Have you ever seen a ghost? I don’t usually ask that question because everyone will typically start telling their typical bullshit story of seeing an old woman in their peripheral vision one late night, hearing voices that aren't there, or maybe even picking up a phantom hitchhiker on a late night after driving for too long. I ask this question because I want you to have your spiritual encounter on your mind while I tell you my story. My encounter with the afterlife wasn't very typical and I doubt that after listening to my story that you’ll be able to see yours as ordinary.
It all started in early 2001 when I was thirteen years old. My family had just moved to a new city after my father lost his job. He was lucky enough to find work in a small town in Michigan. The town, Kalamazoo, was a quaint and quiet community. We moved there midway through the school year so I found that I had about six or seven months of free time before I could attend school and meet the other kids. My neighborhood was built for younger couples so there weren't too many kids to hang out with during this time and the cold weather forced me inside most of this time.
I was fine with being indoors. I’m an avid gamer and love survival horror games. I spent most of my time in my room, which was in the basement, playing games and talking to the friends I had left behind when I moved. I was a big fan of Resident Evil and was slowly getting into Silent Hill around that time. Just a small note about my house in Kalamazoo. It had a main floor with a kitchen, living room, and a bedroom/bathroom. The basement had a wide-open area, my room, and a room with a water heater off to the side.
The house was old. It was built sometime in the 1950’s and was refitted to be more modern. Asbestos was replaced by insulation, lead paint was removed, and copper tubing was put in. It reminded me of the old “Ship of Theseus” conundrum. At what point of repairing and replacing parts does the house stop being the same house and become a completely new house? Did I live in a house that was from the 50’s or was it now a completely new building? I've been known to wax philosophic from time to time, sorry about that.
The house had its fair share of problems. It was freezing in the winter due to poor heating, particularly in the basement. Every now and then, I would wake up to find my breath fogging in the air. I slept with a heater in my room to combat this invasive cold. I accepted this drawback in exchange for the privacy that it afforded me and as a teenager, privacy was of the utmost importance. The house also made sounds at night. My parents told me that it was just settling on its foundation, but I wasn't so sure.
It started with the most innocuous of things. Whenever I was settling down for the night, the sound of a door lightly bumping into the door jam could be heard. At first I thought it was just a wind current or pressure change pushing a door in the basement closed. I told myself that the next few nights it happened. I told myself that when the sound persisted even after shutting all the doors in the basement. I figured there was just enough space when the door was closed to bump against its frame and cause the sound.
Another sound that was almost always happening at night was the sound of my bed creaking. At first I thought it was me turning in bed and making that sound. Then it started happening even when I wasn't moving. I spent a few nights lying in bed without moving, waiting for the sound of my bed shifting. I would always look over at the other side of the bed, but there was nothing ever there. Eventually I began to get used to the sounds and they became the background noise.
A few days passed with the persistent sounds, I would have forgotten about it had I not opened my eyes late one night. I had just heard the creaking bed and I drearily opened my eyes. I was greeted with the image of another person right next to me. My heart leapt into my throat and my stomach sank. I didn't know this person. Her back was to me and her long hair ran down her back. She was wearing a white nightgown. I laid on the bed paralyzed and watched her. She was rocking slightly on the bed. She rocked back and forth for a few minutes before getting up. The bed creaked as she moved into a sitting position.
She had her hands in front of her face. She sat in that position for a few minutes before she got up and moved towards the door. She moved slowly. When she reached the door, her hand extended towards the doorknob. She didn't open it, she just phased through the door and it moved slightly with her passing through it. I didn't sleep for the rest of the night.
I spent the next couple of nights sleeping upstairs in the guest room. I lied and told my parents that it was too cold downstairs. I knew I couldn't tell them what I saw. They were already worried about my adjustment to a new city; they didn't need to think that I was going crazy. I stayed in the guest room for a few nights before they began to get suspicious. I went to bed in my room the next night and I saw her again. I didn't just see her, I heard her as well.
I tried to stay up that night, but I eventually drifted off. As I was about to really go under, I became aware of a sound softly repeating in my room. I opened my eyes and she was there in my bed. She was still rocking slightly and I realized what the sound I was hearing was. She was crying softly. She was doing her best to stifle her sobs, but they were audible. I should have been scared, but as I listened to her pitiful bawling; I felt nothing but sympathy. She rose to a sitting position and wept for a few minutes before leaving my room.
I managed to go to sleep a few hours later on the floor next to my bed. The idea of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing her facing me, dead eyes looking right into mine was a terrifying thought. She didn't seem to be aware that there was someone else in bed with her and I had no intention of making her aware of my presence. I slept on the uncomfortable floor in front of the heater the rest of the night.
She appeared every night in my room for the next week. She always repeated the same motions. At the end of the week, I decided to try and make contact with her. I was beginning to feel like a voyeuristic creep, watching her at her most raw and unguarded moment. When she appeared, I let her cry for a few minutes before slowly reaching out my hand. My trembling hand slowly crept across the bed sheets. I was terrified that I might get her attention and provoke her wrath. My hand drew closer and closer to her shoulder. I blew out a laden sigh and stuck my hand forward. My fingers slid right through her.
