Ghosts and Shadows

Ghosts have no shadows
they are unsubstantiated
rumours of a life…

I exist, not because
of my shadows, and despite
the times I’ve been ghosted

Ghosts and shadows –
without them I am two-dimensional
with them, I am poetry.

(Tuesdays, I borrow from Twitter @Vjknutson. Image my own)


Day 172 “Change Your Destiny”

I was five when I first learned that there was something not quite right about my grandfathers visiting me in the middle of the night.

My mother and I were sorting through a box of old photographs, when I spotted one of her father.  I dug deeper and pulled out a photo of my father’s father.  “My Grandpas!” I exclaimed.

Years later my mother told me that the hair on the back of her neck stood up that day, I frightened her so.

“Did someone else show you pictures?”  she asked.

“No, Mom,  I know them because they come visit me at night.”

“When?”  She pulled out a picture of a crowd of people and passed it to me.  I pointed to her father again.  “Yep, that’s him.”

“They come at night when everyone is asleep.”  I could see that something was upsetting her, and I didn’t want her to be mad.  “Oh don’t worry, Mom, they don’t wake me up.  They just stand at that end of my bed until I wake up, then we visit.”

“And what do you do during these visits?”

“We go to the kitchen where we won’t disturb anyone.  I ask them if I should wake you and Dad, but they say not to bother, they’re just here to see me.  We talk.  They ask me about my day, and tell me how big I am.  I take turns sitting on their knees.”

My Grandfathers, it turned out, died before I was born.  Grabbing me by the arms and forcing me to face her, my mother told me that I could not share this story with anyone else.  She told me that what I was seeing were ghosts and that other people did not see ghosts, and more importantly, people who saw ghosts would be locked away for a very long time.  “Stop seeing ghosts!”  she pleaded with me in desperation.  (I would later come to understand that an uncle of hers had been condemned to life in a mental hospital for this reason.)

I didn’t know what to think of all this.  My Grandfathers looked like everyone else, they just visited at funny times of the day.  Nothing about it had seemed out of the ordinary.

I was ten when I woke up to find my cousin and the three little ones standing at the foot of my bed.  “Tell them we’re okay,”  Willy said.  I was still struggling to fully open my eyes when they disappeared.  The chill of their presence still lingered in the room.  I decided I had better tell my parents.In the hallway, I could hear that my parents were awake, my father on the phone.  He put down the receiver just as I walked into their room.

“Willy and the kids are dead,”  I said.  “But they are okay.”

“They died in a fire,”  my father said glancing at the phone.  “How did you know?”

“They were just in my room.”

“Why didn’t they come visit me?”  my cousin Katie pouted at the funeral. “Willy liked me better. ”

“I don’t know,”  I answered honestly.  Willy did like her better.  He and I always fought, in fact, just the week before I told him I wished he was dead.  Was he punishing me?

Having caught wind of my peculiarity, my older sisters would put me to the test, trying out my abilities.  We discovered that not only could I see the deceased, but I could track down the living with some kind of freak body radar.  At eleven, I was suddenly invited to accompany them downtown, where I would use my “powers” to locate boys.

I experimented on my own, too, reading about out of body experiences and attempting to recreate the phenomena.

At fifteen, it all became too much.  My next oldest sister, Mai, was away visiting her brothers on the East coast when I suddenly knew something was wrong.   I was sitting in class, concentrating on the lesson, when suddenly I felt shooting pains in my finger.   I looked down to see that it was the same finger that wore a ring Mai had given me.  I slipped the ring off and the pain stopped.  Put it back on and the pain resumed.  My body radar was at work again, and this time it was telling me something was wrong with Mai.  The office paged into the room at that moment and asked to have me sent down.  Mai, the secretary told me, was being flown home.  My parents were picking me up shortly.  Somehow, I determined that it was all my fault.

I decided that my mother had been right.  Nothing good could ever come from this stuff.  I shut it down.

For thirteen years.

And then the wall came tumbling down, and the ghosts returned, and my body sensitivities heightened, and I saw and knew things more clearly then ever.  And people started to come to me for ‘readings’ and to talk their dead beloveds, and to see the future, and I complied, because I thought that it was my destiny.

Yet, my mother’s words always echoed in the back of my mind, and I wondered if what I was doing really was serving a purpose, or was it all just a fancy parlour trick.   Oh, there were times when I knew that I was truly able to help others, but there were also times when the message I delivered was not helpful, and sometimes maybe even destructive, and this felt all too much like I was trying to play God, and so I shut it down again after twenty years, for the most part.

But my son carries the same burden, and so it is never fully gone from my life, and I can’t help but wonder:  Was I destined to see things differently, to experience the world inside out for a reason?  Is there merit in all this?

I told my therapist some of my story, obviously still reluctant to disclose everything, given my mother’s warning.  She says some people are more intuitive than others, and make sense of the world that way.  She says people like me do not understand the logic of others, nor how they are able to draw the conclusions they do.  She suggested I just learn to trust my instincts as that is my way of being.  She doesn’t know the half of it.  If I let my intuitive side open up again, who knows what will happen?

I do believe we can change our destiny.  I know that born to a cross-dressing father, and a divorced and emotionally crippled mother, I was destined to have a challenging life, but I chose to make the best of it, determining from early on that what I was given served a purpose, and would help prepare me for my destiny.   I also know that I control the gifts that I have been given, and that I use them or not, at my discretion.  That much I have proven to myself.

