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?

5 Responses to “Haunted” »»

  1. Comment by Kaleb Nation | 10/31/07

    I am still haunted by the time when I was 14 and I called the head editor at a major publishing house to pitch my book and was sent to the security line. I also have a query letter for an awful story I wrote when I was 13 or so, detailing what ‘rights’ I am willing to give to the publisher, complete with misspellings and a line about how my story could easily be a TV show, and pages of trademarks and confidential notices! I shudder when I remember what I used to think publishing was like… :)

  2. Comment by spyscribbler | 11/01/07

    Oh, man, I can pinpoint it precisely. When I was in college, there was this girl sick with mono and CFS and FM. She would call me, and she was so sick that she would repeat sentences over and over because she’d forget she just said them. But I was an idiot youngster and didn’t understand, didn’t reach out to help her.

    It sure bit me in the ass in a big way when I got the exact same things years later. A part of me felt I deserved every bit of it, and although she probably would have absolutely no idea who I am now, I will never, ever forget her.

    One of those things you just wish you could turn back the clock and re-do, you know?

  3. Comment by seabgb | 11/01/07

    Why in the world did I Google RGB after so many years? If you can guess who I am, more power to ya. But I’m glad I came — to read your private hauntings and share my own. We’ve all been assholes. Some people make a career out of it.

    It has been tough lately, worst of it was losing my girlfriend’s son to drugs in June. Also placed my Mom in an Alzheimer’s facility — in January, and lost my dog of 16 years in April. I think I remember Kurt Vonnegut saying something like, “Life is no way to treat an animal.”

    Mom thinks my brother is dead. He’s not dead but he’s going through some tough work stuff. Typical power struggle crap.

    My cousin and his lovely wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl. Unfortunately, she was born with a serious mental/physical handicap.

    After 3 years of fighting with my girlfriend’s son on the drug thing, it finally came crashing to a halt when they found him dead in a hotel room not three miles from our house. Methadone was the culprit. That following month was the worst month of my entire life. The hardest thing is seeing the people you love suffer.

    I’m haunted by the last two conversations I had with my girlfriend’s son, actually one conversation and one lack of conversation. In the first I told him to get out and not come back, because that’s what the counselors told us we had to do, not enable him or make it easy for him. The second time was when he came to the house to pick up some clothes. We looked at each other, wanted to say something but didn’t. He drove away. That was the last time I saw him. To this day, I think of things I could have said to him that day, things that might have made a difference, like maybe told him I loved him and cared about him.

    I, too, watched my Dad die. I was sleeping in the same room with him but had nodded off. The hospice nurse woke me. I watched him take his last few breaths. I honestly believe he had left his body long before he took those last few breaths.

    I’m trying to believe my Mom has also left her body, except for some residual spirit that hangs on to this world but can’t really function or communicate in it.

    Things going on with my Mom now are pretty haunting, too.

    Well, back to work.

  4. Comment by Caroline | 11/15/07

    Back in 9th grade I was taking a dance class with girls younger than myself and I witnessed another child’s total humiliation when she was performing in front of the entire class. She was so frightened that she lost control of her bladder. The other girls were sitting in a circle around her when it happened. Every one of them fell over laughing at her as she was escorted out of the classroom. That is still one of the most painful things in my childhood- seeing how horrible other humans can be. I cannot forget that little girl.

  5. Comment by mikala | 12/26/07

    Wow, I found this post a month late, but it really is haunting. It’s also true: the painful memories that come up again and again are like ghosts. I think this is why so many people send in post-cards at postsecret.blogspot.com. Like you, like seabgb, I was too late to see my father pass into the next world. I arrived just a few minutes late, but what I saw I’ll never forget. His entire life my father took meticulous care of his teeth. The nurses had placed a tube in his mouth, and when he died his face was frozen in a teeth-baring grimace, as if to say: you can take care of your body all you like, in the end, it all comes to this.

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