It was the oddest sensation I ever experienced in my life. My mind told me that I wasn't feeling anything, but it still felt like I had touched her. Later when I was older, I would come across an article explaining phantom limb syndrome. The article talked about how amputees would sometimes feel sensations in their lost limb despite the fact that it was no longer there. I think that is the closest analogy I can come up with. I was feeling something that was not there, or at least no longer there.
My attempt at contact galvanized me. I shot out of the bed and walked around to the other side. She had just risen to a sitting position and was now facing me. She was a few years older than me. If I had to guess, I would say she was sixteen or seventeen. She had relatively plain features, but there was an endearing quality to her simple style. I was shocked and a little embarrassed to be thinking of her like that. I was busy mentally castigating myself when she stood up and moved right through me. Trying to touch her felt odd, ‘feeling’ her pass through me was the oddest sensation I ever felt. I had to sit down and catch my breath and still my heart.
The next night I tried to make contact again, but met with the same results. Instead of watching her leave the room and make the sound of the door bumping against its frame, I decided that I had to follow her. I had to figure out what happened to her. She moved slowly through the basement, but wasn’t heading in the direction of the stairs; she was instead heading towards the boiler room. I followed her to the door, but as soon as I got within reach of the handle I felt my blood turn cold and my skin prickled. She phased through the door and I stood outside. I was afraid of what might happen to me when I entered that room, but I was more worried of what I would find when I entered that room. I didn't enter the boiler room until a week before class began.
I won’t lie. Those first few months in Kalamazoo, Michigan were some of the loneliest of my life. My friends back in Simsbury, Connecticut were moving on with their lives and I felt like I was being left behind. I didn't have any friends in Kalamazoo yet and to tell you the truth, I was beginning to see this nightly wraith as a friend and kindred spirit. She was alone and sad just like me. Every night, I would wake up to the sound of her suffering and I would follow her to the boiler room. A week before class began for me; I entered the boiler room with her.
I had stood outside the door for a few minutes, trying to steel myself for what I might see. My entire body was screaming at me to run back to my room and never go near the boiler room again, but I had to know what happened next. I drew in a deep breath and blew it out. I grasped the doorknob and turned it. The door swung into the room and I was at eye level with her feet. They swayed back and forth like a pendulum. I stifled a scream when I realized that she wasn't levitating like a ghost. She was hanging from a beam in the ceiling.
I left the room and went back to my bed. There was nothing more I could do and I had no intention of spending any more time than necessary in that boiler room. I laid in bed and slowly curled up into a fetal position. I prided myself in not being the kind of person who cried openly, but at that moment, the floodgates broke and I wept. My throat felt raw and my eyes stung with tears. I wept for a few moments before I realized I was not alone. She was in bed across from me and weeping in that same position she had always been in.
I tried to find out who she was, but the realtor was tight-lipped about it. I pressed her for more information and she finally caved and told me she didn't know anything of the house’s history. She confessed to not doing any real research on its past. I went to the library, but I failed to turn up any information. I even tried asking the neighbors about the previous owners, but the two previous families that lived there didn't have a daughter or had an infant daughter when they occupied the house. I had no idea about the girl who appeared every night and hung herself in the boiler room.
It was now a routine for me. I would wake up in the middle of the night around the time she would appear. I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I found myself waiting for her. I was hopeful that someday I would break through and tell her what I had wanted to say ever since I saw her. I would tell her that she didn't deserve the fate she was suffering. I would tell her how lonely I was, how desperate I was for someone to talk to. I would tell her, I don’t know.
I always stayed behind when she left the room. I had walked into the boiler room during the day once and I saw her hanging there. She was gasping and clawing desperately at her neck as she slowly asphyxiated. She rocked back and forth in the room and her feet frantically kicked around, looking for some purchase to save herself. I did scream then. I had to make up a story about seeing a shadow for my mom when she came downstairs and saw me.
I started class and began to make some new friends. I even had a few friends over to hang out. I remember one time we were playing a video game and the girl passed right through him on her way to the boiler room. My friends couldn't see her nor my parents, only I could. I wondered for a bit if I was going crazy, but I’m not sure that’s the case, well at least not going crazy back then.
She was repeating, always repeating her last moments. She would start out weeping on the bed, then she would rise to a sitting position for a bit before going to the boiler room and hanging herself. This happened almost every night, but on a few occasions, I did catch her walking through the doors on the way to her demise during the day. I must have seen her hundreds, no thousands of times during my time in Kalamazoo. Sometimes I would try and talk to her, sometimes I would cry, sometimes I would do nothing.
It took me a few years to try and figure it all out, but I finally did. I realized what she was doing. I realized what the afterlife was like. There isn't a Heaven or a Hell. (At least not in the literal sense.) There are only those last few moments of your life. Repeating like a broken record. She was reliving those final moments, maybe trying to make sense of it all, maybe she wanted to choose another path, but in the end, she always came around full circle to the boiler room.
