There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
No matter where you live
There’ll always be a few things, maybe several things
That you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive
- Lyrics from “Up the Wolves” by the Mountain Goats
I’m alone out here. This I know. And yet… I feel like there’s someone right next to me. I don’t know if it’s just proximity to Stephen King’s home state of Maine, but I feel like there’s a ghost along for the ride. Sitting shotgun, splitting my food, and pointing out things I hadn’t seen at first. I just can’t quite get past this feeling that I’m not as alone as I’m supposed to be.
Now make no mistake, I’m not one to believe in ghosts. Nor do I fear them. I’m not a believer. When you die, you die. End of story in my book. That said, believe what you want to believe. If you’re certain there are ghosts, ghouls, goblins, spirits, and an afterlife go for it. Believe what you believe, doesn’t bother me none. But I don’t. I just don’t.
I can’t say I’ve never felt what I think people that do believe in ghosts have felt. There have been moments when I felt certain that I wasn’t alone. That there was someone or something in a room or a place with me. That I was sharing a feeling or an experience with someone else, even though there was no one else present.
I have a theory about this. The ghost is you. Your memories, your feelings from something that came before. Something your subconscious is trying to bubble back up to the front of your mind but can’t quite get it there. Deja Vu and such things are just feelings and impressions of what came before. You can’t seem to process and understand it, which leads to the idea that someone or something else is right there with you. Some would be adamantly against this idea. Some are so incredibly sure they have seen or felt a ghost, that the idea that it’s their own memory would seem blasphemous. But isn’t that what ghosts are supposed to be? Memories that won’t fade or move on? Instead of them being something outside of you, can’t they be within you? And if they are… isn’t that slightly more terrifying? You can leave a haunted place. You run away from a ghost. But you can’t leave yourself. You can’t run away from memories and feelings. You’ll always be haunted.
I’ve been driving all over New England while I’m here. Trying to see the little things that don’t pop-up on the list of “Things to See While in…”. I’ve checked out dive burger locations. I’ve walked around old areas that still give a glimpse of what life was like forever ago. I’ve listened to the accents and the local language. I walked fourteen miles around Manhattan breathing it all in. I’ve been driven to see life here compared to my home in the UP. To feel how they live in contrast to how my neighbors and I do. I don’t completely understand what it is that I’ve been wanting to see and experience. I know that on some level I have been seeing whatever it is I’ve been looking for, even if I don’t consciously know what it is that I want to see. I guess I’m trying to get a feel of the area. Trying to get the most basic impression of life out here.
I’ve driven hundreds of miles, I’ve walked dozens of miles, I’ve eaten… well a lot of food(maybe too much), I’ve talked to maybe one hundred complete strangers. Not huge conversations, just pleasantries. But still, words exchanged with people I could have gone my entire life never running in to if I had not been on this weird quest I’ve undertaken. And it’s been great even if it has been lonely. The more I spend time alone doing these things, the more I wish I had my wife and kids to share it with. There’s a certain amount of guilt I feel being alone here.
But… the thing is… I don’t always feel alone in it. Sometimes I feel like there is someone with me. Someone watching it and steering me to take a corner I might have missed. When I drove up the Connecticut shoreline there was this turn for Niantic that I didn’t think I was going to take. But I did. For whatever reason instead of going straight like I had planned I turned right. This led to the Niantic Boardwalk and a beautiful little town I might have never seen. The same happened in New York City. I was walking straight towards my intended destination of the NYU Campus. But as I started to cross a street I turned left instead of right. And I kept walking for no particular reason. Half a block down I found this weird little underground boxing gym. It was really cool with graffiti all over the front and hip-hop blaring from the glow of neon lights. I looked in the window and saw this class of middle school kids practicing their jabs. Turns out this place offers free lessons for at-risk kids on the weekends. According to the flyer on the door the intention is to teach them discipline and competition while also having a safe place to go on the weekends. Man… that’s noble. It gives you a good feeling about what’s out in the world and I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for that weird push that I felt.
Now, if I was a different person this would be explainable as being guided by some sort of outside force. God, spirits, Allah… any real number of supernatural and religious individuals and creatures could have guided my feet and my decision. On the most basic of levels, I guess I could say it was a ghost of the highway or the neighborhood that made me turn. A ghost that pushed or called out to me and set me on the path to discovery. But I don’t believe in any of that. So how do I reconcile this? Well… the Niantic turn could be as simple as someone somewhere told me about it at some point and I forgot about it. Or maybe I read about it. Either way it didn’t pop in to my conscious mind, but something nagged at me and gave me the impulse to take a look. And I did. The underground boxing gym has a similar explanation. Somewhere in the sounds of the city, my ears heard the hip-hop, and my peripheral vision saw the neon. And while I didn’t know it my subconscious was curious and wanted to investigate. So I turned both times not because of an outside force, but an inner force. You don’t have to agree with this, I’m okay with that. Again, everyone is free to believe what they want to believe. This is just my thoughts on it.
