Saturday, December 5, 2009

insomnia; or, a dickensian visit of a ghost from my past

Tis the season for Charles Dickens' immortal classic A Christmas Carol; a story I never did like very much. As I see ads for this version and that version of this tale I can't help but think that what makes this story so universal--not to mention so malleable-- is that we all have ghosts. I have mine. And at times, like now, I am visited by my ghost. Yes, there is just the one for me, but it is not any less terrifying in its singularity. Even without Scrooges' power of three, it still has the power to haunt, to disrupt, to warn, and to terrify. Recently, my ghost has been visiting. Well, 'tis the season after all, so I should not be surprised really. But, no matter if expected or not, I am still overly dismayed and find myself unable to sleep afterward.

At three am when I awake from a colorless forgettable dream--or worse, a recurring one about a water tower, and raised voices, and goodbyes--and I am pulled into a cyclone of worry, I try to tell myself that this all of my own devising. The danger is not real. I tell myself to stop thinking and go to sleep. I tell myself that the perils that I imagine are all a part of a mild anxiety disorder heightened by a recent run of bad dealings that have battered my self esteem and my abilities to believe in hope and love. But still, I lie awake night after night, because those are just words. And I am not often fooled by words.

I traffic in words. I use words everday to shape meanings. I find ways to tell my students that their writing is kind of terrible using a vocabulary of hope on a daily basis. I offer status reports to friends and family that mask personal trouble almost daily.  I smile and tell stories cloaked in laughter about wounds that have found their mark. I feel like Mercutio spinning wild yarns about Queen Mab while the lifeblood is seeping out onto the concrete below me as I mutter about flesh wounds. I know about the many guises of words; I know better than to put my faith in them.

When I was 9 years old I won a short story contest. I wrote about a little girl who frightened herself because she mistook everyday objects for darker more nefarious matter. A tree branch became a hand, an owl a ghostly voice, the night a terror. Even then, I think, I knew that I was a worrier. I know that in my mind, I make normal situations into something scary. But, on the other hand, sometimes a tree branch is a hand. The night is a terror. Am I worried or am I prescient?

The ending of the most important relationship of my life still shadows me. It has been nearly four years now. Friends and family are weary of these shadows and their burdens, and understandably they don't want to hear about them any more. In some ways they are right. If I can stop the story from being told, then I could forget, but whether I talk about it or not, I can't get it out of my head. Memories swirl around me like constant flashbacks. I replay conversations and then re-write them with better endings. I make plans for revenge: some benign, some too scary to share. I compose letters and emails. I imagine standoffs and confrontation. Reunions and  reconciliations. A roomate of mine, who knew both of us, he and I, once asked me if I thought that this was a case of past life reincarnations. She said she had rarely felt such an intense connection between two people and more than once had dreamed that he and I were ageless companions. I laughed at the time. Because what else can you do?

The last time we saw one another I willed him to me. I was in an airport and I felt him there, I had no knowledge of his travel plans, nor he of mine. But I knew. For about an hour, I searched for him among the airport terminals and resaurants. And then I walked back to my seat and waited. He walked past within ten minutes. Even while we were talking, wasting the day with minutia and trivialities because I was so shaken by his presence that I could not say the things that I knew needed to be said. Deep down, I knew that was the last time. I was almost convinced that my plane was going to go down and that I had been given a precious last gift. I remember feeling genuine surprise when I landed safely on the other side. That was the last time. I don't know what he thinks of that last encounter. I am sure it was strange. I am sure his story of what happened is different than mine. But, he won't let me ask, so I don't know. Still, that is the most spiritual memory of my life and the one moment that makes me believe that there might be a god.

Somehow, I feel like if I could just silence these shadows the worrying would go away and peace would come. That somehow this ghost of a relationship past is stirring a soup of anxiety and self doubt, and that if vanquished my mind would still, sleep would come, and life would calm. I feel like this is a weight on my shoulders that gets heavier with time as I take others' words and paint them with his voice. I want to remember. I need to forget. I need a banishing charm. A spotless mind. A forgetful heart. I feel like something needs to be done. Closure. Understanding. Forgiveness. Or a rage. Something to take the words out of my head and heart and leave me in peace. But sincerely, I don't know what. How do you say goodbye to the ghosts of your past? Or do you? Or can you? I don't know, but I do know that it has been many miles through this snowy woods and I would like to sleep. I would like to sleep.


  1. Oh Kat, I feel for you because I have been there. I attempted a reconciliation with my ghost last year and nothing came of it but a painful reopening of wounds I thought were long since healed. Sometimes the reconciliation comes within, with yourself. Sometimes the best revenge is living a good life (as cliche as that sounds).

    And sometimes you just curl up in bed and feel the pain. Hugs to you from miles away.

  2. I'm belatedly sending along virtual hugs also. Just the same as both of you, I'm not sure exactly how to banish those ghosts. Sometimes, I'm not even sure if there were ever corporeal beings that preceeded the ghosts in my life, which is a different kind of difficult.