This is why the concept of death scares me so much. H.P. Lovecraft said the oldest emotion is fear and the most powerful of all fears is our fear of the unknown. I think he’s wrong about that. I know what is waiting for us all when we die and that is the scariest thought I can think of. I am so terrified that when I die, I will stay behind on this earth, repeating my last moments ad nauseam. Trying to make sense of my last moments. I know that this is what is waiting for us all at the end and I know that the end is inevitably approaching.
I was just starting my Junior year in high school when my grandfather came to visit. He was my father’s father and he had lived in California most of his life. He used to smoke like a chimney, but a few years back he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was put on oxygen and had to give up smoking. He lived across the country, but had come up to Michigan to visit with my family.
My relationship with my grandpa was always strained. If you wanted to be pleasant, you would say that my grandfather was an old-fashioned man. If you wanted to be honest, you would say that my grandfather was a racist who used to beat his children when they disobeyed him. My father was always honest about how his father had treated him when he was growing up and because I respected my father, I found my relationship with my grandfather to be adversarial. He originally had come up to visit for a week, but due to health concerns, he ended up staying in Michigan for a year.
My grandfather’s extended stay only served to put a strain on our relationship. We rarely talked and when we did talk, I managed discourse in the coldest fashion. Since my grandfather was suffering from lung cancer, he had to carry around an oxygen tank. The manufactures must have had a sense of humor because they named the gargantuan tank of oxygen “the liberator.” The tank was one hundred or so pounds and sat in a corner by the entrance of the house. The oxygen cord gave my grandpa five hundred feet to move around the house. I saw the liberator as a massive ball and chain that anchored him to the guest room, kitchen, and dining room.
My grandfather was suffering from lung cancer. He had to take a regimen of pills to keep himself going day to day. The cancer had rotted away his lungs. The oxygen was necessary to keep him alive. He could barely move without gasping for breath and when he talked, it came out as a rasp. The sounds of his respirator clicking on and off and his ragged gasps became a fixture of everyday life.
We had been living here in Kalamazoo, Michigan for about three years before my grandfather came to live with us. At this time, I was accustomed to my nocturnal (And sometimes diurnal.) visitor who wept in my room before proceeding to the boiler room and hanging herself. My latest attempt to contact her was through an Ouija board. I snuck one of my friends into the house through the emergency fire escape the basement had; which was just a ladder built in an alcove that led outside. She believed that there were ghosts and that only a select few were attuned enough to see them. I didn't tell her about my encounters, I only hinted that I thought there was something paranormal happening.
She snuck in during the night and brought her Ouija board with her. We both sat on my bed and put our hands on the Ouija board. I lit a few candles to set the mood. (For contacting the dead, not setting a romantic mood.) She said quietly, afraid to wake my parents, "Spirits of this house, we beseech thee.” I always wondered why people thought ghosts talked like serfs from medieval times. If you were trying to contact your loved one, would you talk to them like they were a 1920's gangster? (“N’ya, ya see.”) She continued, "If there is anyone here besides us, move the planchette and make us aware of your presence.”
We sat for five minutes with our fingers on the planchette. After nothing happened, she took her hands away and said, "I guess the noises you've been hearing was just the house settling.” I cracked a smile because out of the corner or my eyes, I could see the wraith weeping on my bed. My friend was only a few inches away from the ghostly girl who haunted the basement of my house and didn't even see her. We talked for a bit and then she left. I walked her back to her house and told her goodnight. When I snuck back into my house, the sound of my grandfather’s respirator filled my ears.
A couple weeks passed and my grandfather’s condition deteriorated. He was now confined to the guest room. He could barely talk and when he managed, he had to pause between sentences to catch his breath. Sometimes when he over-exerted himself, his body was wracked with coughs and wheezes. My mother took care of him because my father was working and I had class. Out of everyone in the house, my mother’s relationship with my grandfather was probably the best. She went out and picked up his prescriptions, cooked food for him, and changed his sheets.
I remember heading off to school one day and seeing my grandfather sitting up in his bed. He now spent most of his time in bed and was developing bed sores and had to use a bedpan to relieve himself. He had a coughing fit and he covered his mouth with a handkerchief. Sometimes I think that I saw something red staining that handkerchief, but I realize that that little observation that I make now is tainted by the memory of what happened to him later.
When I returned home from school that day, I knew something was wrong the moment I walked through the door. There was something off about the house. There was something missing. It took me a moment to realize what it was. The omnipresent sound of the respirator pumping oxygen was no longer present. The liberator sat in a corner silent like the grave. I went upstairs to find my mother in the guest room, stripping the bed sheets and pillow cases. She had been crying, but wasn't at that moment.
My mom didn't have to say the words, but she did anyways, "He died. His heart... just stopped. There was nothing that could have been done.” I pulled her into a hug and she broke into a fresh set of tears. I offered to help her wash the bed sheets, but she told me it wasn't necessary. This part may make me seem like a horrible person, but I was glad she turned down my offer. When my grandfather died, he had evacuated and the smell was horrible. She washed the sheets as best she could, but ended up throwing everything away.
