Ghosts

There is no good time for anything. No good time to say “I love you”. No good time to say “I don’t love you”. No good time to break up with someone, to ask someone out, to have a baby, to adopt, to marry someone, to have a wedding, to die, to tell someone you want to die, to leave a job or a home. There is no good time to move on with your life. Just as there is no good time to move on from this world.

Just recently I decided to travel back to a place that I hate. Winchester, Virginia. On a mission I have been curious about, but softly avoiding. Get medical testing done. My secondary mission was to visit my family and friends. I missed a few on the latter. The reason I hate going back to the place I was raised is because it’s full of ghosts. The type of entities whose hauntings would invoke insanity. I have many. One ghost in particular I had to visit. Wanted to, actually, because he was a dear friend of mine. I knew him when he was about 7? Maybe 8. Either way, I knew him and his family since the first day they moved up the street from me. My family and I helped his family move into their new house. We would play around the boxes of toys, kitchen supplies, bedroom sets; just forts of cardboard were our playground. I was about 12, I think. I hate the fact that so much of our time together are just ripped up pieces of paper floating through the fog. It’s like my memory doesn’t bother to remember the little joy I had as a child.

I do, however, remember the colorful shields and wooden swords we would fight with in the basement of his parents’ house. One shield was blue with a grey castle, another had a lion imprinted on a red background, and there was a green one. I saw them just last week and even now my memory is slipping. I had sat in the brown, suede, lounge chair of the Ballard’s home. My eyes focusing back and forth from the shields and swords resting atop the mantle of the fireplace to Mrs. Ballard’s eyes as she quickly voiced her concern of me finding a job at the school I dropped out of in order to go back. I visited the Ballards not only to catch up with them but also to check on them. It’s only been two years since the loss of their first and only son, John David. Whenever Mrs. Ballard came across a sentence when she had to mention her son or his passing there would be a pause. As if she was a video that had to buffer. That feeling I understod. I’m currently feeling it with every key stroke.

The Ballards were happy during my visit. Well, I guess I should say more at peace. I wasn’t there two years ago when they had John David’s wake and funeral. My mom told me it was lovely. Many of the town’s residents as well as the students were in attendance. Some people could see it as proof as how small Winchester was. I like to see it as how many lives were impacted by John David and his family. Mr. and Mrs. Ballard chatted with me for about an hour as they gave me an update on their children. Their oldest daughters were in college, but I did get to see and talk with their youngest, Kat. There was shock in my eyes when that five-foot-three, just-barely-went-through-puberty girl hugged me with so much warmth and positivity. Her brunette hair touching her shoulders just like her mother’s. Except, a little more straightened. Last, clear memory I had of Kat was when she was a toddler. It delighted me to hear about her life and how she was supporting her brother’s charity foundation. She was trying to get a support group going at Handley High for kids going through the same thing John David did. I knew right then that she had a bright future ahead of her.

In return I updated them on my current adventures. My writing projects, my search for a writing job, discontinuing college, they were the only loved ones I visited that I didn’t talk about my medical mishaps with. Which was nice. After Mr. and Mrs. Ballard walked me to the front door, I made a request. Mrs. Ballard hugged me after I asked to visit John David’s grave. I had expected to go to the cemetery the next day to pay my respects, but there was no need. I followed Cathy to the front room. I slowly approached the east corner where a tan, lightly warn desk had been. Actually, it might have been a covered piano. Apologies, my memory is actually remarkable. Just in other areas. Definitely not when it comes to visuals. Anyway, I approached a clear vase on top of some tan, lightly warn object. To the right of the vase was a family photo. To the left was a green bag with a furry texture. The yellow laces of the bag were loosened enough to reveal a white box. Mrs. Ballard told me it was biodegradable. She said cremating their son was better for the environment.

So many questions ran through my head before that moment, but after feeling John David’s presence first hand all I thought was, “I hope you’re at peace.” I thought to myself that I had no clue why he would do it. At least, not specifically. I can only understand what it’s like to be in that state. To feel alone amongst the smiles and laughter. To want to leave but always putting it off because deep down there is a whisper of hope. To not having anyone to talk to but the darkness. I know that feeling all too well.

I’ve heard people say that it’s cowardly to commit suicide. That those who did would end up in hell. That those who were brave continued living. Honestly…I’m not sure which is braver. Living in a world you aren’t happy in…or leaving for one you hope you will be. I think you must be pretty damn brave to commit to your ideals despite what others may think or say. What I am sure of is that John David is not in Hell. That kid is way too good to be in a place like that.

