A true ghost story

As sometimes happens with divorce, the kids and the parents don’t or can’t reconcile until there’s a lot of water under the bridge. The long-suffering hubby (LSF) and his Pops were like that, not speaking for years, but by the time we were married, they had come to a sort of peace with each other. Pops was excited to know that we were having a baby when he found out we were pregnant. It’s not speaking ill of the dead when I say he made some nasty choices over the years, especially during and after the divorce. But as he and LSF aged, they formed a shaky truce. Pops always seemed pleased to see us, however rare it was.

But Pops also seemed ill each time we saw him and eventually was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He constantly traveled back and forth from South Carolina to North Carolina to Baltimore, I think looking for some thread that would hold him in this life. He had a new girlfriend who loved him and urged him to make amends with the family who would still speak to him, with his friends he had wronged, and with himself. He went through treatment, eventually wasting from a tall, slim man to a gaunt, bent person who struggled to walk and stand and hold a cigarette. They tell me that he once had been a big, broad person, huge-shouldered and burly, like LSF and his tree-trunk brothers, but when I knew Pops, he was thin. He always wore brown clothes that seemed to have found him by mistake. He looked like a representation and not a true form. We worried. I prayed.

Pops traveled that road to Baltimore for the last time when Alex was a month old. We sent him pictures of her. He died before he met her, when she was four months old.

When she was about 15 months old and I was pregnant with the Mack Attack, LSF had to work an ice storm. We are used to his working ice/snow/hurricanes/heat, but this one worried me. It was the first time I’d ever NOT been able to drive in the ice, and he was out there driving a live truck. Alex and I stayed home, alternately watching the snow and icy rain out the window. I was tired and big and not in any mood to be stuck inside and afraid and I was still slightly unsure about being alone with the offspring. My back hurt. My feet hurt. All I wanted was a break and for LSF to come home.

But then Alex started laughing at … nothing. Giggling, she rolled around on the floor, gazed at something that I couldn’t see, and she’d double up in laughter again, as though somebody had tickled her.

Then she sat up and started babbling to … nothing.

Something caught the corner of my eye. It was tall, lanky and brown. It stayed in my periphery but Alex seemed to focus directly on it.

It moved. She squealed and ran down the hall, came back and laughed and ran toward the shadow, which remained in my periphery. I turned my head, but the shadow moved to the left. Alex ran toward it. I turned again, trying to get a good look, but it jumped to the other side of my vision. Alex ran the other way, following it.

I shrank into the corner of the couch, and the shadow settled into the corner of the room, perched against the doorjamb or against the wall, leaning as though it had no strength to truly stand. Alex plopped down into her Elmo chair, staring outside at the snow and ice. She occasionally nodded and laughed. She eventually wandered to her room and gathered some books and her Pink Bear, came back and made a huge deal about introducing Pink Bear to the shadow in the corner. She talked and listened.

Baffled and nervous, I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. The shadow followed me. When I came back, the shadow moved back to lean in the corner.

“You’re welcome to sit down,” I said. It came closer to the edge of the couch while Alex toddled over to grab for my piping-hot tea. “NO!” I said it more harshly than necessary. She got angry and went for it again, and I thumped her little fingers. She melted into tears.

The shadow disappeared. Alex kept crying; I felt like a jerk. I gathered her into a hug, apologized for thumping her, and explained that the tea was hot and she could’ve been burned. She calmed after a while, but the shadow didn’t come back.

Finally – and I felt stupid doing this – but finally I called out: “I’m sorry I thumped her. I won’t do it again.”

The shadow reappeared. Alex climbed off my lap and went back to laughing, reading, talking and watching the snow.

Shadow person stayed all afternoon. I let it know when I had to do a diaper change, and it very nicely gave Alex some privacy. It leaned against the kitchen door while I made dinner. It stayed by the window most of the time, I guess watching Alex watch the snow.

Toward seven, Alex looked at the front door, raised her hand and waved. “Bye bye!” she said. The shadow left my vision. The apartment felt empty.

A minute later, LSF called. “I’m almost home,” he said. “Y’all OK?”

I know the shadow person was Pops. I think he was sad that he was going to miss out on Alex and the coming baby, that he felt he owed it to LSF to look after us for a while, that he wanted to both give and receive some familial comfort.

I’m sorry this story has to be a ghost story. It makes me wonder, however, how many other souls are out there, trying to right wrongs, trying to make amends, and trying to do what’s necessary before truly moving on.

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