My father took the news like any son would take the news of his father’s death. I don’t know what I was expecting from him. For some reason, I thought he would be angry. Angry at the fact that his father never told him goodbye, never told him that he loved him or was proud of him. He wasn't angry, he was just quiet for a moment. He didn't cry at that moment, but I remember going upstairs from the basement and hearing the soft, hushed sound of him crying in the night.
I tried to take my grandfather’s death as stoically as possible. I didn't cry until the funeral and then the floodgates broke and I wept as they lowered him in the ground. He may have been a racist, sexist, abusive old man, but he was still my grandfather. He was family and he was gone. I didn't like him, but I did love him because he was a part of my family.
The next month was relatively quiet. My mom and dad dealt with getting his affairs in order and tending to his will. I can’t tell you exactly when they started, but I can tell you when I first became aware of the sounds. I was sneaking outside at night to have a cigarette and I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I had become so accustomed to the sound that it took me a few seconds to realize what was wrong. I was hearing the whirring and hissing of the liberator, we had donated the liberator a week ago to the nursing home.
I paused in the darkened hallway and listened. It was a slow and steady sound. Listening to that noise chilled my blood and made my stomach sink. I must have stood still and waited for that sound to stop for a few minutes. It didn't stop. If anything, the sound grew louder. I lied to myself and said it was a trick my mind was playing on me. I went downstairs and passed by the ghost as she proceeded to the boiler room and her death.
I kept lying to myself for the next couple of days as the noise of the liberator got progressively louder and was joined by something almost undetectable. The respirator kept going through-out the day. This wasn't like the wraith girl whose weeping only manifested at certain times. The noise was a constant and it was growing louder. The sound obfuscated by the oxygen machine slowly grew more evident. It took me a few days to really begin to hear the wheezing and gasping beneath the whirring of the liberator.
I avoided the guest room at all costs. It was quite a simple thing. There was nothing in there except for the sounds of gasping and wheezing. To be completely honest, I was afraid to enter the guest room. I could live with seeing the image of the girl in the basement, but I wasn't so sure I could accept seeing the ghost of my grandfather re-living his last moments. I avoided that room for a few months before finally succumbing to the temptation.
It was my Senior year then and I was just wrapping up with graduation parties. I had quite a bit to drink that night, but was still capable of driving. I pulled into my driveway and a thought struck me. The thought was that I had to see him before I left home for college in a few months. I had to face the ghost of my grandfather if I wanted to move on with my life. I went into the house and approached the guest room. I wasn't prepared for what I would see and I don’t think I ever would be.
I stood outside the guest room for a few moments, trying to steel myself for what I would see next. I listened to the methodical whirring of the oxygen tank and the discordant gasps and coughs that broke through the rhythm. The more I listened, the more I found my resolve weakening. Another couple of minutes and I knew that I would completely lose the will to investigate so I swung open the door and stepped into the room.
My eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the darkness. The curtains had been closed to the moonlight, giving the room a sepulchral feel to it. The room had grown musty and smelled like mothballs. The wheezing and gasping was louder now. It is just my mind now, but when I recall this moment; I could have sworn that the rasping and haggard sounding breaths were almost deafening. My eyes adjusted enough to see the shade of something on the bed. My eyes adjusted to the light and I could see him clearly.
The spirit or echo of my grandfather was on the bed. His body writhed spasmodically on the sheets. It looked like he was having a seizure or stroke of some sort. His hands clawed at the air in front of his face. This motion looked out of place until I realized that he was probably trying to adjust the respirator on his face. He writhed in the bed for a few more minutes before he fell still. He was dead again. The room was silent. I turned around and left the room. As the door closed behind me, the sound of frantic gasping and wheezing started up again.
The night before heading off to college, I rolled over in my bed and watched the nightly visitor to my bedroom. She rocked slightly in the bed and wept quietly. It tore at me to know that she was doing her best to keep quiet. Who was she hiding her depression from? Why couldn't she ask for help? She was tragically young. I leaned over to her and whispered to her, "I’m so sorry that this happened to you.” There wasn't much else left to say. I went to college the next day.
My first semester of college was going well. I didn't have any ghostly encounters in the dorm, which was a plus. I don’t think I would have managed to focus with the spirit of someone constantly dying from alcohol poisoning. I had friends, but in a sad way, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, wanting to see, to talk to her, to talk at her at least. November rolled around and I decided to drive home and be with the family for Thanksgiving. I wish I had just stayed at college.
I arrived the day before Thanksgiving and proceeded to catch up with my parents. My mom even rushed outside to hug me as I pulled into the driveway. My old man greeted me with a beer and we sat on the deck as I filled him in on my life at college. My first semester wasn't over with yet, but I was already adjusted to life at college. It was one of the happier moments of my life. Reminiscing about it now leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
We had a good dinner and I settled down for bed. I was getting ready to drift off to sleep when I heard the sounds I had become so familiar with when I was a child. I opened my eyes and faced the crying girl. I thought of all the usual platitudes that I used to offer to her. “You were too young.”, “You had so many happy moments ahead of you.”, “You could have been happy.” I wanted to tell her all of these things, but something else was on my mind. That thought was that something wasn't right. It was something that I couldn't make sense of until I saw him one more time.
