It’s funny, not in an amusing way, but rather in an odd, “isn’t-it-strange” kind of way, how sometimes they all come flooding back, the ghosts and the memories they bear. A month or two can go by, and there are no dreams, even though it comes up in casual conversation, that death of a loved one.
But they are never far away though. They are always there, lurking just below the surface, that frail veneer of normalcy you present to the world. You know this, because you’ve lived with it for some years now. But sometimes, there are stretches of time when the environment around you, the fates, and your own mind all collude to lull you into a false sense of security; perhaps you even foolishly dare to think that you are “over it,” as if you ever can or will be over it – as if you have a choice in this matter — when deep down you know that can never be. That at best, you’ll adapt, like an amputee adjusting to losing a limb: her life goes on and she learns how to do without, but that phantom pain never quite goes away — indeed, it flares up when she least expects it.
In much the same way, you never know when something will whisk you back into those moments to relive yet again for the gods-only-know-how-many times those awful, terrible moments, the dreadful movie playing behind your eyes in all its vivid, mental Technicolor glory. Sometimes you don’t see it coming; the most tenuous reminders – a smell, an uttered phrase, an object on your dresser – they collude to send you back to those moments unwillingly to live them all again. And sometimes it’s just for the briefest of moments before you can return to your façade; sometimes the ghosts even let you sleep unperturbed.
But then other times the ghosts cavort and play their infernal games until light floods the world once more.
And then there are the times you see it coming, like a slow-motion accident — the character in the television show you’ve been watching is in the hospital, on life support, and the prognosis isn’t good, and you know you shouldn’t be watching this; you know what it is going to bring – you hear the banshee’s wail — yet you cannot help yourself. You go there willingly; no collusion or sudden trickery is necessary. And even though it’s all bullshit, the heavily made-up actor lying on the hospital bed in a studio intensive care; no matter how they present it, you know its utter crap because you’ve seen this all first hand, twice now.
It’s like you’re not really seeing the stupid bullshit on TV, though. Oh no, your mind and your ghosts make sure that instead of seeing the clean, comfortable, participatory lie — the willing suspension of disbelief — instead you’re reliving the visceral truth of death all over again: you hear the death rattle in lungs filling with fluid … you see the arms swollen and livid because the kidneys have shut down, and the fluids they continuously pump into him have nowhere to go … you hear the unconscious yet desperate gasps for breath … you smell that telltale odor of decay that refutes the hopeful, steady chirps of the monitors … you feel the rapid beating of a raggedy old heart fighting a desperate, losing battle.
And even though the character on television makes a rapid recovery to the ecstatic, happy relief of their loved ones, that’s not the ending you see. No, you hear that last gasp as the lung rattle ceases, the chest rising for the last time. Then once more you lay fingers on rough, dry, aged skin that’s prickly with gray whiskers so that your fingertips can be witness to that patched, retread heart fluttering once or twice more before finally stopping, forever. You watch again as the blood drains away from the face of the one constant left in your life, never to return. The jaw slackens and you try and close it — how many times have you tried to close it? — grasping for even one tiny shred of dignity for this man, because that’s all you can do, even though you know it’s futile – that’s all you have left to give him, after he’s given you so much. But Death won’t permit even that.
And even as you wander out to the nurse’s station to inform them that your hopeless vigil is at an end, you know it’s only just begun: these images are mentally indelible. You know that even if you were to live for a hundred more years, or a thousand more years, that you will take them to your own grave, as brilliant and vivid as the moment they happened — that only when your own heart stops beating and your own jaw slackens for the last time, then and only then will they leave you.
Only when you join them will the ghosts let you sleep untroubled.
So you come back to the present nine months later and sit and listen to Beethoven — Moonlight Sonata and Für Elise, over and over, and that upbeat, happy part in the middle of Für Elise always catches you off guard – because you know sleep will not come this night. You briefly take solace in the fact that no sleep means no dreams. But then your tired mind keeps replaying those images in your head, over and over, like a tongue probing a rotten tooth, or a finger picking at a bloody scab.
Ghosts will have their due, whether you sleep or not.
So you write it all down because words are the only way you know how to temporarily exorcise them, the images and the ghosts — the only way you know how to drive them away, however fleetingly.