if they may be painful and bring tears to my eyes would I wipe them away as if they were raindrops on my face?
The answer is never!
These ghosts are a part of my foundation both as a human being and a writer. Without their constant presence I would forget who I am and where I come from. To do that would be a disservice not just to the parents who raised me, but to myself, and to where they may lead me in the future.
Let them haunt me, good, bad, or ugly until I take my last breath.