I moved upstairs and went to the guest room. The respirator was still clicking on and off and he was still gasping out his last breaths in that room. Trepidation filled my body. My whole body was screaming at me to turn around and my mind was begging the same. I knew if I entered that room and witnessed my grandfather’s death again that I would never be the same. I entered the room anyways and I still wish, to this very day, that I had never tried to sate that curiosity.
He was still on the bed, gasping, clawing, and struggling in his final moments. I moved close to him and sat on the bed. His body writhed and twisted on the sheets. I knew something was off about all of this. Something in the back of my mind pushed me forward. I leaned in close and watched it all carefully. I watched as my grandfather clawed at the empty air in front of his face. Something was off about all of this. He wasn't clawing at the respirator. When I realized what it was, I knew I had no other choice. I went downstairs and grabbed my suitcase and fled my house.
I debated whether or not to wake up my parents and let them know why I was leaving and why I would not return. You can call me a coward or you can call me righteous, but I just couldn't do it. I just couldn't face them with that knowledge. I threw my suitcase in the trunk of my car and drove to the nearest bar. I never needed a drink more than I did at this very moment. I needed something to give me the liquid courage to leave Kalamazoo, to leave my family. I was almost in tears by the time I reached the dive-bar.
I swallowed back my emotions, entered the bar, and sat at the stool closest to the bartender. It was a dive, the kind of place that had saw dust on the floor to soak up sweat and skoal spit. I never needed a drink as badly as I did in that moment. I ordered a double shot of whiskey and downed it as soon as the drink was poured. I ordered another, then another, and another.
As midnight rolled around and they were preparing for last call; they decided to perform their ‘night before Thanksgiving tradition.’ The bartender would go around and ask what everyone was thankful for this season and give them a free shot of the cheapest liquor they had to offer for their response.
An old man in the corner said, "For health!”
A young patron, who was probably too young to be drinking, shouted, "YOLO!” and was promptly denied a shot.
A woman around my age declared, "For life and its adventures!” and downed the drink.
A Spanish couple at a booth declared, "A familia!” He continued around the bar until he at least came to me.
The bartender came around to me and he asked, "What are you most thankful for?” I paused for a moment. I didn't know what to say. The bartender tapped his foot, ready to call last call and finish the night. I had to say something. I couldn't think of anything I was grateful for. He grunted, "Come on, buddy. What are you grateful for?”
I said the first thing that popped into my head, "Ad mortem.”
I watched the bartender’s quizzical expression as I downed the shot and ordered another. I would have ordered another after that one, but in some part of my mind, I knew that I would never erase that image from my mind, the image of my grandfather clawing at something in front of his face; the image of the pillow over his face that my mother had to be holding over him, smothering him. The memory of her disposing of the bed sheets and pillow case the day I returned home from school only made me feel worse. I tossed back the shot and left the bar, not knowing what to do next. I felt sick.
So we now reach the conclusion, my third act. My exeunt stage left. I feel like I should re-hash my predicament a little. Ever since I was a teenager, I have been able to see things that no one else can. I can see certain spirits. I don’t know why I can see some and not others. I thank God that I can’t see every dead spirit otherwise my world would be full of the billions of people that died before my time. I have only seen a handful of ghosts during my life. One being a girl who killed herself in my house, the next being my grandfather who was murdered by my mother. These ghosts always repeat their last moments ad nauseam, ad mortem.
I wish I could say that I managed to bear the burden of what I had learned about my mother. The reality was that I just lost control of everything. I began slipping in a downward spiral. I tried to finish up the semester strong, but the mental image of my mother pressing a pillow over my grandfather’s face and smothering him to death haunted me. I found that drinking dulled that thought some, but did not completely obliterate it. I was self-medicating with some success, but the memory of seeing him writhing on the bed, clawing at the pillow over his face was just too much to bear.
For lack of a better term, I became a walking shit-show. I was drinking whiskey like it was the waters of the river Lethe. The memory was more persistent than the ghosts themselves. That reality haunted me day and night. The image of his final moments were branded into my brain. Can you really blame me for getting smashed every opportunity I got? Maybe I’m writing all of this to find someone sympathetic who will listen to me.
I wish I could say that I dropped out of college when I realized that I wasn't doing anything except drinking, but after another round of failing grades; my college politely informed me that I should not return next semester. I didn't bother appealing the decision. I didn't return home, I crashed with a friend for a couple of weeks while I tried to figure out what to do next. I couldn't face going home. I couldn't face my mom. I slept on my friend’s couch and drank like a fish thrown into a tank filled with whiskey.
I managed to live with my friend for a couple of weeks before he kicked my drunk ass out. He had put up with me for too long. He had spent too many nights cleaning up my messes and turning me on my side when I passed out. He was a good guy, but I think the final straw was my late night confession about the ghosts. I think he could handle an alcoholic hot mess such as myself, but throw in my ‘hallucinations’ and that was just too much. He calmly listened to by drunken ramblings and waited until I passed out before stealing my cell phone from me and calling my parents.