Whether or not these gifts serve a worthwhile purpose, is something I have yet to come to terms with.  I don’t know what my destiny is, but I do know what I want to do my life:  I want to make a difference, alleviate suffering, empower others, and inspire change.  And I want to do it with humility and in service to others, not as some freak sideshow performer.

Destiny is a such a big, and overwhelming word.  It suggests finality and lack of free will.

“All paths lead to the same destination,” a medicine woman once told me.  “We always end up where we are meant to be.”

So is the journey all futility?  I would like to think not.

I have danced with my destiny several times, choosing to step off the path now and again.  Today, I stand in the cover of the forest, and look back at the path I have traveled and wonder, will I pass that way again?

Tragedy Visits

Something’s happened to Billy!

I shot bolt upright in bed.  He had just been here.  I saw him standing at the end of my bed, but that was not possible:  Billy lived miles away in the country and it was the dead of winter.  How could he have gotten here?

I lay back down on my bed trying to piece together what had just happened.  Billy had been there, long enough to wake me from a deep sleep.

I’ve come to say good-bye, I remember him saying.  Tell everyone we’re okay.  That’s right, he wasn’t alone.  His little brother and sisters were with him.  All of them fading back into the darkness.

I couldn’t shake the vision.  Only ten years old, this wasn’t my first night visit, but I never quite knew what to do with them.  I dragged myself out from under the comfort of my warm bed, and shivered down the hallway to my parents’ room.  The first rays of a new day were starting to break the darkness.  The phone rang.

Mom was sitting on the edge of her bed when I entered, listening intently as Dad spoke into the phone.  She gestured for me to be quiet.

“Carl and Maureen?  Are they alright?”  My father spoke with deep concern.  I knew it was tragic.  “No, no.  Oh my God.”  He listened, shaking his head and tutting.  “Oh my God.  Well, thank you for calling, and please,  keep us posted.”

“They’re both alive, but they’ve had quite the ordeal,” my father said to my mother as he hung up the phone, then turning to me, he pulled me closer, sitting on the edge of the bed beside my mother so that we were all at eye level.

“There has been a fire,”  he started,  “at your cousin’s house.  I’m afraid it’s quite tragic.”

“I know, Dad,”  I reassured him.  “Billy came to see me.  Just now.  He said they’re okay.”

My parents exchanged that look; the one they always did when they didn’t know how to take me.

“Well, your cousin didn’t make it out of the fire.  None of the kids did.  All four……gone.”

The news that night showed the pictures.  The house had been reduced to a rubble of ashes, and from those ashes men were carrying away four small stretchers bearing the remains.  The remains of my cousins.  I had never been this close to tragedy, and I really didn’t know what to do.  That afternoon, in school, I’d broken down crying when the story we were reading talked about a fire.  All I could picture was Billy and the little ones being burnt alive.  The teacher had called my mother to come and get me.

“Come away from the TV,”  my father commanded.  “Damn them for showing those pictures! Can’t a family have privacy?!”

We turned off the set, but the images remained etched in my mind.

Billy’s parents weren’t at the funeral; they were still in the hospital recovering.  It was just as well, I thought, this was one sad place.  A single coffin sat at the front of the church, bearing the bodies of all four children who ranged in ages from two to ten.  Billy had been the oldest, just two weeks younger than me.  A line of sobbing people extended from the coffin and out into the cold February day.

I had no right to be there, so I shrunk back from the crowd, hoping no one would notice me.  We always fought, Billy and I.  He was full of mischief, with deep brown eyes that twinkled with trouble.  He just had to look at me to fill me with rage.  It was only two Sundays ago when we’d had our last fight.  I wish you were dead!  I’d told him.  And now he was.  I hadn’t said it quietly, either.  I’d yelled it in front of all my other cousins and my aunts and uncles.  I was sure they all knew it was my fault.

After the funeral and burial, we all gathered at another aunt’s house.  While the adults drank tea and coffee and ate tiny sandwiches with no crusts, the cousins removed themselves to an upstairs bedroom.

“It’s just awful,”  my cousin Kate exclaimed.  “Can you believe it happened?”

“He’s okay,”  I blurted.  “I saw him, and he said he’s okay.”   I explained my nocturnal visit.

“Why would he come to you and not to me?”  Kate and Billy were closer, and actually got along.
“I loved him.  You didn’t.”

“I loved him, too,”  I protested, “It’s just that he made me so mad.”

We all fell silent.  They knew what I meant.  Billy was a tease, and could be a total pain.

I didn’t really want him dead, I thought.  I just wanted him to stop pestering me. 

The horror of our loss hung in the room between us, as cold as the icicles visible through the frosted pane.

“I wish I’d seen him,” Kate said quietly.  “Then I’d be able to believe he’s okay.”

I had seen him, but I wasn’t sure that made it any better.  The sorrow was still pretty raw.  He was still gone from our lives, and every time we got together, his absence would be a huge black hole.  Billy, who’d been so full of life, so wild, and energetic, was now dead.  It just didn’t seem possible.

It was the winter of ’69 that I first learned that even though life exists beyond death, it doesn’t minimize the depth of sorrow felt at the loss of a loved one.