One night, after we have shut the doors behind us, I dream my home is haunted. In the dream, I lie in my bed in the inkblot dark, twisting my hands through the sheets, when the faintest white glow softens the room. I rummage through the drawers of my nightstand and strike a match. In the firelight, I see a specter suspended midair above my bed, one hand reaching out for me. I take it, and the ghost pulls me into its translucent arms. I can’t help but dissolve like sugar.
“I don’t know when I am anymore,” I cry.
“You mean who or what or where,” the ghost replies.
“No,” I say, “when.”
The ghost peers at me. “It is always right now,” it says kindly.
“No, no,” I say, “now was then, things are different now.”
It smooths its hands over mine. “You’re not making any sense. Nothing has changed except for you,” it says.
I feel a construction site hammering away at something in my chest. I press my head against a pillow and wake at noon. The ghost is gone. I feel like this March that lasts forever has swallowed me whole, whole, whole and spat me out in some horrible haunted house.
I know what I want to write and say but don’t know where to start. Perhaps I should start with what we live in, or what we live without. Perhaps I should also start with what lives in us, or what is a part of us.
“My head is swimming with so many ghosts,” I text Olivia. I have no idea where to put them all. Some of them are memories, some of them are places, some of them are people, living and dead. Sometimes I think I am full of so many that my body has repurposed itself to make room for them. My heart has chambers, and therefore is a home... to something, I just don’t know what. The ghost is seeking a way out, I’m sure of it, but it won’t let me know how I can help it; it just wants me to know it’s there. What are the things that my secret self wants? Can ghosts get lonely? I spend hours meditating. I fill journal after journal. I talk through it with friends. No answers come out of these attempts.
I admit to a friend that I don’t know how forthright I should be about my feelings toward someone.
“You’re just afraid,” my friend says.
“Am I?” I ask.
“Yes, you’re afraid of what will happen after,” she says, looking away from her screen.
“After what?” I ask.
“After you don’t have the ambiguity to hide in anymore.”
I sit with that. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My words die at my lips over and over again until I’m sure that I’m surrounded by a million ghosts of things I wish I said. I don’t know how to unhaunt my body, my mind, my house. Maybe, at least this way, I know I’m not alone.
“Notice me!” I imagine a floating bed sheet with eyes saying, “Dear God, notice me! Why won’t you notice me?” The ghost throws a book to the ground, slams the doors shut and blows out the windows so the shards of glass dance like stars through the air. “I only want you to see me.” I only want you to see me the way I want to be seen.
Part of me, the part that is quiet and only rarely speaks, says, “It doesn’t matter, everyone has already forgotten you. You’re far, far away.”
I’m sorry. I meant to write something happier. I wrote about loneliness instead. I can’t help it. I keep thinking about how California is always on fire, about the plague ravaging the world and the distance that separates us, about how the other night the air snapped and it’s colder than it should be this time of year, and yet, despite all of this, how I can’t bring myself to tell someone I love them.
What I mean to say is, “‘To learn what we fear,’” Shirley Jackson wrote, ‘is to learn who we are.’” I suppose I am all heart, all haunted house, all flurry of ghost and candlelight and whispering woods.
And I like to think that ghosts can dream. I like to think that some nights, when they get tired of haunting, they rest their heads in an empty room somewhere and dream of who they could have been. And on nights when they get lonely, for surely they get lonely, they close their eyes and climb into the dreams of the living, just so they know they aren’t alone.