Do You Believe In Ghosts?

On the way home from visiting my father in the ICU, in the first few days, my father’s partner asked me if I believed in ghosts.
Publish date:
November 19, 2012
family, dreams, ghosts, premonitions

Dreams, Part One

I had a dream that I saw my father at the grocery store last night.

He was wearing his best jeans, the ones we always called his “professor pants” because those were the ones he wore to teach, and one of his usual plaid shirts, covered in his customary blue fleece vest. He looked healthy, the way he did before. He was just leaving with a bag of groceries while I was coming in.

“It’s good to see you out and about,” I said as I reached for a shopping basket.

“It’s all right,” he said, as the automatic doors swooshed closed.

I wandered through the produce section in a daze, looking at comically oversized apples and Japanese eggplants and wondering why the grocery store had started carrying clotted cream in tins next to a sign saying “Thank You Tom!”

On the way home from visiting my father in the ICU, in the first few days, my father’s partner asked me if I believed in ghosts.

“No, not really,” I said.

She told me ghost stories anyway. I wasn’t sure if she was chasing away her fear or embracing it. The thought of my father as a benevolent ghost watching over her might have been comforting. I just thought about him lying in a hospital bed looking like a cardboard cutout of himself, voice so raspy that I could barely make out what he was saying.

The nurses all said he was very charming when he came off the vent. He recited poems in Greek and German and told them about traveling. One of his doctors thought he was lying, about having traveled, and he called me in a fury, insisting that I bring his old passports with me the next time I visited the hospital. There was one with extra pages stapled in because they ran out of room for visas.

Dreams, Part Two

I had another dream last night that we were floating in the ocean, no land in sight.

“Keep your head up as long as you can,” he said, “because you never know what’s going to happen.”

I wanted to ask him what to do if nothing happened, but he was already answering me.

“And when you can’t keep your head up any longer, go down with dignity.”

The ocean spat us up on a beach, and my father played chicken with the waves. I wanted to scream at him to stop, my heart in my throat, but he looked so delighted even as the waters curled around him. I remembered a story he’d told me in childhood, about his best friend who died of a heart defect while swimming. My father remembers his friend’s body lying on the beach with the adults clustered around him in the middle of a hot summer day.

When I said I didn’t believe in ghosts, I wasn’t quite telling the truth. There’s a tradition in our family that the ones we love visit us on their way to wherever -- even though I don’t believe in a wherever, I believe that once we die, that’s it. Our bodies break down and our atoms become something else, in an endless cycle of recycling. But my godfather visited me at the moment of his death, and so have many others.

It’s more of a brush of sensation than something I can point to specifically. And my ghosts don’t live with me, they just consider me a sort of stop along the way. Maybe it’s all in my head; I just happen to be thinking of people and I associate it with their deaths after the fact. But maybe it’s not. Sometimes people visit me when I have no cause to think of them.

My father once told me that his grandmother used to get premonitions. That seems way more useful than finding out someone’s dead after the fact. Fat lot of good that does anyone.

Dreams, Part Three

I had another dream last night that we were in a house, somewhere, and a friend was staying the night.

“Do people here go to bed on time?” she asked.

“Always,” I replied.

The two of us were sitting on a couch with my father, watching "Serenity." We were all starting to drowse off, feeling the late hour, whatever it was in dreamspace, when other people started to come in and play cards at the table. I didn’t know them, but my father did, and he smiled and waved at them. One of them was his uncle, the one who shot himself, still carrying the revolver he’d done it with.

“Suicide or heart disease will get you in the end,” his uncle told me.

“Screw this, I’m going to live,” Kaylee said on screen.

I snapped awake, heart pounding, and looked at the clock. Two AM. I wanted to call my father, sleeping (I hoped) all of a mile away, but I didn’t want to make a fuss out of nothing.

“They’re just dreams,” I told myself, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I watched the clock tick by instead.

Three, four, five, six. I'd call at nine, I promised myself, assuming the phone didn't ring first.

I glared at the phone, telling it not to ring.

And then I started writing, because that’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do.