I woke up in my bed at home. My father was standing in the doorway and my mom was sitting on the bed next to me. She was stroking my hair gently like she used to do when I was a kid. She whispered to me about how she was here for me and how she was going to get me through this. It was in that moment that I knew that I couldn't confess what I knew about my grandfather’s death to my father. She was my mother; she was the one I ran to when I hurt myself as a kid. I decided I would try to turn my life around, if only it were that easy.
I’m going to let you in on a few fun facts about giving up drinking after over a year of heavy drinking. The first fact being; it is not fun. You sweat like you were trapped in a sauna. You have mild tremors, unless you’re a hardcore alcoholic and then you get DT’s. (Delirium Tremens.) Which are like severe tremors. I luckily didn't have that, but I did have anxiety, which was severely compounded by the realization that while I was there sweating, slightly shaking, and otherwise feeling like shit in my bed; the ghost girl was right next to me weeping. After a few minutes of this, she would get up to go hang herself in the boiler room and I would make a mad dash to the bathroom to throw up.
I tried to kick my alcoholism, I really did. I really wanted to move on with my life. I wanted a normal life with stupid meaningless problems. I just couldn't. I couldn't live in that charnel house. When the girl’s weeping wasn't getting to me, the wheezing and groaning of my dying/dead grandfather was assaulting my ears. I managed to live at home for a week before I fled home and went to live up in Grand Rapids, MI. It only took a couple of days living by myself, with myself, before I downed a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
My parents tried to get me to come home, but I couldn't go back to that place. I managed to convince them to let me stay as long as I called them weekly to keep them in the loop. My father even managed to get me a job outside of town. I worked weekdays, cleaning animal cages for a pharmaceutical company. It wasn't the most glamorous of jobs, but it paid well enough to support my necessities and me. Unfortunately, drinking heavily had come back into my life.
I managed to keep my habits under control for a month or so. I would work on the weekdays seven-to-five and then drink away my weekends. I found some friends along the way, some at work and a few at the bars I frequented. I was just getting a sense of normalcy in my life when everything fell apart. It all started with a phone call.
It was the simplest of things, one of my routine calls to my parents. We chatted about the usual things. I caught them up on my work, friends, and life in general. I was talking to my mom when she mournfully said, “Your grandfather would have been seventy-eight today.” As soon as those words were uttered, I heard something click and begin pumping a familiar sound through the phone. It was the sound of the liberator, the giant oxygen tank that my grandfather owned which my parents had donated to a nursing home.
Sunday became a terrible thing for me. It was the day my parents would call. I would spend the week dreading the time when they would call. I knew it was them before they even spoke. The sound of the respirator droning became almost deafening to me. I had to ask my mom and dad to speak up when talking to me so I could hear them over the sound of the liberator.
They became increasingly concerned over my erratic behavior and eventually invited me home for dinner. I turned them down. I knew that if I stepped foot in that house with that spirit, I would lose it. My mom was silent for a few minutes before telling me she loved me. I was getting ready to respond when it began. It was a low barely audible sound, but I heard it. When I heard that sound, my weakened resolve shattered apart. I heard the low, pained sound of my grandfather’s strained wheezing.
I had managed to keep myself in check for a few weeks by relegating my heavy drinking to the weekend. That way, I managed to be productive enough to keep myself grounded. Hearing my grandfather’s death gasp rattling through my mom’s phone was too much for me. I fled to my old vice and let it take over my life. I went out to the nearest bar and drank myself into a stupor. I’m pretty sure I was still drunk when I went into work the next day.
My co-workers knew something was going on when I showed up the next day drunk. I even snuck out at lunch to have a couple of shots to get through the day. I tried to keep myself in a constant state of inebriation because I knew that Sunday was fast approaching and being intoxicated dulled that grim realization. My co-workers were tight-lipped about it, but I could tell from their disapproving glares that I was wearing thin on their patience.
The next Sunday night, the wheezing was so deafening that I could barely hear my parent’s voices. I made up an excuse telling them I didn't feel well and hung up shortly after that. I spent the rest of that week getting wasted as if my drinking could ward off their upcoming call and their concern. The situation at work degraded and my friends and co-workers began to distance themselves from me, sensing that I was about to self-destruct.
I had developed my own routine for getting through the week. I would wake up in the morning and wash my mouth out with a bottle of Jack Daniels before going to work. Luckily, I worked in a pretty rural area where my sloppy driving didn't attract a lot of attention and the sky was still dark at six in the morning. I would have lunch by myself and take pulls from a flask to steel myself for the rest of the day. I had become a social pariah at work. After work, I would visit a bar and have dinner and a couple of drinks to keep me going through the night.
I knew that I was burning through the money I had accumulated while working, but it was a necessity. When I was sober, I questioned what I heard. Was I really hearing my grandfather wheezing and gasping through the phone or was it my guilt at knowing what my mom had done and my decision not to confront her tormenting me? I managed to make it through another Sunday night call, but I am almost certain that they knew something was happening. Maybe I slurred my words or maybe it was how I spoke, but they knew that I had fallen off the wagon.