I, on the other hand, am destined to go to Hell. I’ve already tasted it with my own soul. I attempted suicide when I was ten years old. It was also my last attempt. I didn’t do it because I was brave, just like I didn’t choose to live because I had suddenly become more courageous. I stayed alive because I saw something, someone who convinced me to live amongst the cave of demonic voices giving convincing rebuttals in favor of the contrary. If you’re not one to believe in magic, you are welcome to believe that I had a hallucination – I was an insomniac – or that I made it up for some psychological reason. I don’t care. I know what I saw that night. I know the conversation I had in the kitchen of my parents’ home during the witching hour. I remember pointing a large knife with a black handle to my heart. The lack of tears running down my face, the voices in my head egging me on as I calculated the perfect angle for the knife to swing into me for a quick death. The cold, white tile floor holding my bare feet in place. The blank stare I held in my eyes during the entire affair. The blanket of despair and dread encompassing the entire house. That night is an image that remains ingrained in my memory. It has always been easier to recall the darkest moments of my life.

January 10th was my first, full day back to Winchester. One of my best friends since middle school, Jose, took me to brunch at a Chinese buffet called China Town. He knows Chinese is my favourite type of cuisine. The combination of simplicity and the delicate handling of ingredients and spices is fascinating as well as delicious. Fried rice might be my last meal, but I’m still deciding. At the restaurant, Jose and I did what friends always do. Talk about relationships, reminisce about the past together, talk about our near futures, express problems we have, joke about each other and our other friends, share tales of our time apart from one another. The usual. A popular topic when it comes to me, in particular, amongst many of my friends is how my love life is going. To many, I’m considered smooth and a bit of a womanizer. I always laugh at such remarks because they could not be more wrong. I’ll admit that at times I can be as silver-tongued as Justin Timberlake, but definitely not a womanizer. I’m more of a Peter Parker when it comes to women. I’m always surprised when a woman likes me. I’m always unsure that it’s true. I am always nervous. When I do hang out with a woman that is interested in me, I always fuck it up in the most idiotic way possible.

In fear of ruining something that makes me so happy, I take my time with relationships. So much, that my friends accuse me of taking too much time. This is the topic Jose and I had landed on. I admitted to him that I take my time, but for a very good reason. Jose continued to stare at me with a questioning glance as he hovered over me. I don’t remember why he was standing right next to me at that moment. I could see through his glasses that his eyes were ready to pounce with a retort against anything I was about to say. He was probably waiting to see if he needed to assist his retort with a slap upside my head. I said to him, “I take my time because I think the woman I date deserves to know about my past. I just think telling them everything at once would be too much and she would get scared of me and leave.” I paused for a moment. “That’s why I don’t tell anyone about my past. Not even friends.” I’m sure Jose saw the disappointment in my eyes so he didn’t hit me. Or the fact that he could’ve just didn’t cross his mind.

Instead, he said, “But you told us.” The “us” he was referring to were Sam, Andrew, and himself.

“Yeah, but that wasn’t until right before I left for college. I knew you guys for years and trusted that you wouldn’t leave me afterwards,” I said. I knew the guys for about 6 years before I told them about my past. they were the first to ever know about that. A couple days later I left for college. No, sorry, Sam knew before the other two.

I told Sam one night during the summer before college as we sat on the hill behind our high school. The moon was full, the grey clouds cascaded through the midnight sky. I told Sam my story in the form of a third person point of view narrative about a lost and depressed boy haunted and tortured by demons every night. Which was true. At the end of the story, the boy stopped his attempt at committing suicide because a mysterious, new voice in his head convinced him not to. But the boy did not live happily ever after. He had gotten rid of his soul and murdered all emotions. The girl he saw that night stayed with him until the boy made real friends and learned how to live life with the emotions he originally wanted nothing to do with.

As I hoped, those three guys continued to be my friends. However, I never did and still don’t expect that behaviour from anyone else. Especially, new friends. I have hope, yes. But I don’t expect anything from anyone. I understand if learning all of this ruins some of my friendships. I’m not doing this for that reason. I also don’t feel obligated to talk about this. I am writing this because I hope that my past, knowledge, experiences, mistakes, learned lessons might help someone else better improve their own life. Whether they be friends, family, or strangers, hopefully talking about my life will help them with their own.