But… while all that makes sense, there is one thing I took a long time to rationalize: why. Why am I doing this? Why do I want to see and experience these things off the beaten path? Why do I feel driven to explore this area and see as much of it as I can? Why have I driven hundreds of miles, walked dozens of miles, and eaten so many local delicacies? What am I looking for and searching for? I figured it out yesterday. I’m searching for my own ghost. I’m searching for the thing that haunts me: my father.
To be more precise, I’m haunted by the memories of my father. This is not the first time I’ve written about him, so I’ll spare the recap of my anger at him and that I haven’t spoken to him in years. This isn’t about that. This is about before he split for good and our relationship dissolved completely. See when I was young he took us on trips like this to the East Coast. He was born in Newark, New Jersey and once a year made a pilgrimage home with some of his own family in tow. Along the way he made us stop in random places and look around. Never the big sights or the places most people head towards. Always random out of the way places. He would talk to people while we were there. It was his real gift. The way he could strike up a conversation easily and quickly make himself likeable. He was always so comfortable at it, never seemed to bother him in the least. I have this to some degree, but it’s always after some level of preparing myself to be ready to be comfortable and outgoing, and even then a fair amount of internal anxiety fills me with dread the whole time. But he never seemed to have that problem. He could just… meet people and talk to them. He would go anywhere if an impulse struck him. He would drive eight hours to just see a lighthouse someone told him might be somewhere, or trek 200 miles to eat a hot dog someone said was good. He was a rambler, a traveling man. Which of course ultimately led to his departure. But growing up… I really loved that about him. This was him at his best. This was him in his element outside of the alcohol, the infidelity, and the general selfishness. This was when and where I loved him and wanted to be like him.
This all occurred to me as I sat on a train to NYC. It’s funny how little things can trigger thoughts and memories. I was cracking open a can of Diet Pepsi and BOOM! I had feelings of Deja Vu. I had experienced this before somewhere. I’m not going to say I haven’t drank or been drunk on a train before, I did and have been. But it wasn’t that. It was a memory of him. A memory of a train ride to a city… in fact this exact city. It was early in the morning. He wanted to head in to the city early in hopes of catching a Mets game. He no idea if they were playing, just figured if they were then we were all set. And he was drinking because that’s what he did regardless of what time it was. My uncle was there too and while it was clear he wasn’t sure it was time to have a beer, my father convinced him otherwise. Because that’s what my father did with his likeability, got you to want to join in on the adventure… and the drinking. That’s a ghost I’ll probably always have too.
This was him at his best. This was when I liked being around him. And this is what I miss. The drinking, while not great, was part of it and part of him. While I don’t directly miss that, it was part of him and how he acted and how it felt to be around him. That’s my ghost. The memories and the feelings of these good times with him as a kid. The times when I wanted to be around him and other people wanted to be around him. I’m haunted not by him but by what I remember of him, which is not the same thing. We never remember people as they were but rather how we saw them and to some point how we wanted them to be. This quest of driving, walking, talking and experiencing is trying to feel how I did then with him. Trying to see what it was that he was seeing when he went on these adventures. And on some level, trying to understand why these explorations and adventures were so great that he could pass on being with us. On being without me. And a hope that I can discover parts of these impulses that I can use with my kids but not blow it all away like he did so very long ago.
I don’t want to be like him. I don’t. I think about that a lot. But I think… I think my pursuit of being angry and trying to not be him I might have blinded myself to something I should have learned from him. I should have walked away from him remembering that you can find adventure anywhere if you just look a little bit further away from the main road. That you can have great conversations if you just talk to someone you’ve never met. That if you let a whim make you turn right instead of go straight, you might see something really cool that you would have missed. Maybe this ghost isn’t him at all. Maybe this ghost is me and how I would be if I didn’t let anxiety keep me from playing it safe and sticking to the plan. If I just stopped thinking all the time and said hello without any fear of how someone would react. That’s a ghost not to fear. A ghost you want to know and keep around. The ghost you want to always haunt you to make you try something new. I said you never remember people as they actually were, but rather how wished they were. Maybe I don’t remember him at all but rather how I would like to be. Minus the drinking of course. And the Mets. Baseball is so… fucking… boring.
I think even if I don’t believe in ghosts, I will always be haunted. Whether it’s by my memories or feelings or even my secret wishes, there’s always something.
I’ll always be haunted. And I think that might be okay.