It was at this point that I can’t really relate what happens next to you all with reliable accuracy. I lost days of my memory in an alcoholic daze. I spent days in such a stupor that I am still amazed that I wasn't fired. I guess I was still doing a good enough job to warrant paying me, but I’m not sure how. There is only one memory of this binge that I can remember with clarity. I remember turning over my phone and seeing that it was my parents calling me. I hung up the phone and continued poisoning my body.
The next moment that I can faithfully recall was a sound. A jarring THUD snapped me out of my stupor. My head snapped up and my glazed eyes glanced around. I realized I was driving and had just zoned out. I regained control of the wheel and slowed down the car. I pulled over to calm my pounding heart. Having achieved that, I got out of the car to inspect the damage. There was a hellacious dent in the bumper. I examined the area as my stomach began to sink. Had I hit something?
That thought sobered me up. There was no blood on the car so I reasoned that I hadn't hit anything living. The dent was substantial so it had to be something large. If I had to hazard a guess, I would estimate that it was the size of a basketball or larger. I breathed out a sigh of relief before another thought insinuated itself. What had I hit with my car? I walked a couple hundred yards back, but I didn't see anything. I looked for logs, branches, or any type of debris in the road, but my search didn't turn anything up. I reasoned it was nothing and after confirming that it was around six in the morning and a weekday, I went to work.
I didn't have a liquid lunch that day; I didn't have any lunch at all really. My stomach and mind was so upset that I doubted I could hold anything down even if I wanted to. I finished up washing the animal cages and went home for the day. Along the way home, I stopped by the side of the desolate, rural road and searched the area again. I turned up nothing in my investigation. I went home and sat in my bed. I didn't have anything to drink. I didn't eat either. I also didn't sleep. What had happened on that road?
I recall it was a Saturday. I remember this because I had to check my phone’s calendar to find the correct date. Much to my chagrin, I realized that checking my phone to find out what day it was had become a common occurrence for me. I moved to the fridge in a mechanical repetition of my typical morning ritual. I opened the door expecting it to be barren, but I saw a carton of eggs and enough food to make breakfast for myself. It was a shame that I still wasn't hungry. It was around this time that I started to get worried about my health. I hadn't eaten anything since yesterday morning.
I sat down on my couch where I typically had breakfast and turned on the television. Dark thoughts began to surface in my mind. My mind flashed back to when I was younger. I was watching the ghostly girl. She would appear almost every night and she was always repeating. She wept for a few minutes before sitting up and going to the boiler room to hang herself. My grandfather spent his afterlife lying in his bed, coughing and wheezing before my mother went to his room and smothered him in what I can only hope was an act of mercy. What was I doing if not repeating myself like them?
I was filled with existential terror. Horrible thoughts began to fester in my brain. What if I had hit something bigger than a log? Maybe I had struck a tree and gone through my car’s windshield. Maybe I was lying out on that quiet, rural street dying, or already dead. Was I doomed to repeat a drunken haze before coming around full circle to the moment of my death? I continued with that terrifying mind set before there was some breaking news and I was saved from that horrible thought and thrown to a much more painful one.
The breaking news was an Amber alert. A local nine-year-old boy had gone missing. His parents woke up a day ago to find that he was not in his bed. The police didn't have any leads, but they were confident they would turn something up in their search. I watched his tearful mom pleading with everyone through the T.V. to please return her boy to her. He was only nine years old. He liked reading, video games, and exploring the woods near their house. Her eyes welled up with tears as she repeated, “He’s my little explorer. Please come home to me.” For some reason, my stomach coiled up tighter than it had before and I felt sick.
It seemed like every channel I flipped to, I was looking at that boy’s cherubic face. When it wasn't his face, it was his mother’s weeping and his father’s pained expression. I turned off the T.V. I couldn't watch anymore. I went to the fridge and got a beer. I cracked it open and had just held it to my mouth when I got sick. I emptied my stomach into the sink. Typically I felt better after getting sick, but this time, I didn't.
I went out onto my balcony to get some fresh air. I live in an apartment on the third floor. Every now and then, I would go out onto my balcony to have a cigarette. Below me, police and people swarmed the streets like ants in a colony. They were all looking for the boy. My stomach coiled up even more to the point that it hurt. Even though it was early in the afternoon, I went to bed. I was so exhausted, but I still couldn't get to sleep.
I spent hours in my bed, turning, writhing, and being unable to make sense of it all. What had happened on that road? It was around four in the morning when I decided that I wasn't going to get any sleep until I knew what had happened out there. I needed the cold hard truth or reassurance. I needed the certainty. I got in my car and started heading to where I had had my accident. I had to know the truth, even if it was as horrible as I thought it would be.
I parked my car on the side of the road. As I walked up and down the road, my memory slowly started to recall bits and pieces. I was driving to work. When I was waiting at stop lights, I would take a pull from my flask. I turned off the city road and was heading towards my work via an old country road. I remember my head drooping down. I wasn't tired, I just wanted something to get me through the day, to get me through the Sunday night call. My head had just nodded down and then – Thud!
