When I was a child, I had ghosts for friends. Although I was sure of it at the time, I've lost that sense of magic as I've grown, as we all tend to do, and now I'm left explaining it all away...childhood whimsy and nothing more. I wonder now, which is reality...the way I see it now, or the way I saw it then. It can't be both, can it?
There was an abandoned house across the street from the house I grew up in. The curtains in the upstairs windows would move of their own accord. Sometimes at night, I'd see a light or two dancing inside. Sometimes there were shadows that seemed to peer out the window...dark formed figures where their shouldn't have been anything. A perfect playground for an excitable imagination.
It was a girl who I first felt or saw or imagined. I can't remember her name now, but I knew it then. She wore clothes from another time. Her dress was red, always the same. She wore fancy shoes, too. Her family had died. All of them. Mother, father, brother, and a set of twins...a boy and a girl, toddlers. I knew their names, too. I knew them. I remember drawing pictures of their family. I always thought they were murdered, although I never knew for certain. Sometimes they would be near and then there would be this terrible feeling and they would be gone so quickly. I'd be left with a racing heart, the quiet suddenly pressing in on me. It was strange, like the monster that stole their lives was still chasing them, like they were forever tethered to the terrible thing that had happened, destined to be on the losing end of an eternal battle. When she would return there was always the weight of it between us, her sad and stoic silence and my quiet curiosity, the questions I wouldn't ask and she wouldn't want to answer if I did. The complexity of emotion leaves me wondering how much of it really could have been imagined at such a young age. But, of course it was imagined. It must have been.
I don't remember much about it all, I haven't thought of it in years and years. It is just another of the many things that fades into the background scenery of childhood, but I do remember the feelings...the peace of the kindly ghost friends, the terrible feeling that seemed to chase them away, the heavy silence when I would see them again. It all seems so distant and impossible to my grown up mind; glorified imaginary friends, a brilliant figment of my imagination. In retrospect, it is more than a bit unsettling, too. I mean, what kind of child has dead kids for imaginary friends? I suppose there was something a little beautiful about it, too, dead children who can laugh and play and dance among the living, still nestled with their siblings and parents...a second chance to enjoy what was taken from them much too soon. Maybe it was my childish way of reconciling the thought that children could die in the first place. I can't even remember how long they were around for now, but I remember wondering where they had gone when they left, wondering if that awful feeling had swallowed them up for good. Now I wonder if it was my own march toward adolescence that swallowed them up for good, the door slowly closing on the years of magic and imagination, of innocence and faith.
Today in the bookstore and I kept seeing the tip of a child's shoe on the ground in my peripheral vision while reading, like a child was standing just out of my line of sight, watching me. When I looked up from my book to check, I saw nothing. As I went back to reading, as soon as it slipped my mind, I would see it again. I had this odd feeling and then the strangest thought came to mind...my ghosts. Just like that I was a little child again, magic twinkling in my eyes. I laughed at myself, at that crazy kind of thought, wondering where in the world it could have come from. It has been more than a decade since I've thought about any of it. I shook my head and went back to reading. Seconds later I heard my name drawn out in the tiniest of whispers. I sat bolt upright in my chair and scanned the room...empty. Then I settled back into the chair with the book, smiling to myself that the ghosts of the past, whether real or imagined, still know where to find me.