The night I tried to take my own life, the spirit that I spoke to told me this: “I honestly don’t care if you live or die. It’s your choice. You can stab yourself in the heart and die alone now or you can keep living in the hopes that your life will eventually get better.”

I asked the girl, expressionless, monotone, “Is this supposed to be a pep talk?”

“Take it how you want it,” she said.

“What if my life doesn’t get better? What if I’m without friends? What if years from now I’m still not happy?”

“Why do you idolize the characters you watch in cartoons? Or the ones you read in those books? Why do you want to be the superheroes in your comics? Why do you spend all day daydreaming of being one of those characters? Of saving people? Of having a better life? Not giving up on themselves is something they all have in common.” I thought about her multitude of questions. I imagined all of my heroes and all of the characters I wanted to be and asked myself why I liked them so much. And she was right. Whenever I watched or read about them and their adventures, I would always get this feeling of resilience towards my own obstacles. My own villains.

“I…I don’t want to give up. But I’m tired. I hate feeling sad. Hate the voices inside my head. I don’t want them to torture me anymore. I don’t wanna lose control again and become them. I don’t have a reason to live.” Around this point in the conversation, my new silver haired, purple eyed friend sat in one of the black wooden chairs at the dining room table.

She sighed, “So don’t live for yourself.” I had no idea what she meant. “All of your heroes fight for other people. Do that.” I asked her who. “Who do you wanna live for?” She asked as if that was a simple question. I pondered it. Most importantly, I pondered who I was actually capable of helping. It’s not like I was strong, athletic, talented, intelligent. I just had my experience to go on.

“I wanna help the people like me,” I told her.

“Even if it means you’ll be sacrificing your own happiness?”

I nodded. “As long as I can help others be happy, I don’t need to be.” I didn’t feel confident in my answer, but I was committed.

“Okay then,” the girl said as she stood up and walked toward me. “I want you to make me a promise.” What sort of promise could I have possibly made to a girl from another world? Possibly even a hallucination? I just stared at her. She stood five feet in front of me. “Promise me that you’ll never commit suicide, not even attempt it.” I immediately wanted to say no. I wanted to tell her she can get out and never bother me again. Present me would have told her to suck it.

“Fine,” I told her. She leaned in closer to my face. A brilliant, golden aura started to glow around her.

“Promise me,” she said. My grip on the knife loosened and I let out a sigh.

“I promise that I will never attempt to commit suicide…” I paused for a moment. Once my thoughts had buffered, I told her, “…and that I will live my life in order to help others just like me.” The girl gave a smile. I found her odd and not funny in the slightest. But also magnificent. “Are you leaving now?”

“I think I’ll stick with you for a while. Help you out. Clearly you need it.” She wasn’t just referring to the voices still plaguing my mind, but my personality as well. I felt nothing. Wanted to feel nothing. It was easier that way.

Over a year ago I took a nonfiction workshop where I had to write a journal entry about why I wanted to be a writer. One of my first reasons was because I wanted to write stories that would help people learn how to improve their own lives. To inspire others to live out their dreams and to not give up on themselves. That’s true especially with this story. But I’m not being totally selfless here. I write stories and am choosing to be more open about my past because it helps me remember my roots and the lessons I have learned along the way. I keep telling my friends that looking back at your past and accepting it is how you can move toward the future, but I might as well just be talking to the wind. As Professor Josh Wilson told me, “show rather than tell.” So here I am.

I am definitely not the same kid I was back then, but that kid is still a part of me and I can’t ignore him or reject him any longer. He was a ghost nobody loved nor payed attention to. He was invisible to everyone unless needed. His imagination gave him insomnia, hallucinations, and tortured him almost every night. But no one could hear his hollow screams. Now, I am more or less in control of my imagination. I have people who care about me, I understand my emotions and how to deal with them, and I enjoy my life. I’m still kinda a ghost, I’ve made terrible choices in my life that will haunt me forever, but I am happy. I’m glad I didn’t kill myself twelve years ago because, let’s be honest, my sickle cell is gonna kill me by the time I’m 45 anyway. I feel like I have a soul again, however tainted it may be, but it’s mine. And I will live with it until the day I can finally rest in peace. Until then I have to keep my oath to death.

Thanks for reading chapter 1 of my new autobiographical series. I will post more in order to explain…myself, I guess. I’ll go into more detail about my past life, the lessons I’ve learned, the people who have impacted my life, my family, friends, relationships, and my misadventures. If you have any questions about me, my life, and anything in this post, just email me or something. ‘Till next time.

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