I must have walked up and down those dismal roads for about two hours. The sun was just beginning to peak through the night sky and I didn't want to have to try and explain to any passing cars while I was walking up and down a mile stretch of road looking for God knows what. I decided that my mind was playing tricks on me and it was just a fiendish coincidence. I pulled around and headed home. As I was leaving I thought that I had seen something in my rear-view mirror on the road, I ignored it.
I got home and reflexively grabbed the remote and aimed it at the television. I didn't depress the button because I knew what was waiting for me on the T.V. I managed to make myself a sandwich to eat. I still wasn't feeling hungry, but I forced myself to eat it. As I swallowed down the last bite, I regretted my decision to eat it. The sandwich sat in my stomach like lead. I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around my apartment, too anxious to settle down with a book and too nervous to watch television.
I talked to my parents that night, but I was too shell-shocked to recall anything from that conversation. I can’t even remember if I heard the spirit of my grandfather wheezing and gasping into the phone like a perverted caller. If you had a gun to my head and told me to remember that conversation with my family, I would say that I remember talking about work. I would then question why you would hold a gun to my head for such trivial information? It is safe to assume that I didn't sleep at all that night.
I rolled out of bed and went about for my morning ritual. I forced myself to eat a plate of eggs and a slice of toast. I worked late that night. Most of my time was spent trying to correct the multitude of mistakes I made due to being distracted. It was dark when I drove home. I was just rounding the corner when I saw him emerge from the woods on the other side of the road. I slammed the breaks and he lifted his hands to his face as if blinded by something. He gave a slight cry before being knocked off the road like he had been back-handed by some invisible and vengeful god.
I pulled off the road and looked up and down the streets. There was no one on the road. I was alone. In a sense. I walked to the side of the road and proceeded to climb down the slope. I scanned the darkness for a few minutes before I found him. He was curled up in the alcove of a tree. He was in a fetal position, cradling his fragile, broken body. I stared at his corpse for a few minutes before going home and pouring every single liquor bottle down the drain.
After I poured out every drink I had in my fridge, which did take a while. I stood at the sink for a few minutes before breaking down. I thought throwing it all away would make me feel better, but I only felt worse. I thought about placing an anonymous call in to end the Amber alert and bring some form of closure to his parents, but I couldn't do it. I’m a coward and worse then that, I kept asking myself, “Why me?” As if I didn't already know the answer to that.
I managed to drift off to sleep that night, but I kept waking up with a scream in my throat and sweat staining the sheets. At five in the morning I decided to go in to work early. I passed the boy on the way into work and on the way home. Each time it was a little more graphic, a little more gut-wrenching. He stepped out into the road. (What was he doing out that early?) He raised his hands in front of his face to shield his eyes from my headlights. My car struck him and sent him skipping along the asphalt, a whirling dervish of broken bones off the road.
I wish I could tell you that I did the right thing, that I called the police or parents and let them know where the body of their son was, nestled in-between the roots of a tree. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I am a horrible person. I am the lowest of the low. I tried to go about with my life. After a week, the Amber alert ended and the world moved on. I didn't. The parents didn't. I see him every time I drive to work. I see him stepping out onto the road. I see him when I close my eyes.
I had foolish thoughts of moving away, but his death is going to follow me. It, no he, is going to haunt me. It is a dead albatross tied around my neck. I can and will never forget the sound of his startled gasp, the impact of my bumper on his tiny body. A few days after the Amber alert was canceled, I returned to that dead road in the middle of the night. I parked my car and watched his spirit living out its last moments of his ephemeral life.
I hit him with my car and he skipped along the road and off the side. I walked solemnly behind him. I trailed him as he dragged his broken and bleeding body along the dirt. He reached the tree and curled up in its roots. His body was still there when I returned. Time had left him withered and putrefied. I can’t say how long I stood by his corpse. It doesn't really matter in the long run. As I stood there in vigil, I knew that this guilt was going to consume me, eat me away inside like a cancer.
It was in this moment that I knew that I would be haunted by this and the others for the rest of my life. I would be dogged by the overwhelming loneliness that the ghostly girl who claimed my bedroom as her haunt. I would be stalked by the feeling of hopelessness that consumed my grandfather as he lay in what would be his death bed and excruciatingly slid towards his demise. Most of all, I would be haunted by my murder of that young boy. That fatal mistake was now like a tattoo on my soul.
So we reach the conclusion, my conclusion. The irony is almost palpable. I want nothing more than to die at this very moment and I am consumed by an overwhelming desire to live. I know what happens to us when we die. I don’t want to live those final moments of my life, my suicide, ad nauseam. See myself slicing open my wrists, hanging myself for the rest of eternity. I also don’t want to experience this guilt and shame ad infinitum. I want to embrace the reaper and I want to run screaming from his bony grasp.
These sentiments will follow me ad mortem. My mind is constantly waging a war within itself to unload this burden and escape into death and to hold it within me like a dark treasure. Maybe writing this all out will help me achieve some form of clarity about what I should do next. I doubt it, although I have to confess in some form or other. I don’t know which choice is right or wrong, all I know is that this is Hell…
Written by EmpyrealInvective
Licensed under CC-BY-NC