My mother has spent much of her life chasing ghosts. She frequently visits graveyards, reviewing names and tombstone designs, searching for lost family members. When I was a kid, every summer she dragged me around her home state of Louisiana to every tiny, family-owned cemetery she could find. They were creepy old places, thick with heat and the smell of the swamps. Energy lingered everywhere. I could feel it when we walked by the decrepit gravesites.
Then one summer, she brought something back home with her.
It followed us around the old multi-family home where she worked. It lingered at night and rattled the walls. It smelled of cigarette smoke, and moved in clouds, sitting heavily near a wall on the western end of the building and then suddenly disappearing. It followed me, aged seven, into a computer room late at night and then began rattling the walls around me like a ton of rocks had been released inside them.
“Leave us alone!” my mother screamed. The ghost fell silent but continued its shenanigans the next day.
Writing and dreams have always been intimately connected for me. When I was a kid, I dreamed in Technicolor. My dreams were big and loud and real. I had terrible nightmares, lucid dreaming, even premonitions. I saw visions in my half-sleep. Later in my life, I developed night terrors, where I would throw myself from my bed, running away from some nameless thing, sometimes even hurting myself.
My therapists have always thought my dreams have been tied to my PTSD and loneliness. “We know when you’re not doing well, it’s probably because you’re feeling lonely,” my current therapist told me once. It’s true. As an only child of much older parents, I spent every afternoon and evening alone at our home in rural Vermont. I read books, watched scary TV shows, thought about ghosts, imagining what else could exist that I couldn’t see.
Lonely people write interesting books.
My mother visited a spiritual friend to see how to get rid of the ghost that lingered at her work. The friend was sure that if we could name the ghost, we could send it away. “How do I find out its name?” my mother asked. The answer was: any way you can.
My mother left a note out overnight at work. What is your name? it asked.