Have you ever seen a ghost? I don’t mean the type of apparition that floats through the air in the stairwell and gives you the shivers. Or the muse for many old country songs that is seen in the headlights of your car, standing on an otherwise deserted, wet, forest lined road under the light of a full moon. I mean the kind that you see when you look at a photograph, you can feel the old print between your fingers, it’s faded, it’s been folded and maybe it’s got a torn corner. In the photograph there might be some family members or a group of old friends from days long gone by, and in that scene, is an image of you.
As you look at that image of you, you may recognize the clothing you wore, the dull, washed out jeans and you might even remember how they felt, maybe they were too short. You can remember the mood in that shot in time, how the sun felt on your face that day and what was happening then, where you were and whom you were with. Maybe they are your friends, or your cousins and you remember that earlier that day the one with his or her arm around you made you mad, but the two of you made up before the picture was snapped. You remember how warm their smile made you feel every time.
When you look at that person, your cousin or your friend, you can remember laughing together, you can recall a conversation you two shared that day, perhaps they’d sought solace with you and you comforted them. Then you find yourself reflecting on your relationship with them and missing their place in your life, their warmth and their touch.
When we share or hear ghost stories we think of spooky tales, fright and ominous specters always witnessed by someone else, cautionary anecdotes to save us from an almost certain demise, but today, holding this old photograph in my tired, calloused hands, looking at the image of me, looking at my contorted face, eyes squinting in the sun, I recall nothing about how the boy felt then. I try and see deeper into those dark eyes, I scan the scene in this picture, and I look to the faces of those around me for a reflection of my mood. But I feel nothing, I run my thumb across the old Polaroid as if to evoke or dredge up some sort of feeling from the face of me, trying to call up the spirit, trying desperately to remember. Alas there is nothing, nothing but a ghost, an image but with no soul, no revived memories, no story.
I know that there is a history there, I know it happened, I know the location, the clothes, the hair, I know where I got that scar on my arm I can see in the picture, but I cannot remember the feeling I had that day, the emotion I felt then or what my concentration, my preoccupation was at that time. I was a young boy then, I remember my dog and I remember sisters. I remember my mom passed out on the sofa and I remember the pocket knife my dad left me on the counter when he left before I woke for school. I remember that was the last day my dad ever stepped foot in that old house. I remember his bottle of Old Spice I kept in my dresser for years, he’d left it behind and I grabbed it from the trash when my mom threw all his stuff away. I have memories of trying to be tough for my little sisters when I tucked them into bed, and I remember sitting on the couch watching Johnny Carson with my mom until she fell asleep, then drinking the rest of the scotch in her glass. I even remember being sent to counseling in grade school and being molested by the guy in the corduroy jacket.
What I don’t remember is how I felt the day this picture was taken. How is right that I can’t escape the image of my neighbor, my baby sitter lying face down on her dirty, faded, braided oval rug, her skin blue, her thin house dress crumpled up barring the back of her aged white thighs, as I ate a Nut Goodie candy bar, waiting for my mom to pick me up after her second shift at the factory. But I can’t remember if I had thoughts of a crush that day, whether or not I was scared or elated, if I had dreams or aspirations that day.
Sometimes ghosts aren’t the remnants of those that have passed on and now haunt the living, but those suffering deep inside and can’t break out of the body they are in, it’s the thinly veiled spirit of someone trying desperately to hang on and exist without acknowledging the feelings and emotions they are afraid will kill them if they let them. They are the ones haunted, so they move silently through each day, trying not to disturb the things around them that will alert those that will hurt them, they float through life, learning what gets them by, what people expect of them, all the while losing touch with who they are, their dreams, with the things that validate their soul. Eventually they hone their skills so that others may never know what pain they feel, so that no one may suspect they are knee deep in a roaring, torrid fire behind the walls they’ve built.
Do you recall Dr Seuss’ book entitled Oh The Places You’ll Go? “You’ll come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they’re darked. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?” That was my favorite page, I wasn’t afraid of those places, in fact when I was a kid and I read that page I felt validated, I felt like someone knew where I was. You can hide in those dark places, you can make believe you’ll go some place one day for other’s sake, but you can’t hide the darked out windows, you can’t hide the void in your eyes. As I stand here holding this tarnished photograph in my hands, I can see the reason why I can’t remember, it’s because spirits don’t have reminiscences. I look into the eyes of that young boy and they are cold, they are darked out. That young boy is a ghost, an apparition of someone lost long before the shutter snapped. I have seen a ghost and he has my face.