"Wake up, boy. Sleepin' in the middle of the day's for the trash from over Easton way. Round here there's no shuteye until the sun goes down."
I awoke with a guilty start and snapped to attention. "Yessir" I mumbled automatically from within the haze of near-sleep, rubbing my eyes. Then I
blinked. It was 2011, not the 1980s, and it had been decades since I heard that voice. I blinked again, to see...Could it be...my father
standing in my computer den? He of gaunt frame and heavy hand, who I had not laid eyes on in more than twenty-five years? Eighteen of which he'd been
"Uh...you're a ghost, sir." It was the only thing I could come up with, and the words tumbled stupidly from my mouth.
"I know what I am, boy. Problem is, what're you?" He cocked his head around disdainfully. "This your place, huh? Look like you're puttin' on airs,
with all this crap a working man don't need." He leaned in and turned over the palm of one of my hands, nodding a little and smirking his trademark
self-satisfied smirk. "Yer palms gone soft. No calluses. No grease in the lines. You forget how to do an honest day's work?"
"I've done well for myself, sir," I said, my voice rising a little. An ancient warning light flashed in my head...Using that tone with the old
stick-in-the mud was likely to earn me a strapping or worse, but the old anger and defiance flared alongside it...The same defiance that led me to run
away from home in the first place, all those years ago. "It's why I can take a nap in the middle of the day now, afford all this crap
, as you
call it, and still have enough put away to see to my family better than you ever saw to us." Oops, now I'd done it. I was going to get it for sure.
But the old ghost just sighed. Maybe he realized there was nothing he could do to me. "Well, pr'haps you're right. I dunno. Fact of the matter is, I
didn't come here to strap you, boy, or you'd be on the ground bleedin' already, an' that's a fact. Nobody ever got the jump on me in life, certainly
not you." A crooked, nicotine-stained grin unfolded beneath icy eyes untouched by the smile.
"Well, then, what did you come here, for, old man?" I snapped. I'd been pretty successful in putting him behind me, and now he shows up in technicolor
and ectoplasm? Give me a break. Why couldn't I get the Ghost of Christmas Future or something benign like that?
He began to pace around my den, ignoring the question. "You still with wassername? The little slut you ran away with? Your "wife?" His lips curled a
little in a snarl.
"No sir." I'd never called my father "dad" in my life, that would have been a massive beating...And I wasn't about to start now. "She left me a few
years after we ran away. We were young." I shrugged. "And homeless. Wasn't her fault, it was mine." I stared him in the face. "You call her a slut
again, though, and father or no father, ghost or no ghost, I'm going to deck you." My fists clenched under the table, nails biting a little into my
palms. My soft
palms. Maybe, maybe...But I still could direct a good punch to somebody who deserved it.
He chuckled a little. "You always were a romantic. Soft touch with the ladies. Passed yer current woman on the way in. She's a looker, that's for
sure. Why, I'll bet she..."
I didn't wait for him to finish. That's when things went red and I was off the chair, swinging. And swinging, All that ancient anger...How many times
had he given me the belt...Or the chain from the chainfail? I was screaming, I never let myself go this far, but I was beyond anger. And yet...Somehow
I was stupidly pounding air. I looked up and he was across the room, grinning that frosty, alabaster grin again. "I'm a ghost
, boy. You can't
hurt me." He paused. "O course, that means I can't hurt you either, so maybe it evens out."
"It's not ever going to even out, old man," I snarled. "Not ever."
"Well, maybe not," he said affably. "But that's the thing. See, I've come to you to..."
"...ask for forgiveness?" I finished bitterly. "That's why ghosts of angry old women-and-child-beating alcoholics come back to visit the sons they
kicked out of hearth and home set on the road at the ripe old age of sixteen, right?"
"No, boy. I can't ask for forgiveness." Incredibly, sorrow -- an expression I had never seen cross the man's face in life -- transformed the ghost for
the first time into something almost human. "Only the living can ask for forgiveness. That's a big burden, you know. For both of us."
"Then what do you want?"
"I can't ask for forgiveness...But that doesn't mean you can't give it.
I can tell you this -- I'm only a ghost now. Only a ghost. So why let a
ghost rule your life?"
"You don't rule my life!" I snapped. "I've done all kinds of things since I left you. I never think about you anymore. Never."
"You don't need to be thinkin' about things to have 'em be drivin' you from the shadows, you know. Point is...Its not me
doing the driving. I'm
just a ghost
." He fixed me with a penetrating gaze. "You're a grown man, and you're in the driver's seat of your own skull now." Pause. "So why
not start acting like it?"
"What do I have to do to make you go away?"
"Like I said, I can't ask you for forgiveness and reconciliation anymore...But that doesn't mean you can't give it. And here's another thing, boy:
You can't make me go away because I'm a part of you.
But you can make peace with that. It ain't easy, but it can be done. It can be done. And
you got to get it done, boy, cause its hurting you. I can see, you can hide it from everyone else but not your old pa. And when it hurts you these
days, remember...It ain't me hurting you anymore. It ain't this old ghost. It's just...you.
It's all up to you."
I was quiet for a moment, thinking. "I don't know if I can forgive you quite yet, sir. I mean...You just say the magic word, "I forgive you," wave a
magic wand, and everything is OK? All the beatings, day after day? The nights locked in the shed? How many cracked ribs? You were quite a fist-artist,
old man. You always knew how to hit without leaving a big bruise where anyone could see it. Of course sometimes you didn't even bother with that. I
remember..." I broke off, scowling. The ghost was chuckling softly.
"Quit the pity party, boy. And I ain't talking about forgiving me
, anyway. I'm talking about forgiving yourself.
"For what? I don't have anything to feel guilty about!"
"My point exactly. So why are you still carrying this old ghost around, anyway?"
I stopped like I'd been poleaxed. Could the old man be onto something after all? Maybe I did blame myself, deep down...But wasn't that all
psychobabble garbage? If you didn't feel something you didn't feel it...right? But maybe he was right. Maybe I did blame myself. Maybe this gaunt old
ghost really was lurking just out of sight. Something had driven me, alright, driven me across the globe and in search of...What?
"Just work on it, boy. Work on it slowly. It doesn't have to take place all at once, you know." He was growing dimmer, fuzzing out. "Give it a
chance." And then he was gone.
It has been a while since my father's unexpected visit. I thought about his words. I still haven't plumbed their depths. It's hard to forgive yourself
when you don't even know what for...Or when, somehow at the same time, it seems like there is so much to ask forgiveness for that you don't even know
where to start. But something in us knows the direction toward the light, and if, like a plant, you start to reach out, you'll slowly grow towards
that light. This I do believe.
Sometimes in the days since, I've seen the ghost again...But he's never had cause to speak, and he just stands there, often in the corner. As I ponder
his words, though, he grows dimmer every time. Fainter. I can't be sure, but I think that means I'm making progress.
edit on 11/12/11 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)