The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

FrontCover 2Chapter 1

I live in a haunted family, in a haunted house, on a haunted street. One day I will live in a place where there are no ghosts but right now they’re everywhere. Some people don’t believe in ghosts but that’s alright. Those people have orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling, and cups of hot chocolate to make them sleepy before their blankets are tucked in cozily around them by their mums. I don’t think my mum believes in ghosts. If she did, she would not turn out all the lights when she puts me to bed at night.

I am almost five years old and I was born in our front bedroom with my twin sister Emily. It was on the Twelfth Night. That’s the night when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts. It was also my sister Margueretta’s fourth birthday. So we are three gifts for the baby Jesus. If I am a gift, I would like to be a lamb. Animals don’t go to Heaven but I am sure there is a lamb up there. I think there is also a donkey.

Margueretta hates me because I was born on her birthday and now she has to share it with me and Emily, so she locks me in the cellar in the dark. And there’s something scary down there in the corner that goes drip, drip, drip. If I die down there I will go to sit at God’s feet because Dad says God suffers all the little children to come unto him. And Jesus loves dead children the most because they will never grow up to become sinners.

God wears brown sandals and no socks but Jesus doesn’t wear anything on his feet and he washes God’s feet for him because there is a lot of sand in Heaven and it gets between God’s toes. Dad says Heaven is a warm place and you are never hungry in Heaven because you can have as much bread and jam as you want to eat. So you shouldn’t cry if a little boy dies, having been killed by his big sister who locks him in the cellar in the dark.

Nana says we will all go back to God one day so long as we are not sinners. Because if we are sinners, we will go to live with the Devil and we will scream and burn as we catch fire in a lake for all Eternity, which is a very long time. And Nana knows what a long time means because she is very old, which is also why she has hair that comes down to her knees. She ties it in braids on top of her head but I mustn’t see my Nana’s hair when it is down or that will mean I have been in her bedroom and a little boy should never go into his Nana’s bedroom or she will hit him on the back of his head with her hairbrush.

A True Story of Childhood Haunting – Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

Who Stole My Life?

Movie TheatreOur ability to focus on what is truly important in life is sadly at its greatest when we are dying. For so much of our lives we worry about things that we cannot change or we bury ourselves in details, never seeing the bigger picture. Most of us have no idea how much time we have left, but still we find meaningless ways to “pass the time.”

Since I started telling people I was writing a book, the most common response has been, “There is a book inside me too.”

That’s true. There is a book inside every one of us. It is the book we write everyday. It has a beginning, a middle and it has an end. And you do not know the ending; you do not know what twists and turns the plot may take; you do not know what characters may enter or leave the storyline.

At first, I wrote my book to help me find dressings for the open wounds that were my “childhood.” I wanted people to feel sorry for the little boy who suffered all of that abuse and horror in the midst of addiction and insanity. I wanted people to be amazed at how I survived, how I made something of myself. I wanted people to laugh with me at the hilarious characters who were my relatives.

And as those words found their way onto the page, I realized something: every emotional detail of my childhood was still alive. The fears and abuse were still living inside my head. The ghosts of my childhood were still haunting me.

But I realized something even more profound: twenty years of my adult life were missing. I had been sleepwalking through my adult years by numbing myself from those childhood horrors. The story of my life had a beginning but it had no middle. I had surrendered my life to the banality of a meaningless job, the drudgery of monthly bills and the anesthetizing effect of the daily cocktail hour.

Someone had stolen my life. And I was the thief.

That’s when my life took on a new meaning. I could not waste another minute. For the first time, I wanted to do something that actually mattered, something I loved doing and something that made a positive difference to other people’s lives.

No one can give me back those missing years. But I am never going to waste another minute of my time. So now, I can’t sleep because I am too excited about being here in this life, doing something that I love and making a difference. And if you can’t sleep, you can’t sleepwalk through life.

There is a book inside every one of us. It is being written every day. Don’t leave any pages blank.

Make it memorable until the end.

Judgment

124618482I now know something. We judge ourselves through the eyes of others. And we learn most of those judgments in our childhoods. There are negative and positive judgments. But there is one judgment that I never received. The judgment of my father.

He did send me a postcard a few months after he abandoned us. He said I was now the man of the house and I should take care of my Mum. I was seven years old when I received that postcard and I still have it with me to this day.

That’s why I take care of people. My Dad told me to do it. But there is something else. He was never there to say I was doing a good job. He wasn’t there to tell me how proud he was of all the things I was doing to help my Mum. Like that time I planted sunflower seeds in the backyard so that their golden color would remind her of the sun and she wouldn’t be so sad anymore. But I forgot to water them and they died.

Or that time I tried to hatch the eggs from the pantry into chickens so that we could have eggs every day for breakfast and never be hungry again. I put them in my cowboy hat and wrapped them in Nana’s tartan scarf, the one with the tassels. Of course, they never hatched.

I met my Dad again when I was a man but it was too late. I was committed to a life of helping people and never to be praised by the one person who told me to do it. My father.

He cried to see the man who he last saw as a small boy. I wanted to cry too but I couldn’t because he was a stranger. But he was a stranger with a familiar face. A stranger who was inside my head but could never say anything about the things I did for my Mum.

Some of the most ambitious people on this planet are driven by the need for praise from the one person who will never give it. For some, it is a person who simply cannot or will not praise them. For others, like me, it is the praise of someone who is not there to give it.

So, we judge ourselves through the eyes of others. And I will never know the judgment of my father, even though he is still here inside my head.

My father died on my twenty-third birthday, destitute and alone. Perhaps one day I will see him again. Maybe he will know by then all the ways I tried to help as a boy.

And maybe we will look together at that postcard and agree that I did what he asked. As the man of the house, I took care of my Mum.

Runaway

RunawayI knew someone was watching me. I always knew.

It was dark, except for the light of the fire I had made with bits of wood broken off the old fence that was already falling down. That fire made violent shadows like ancient slaves waving on the outside wall of the house, wanting to be free.

I had to escape from the house and that girl who screamed in the attic. I had to escape from my sister who beat me every day and told me tales of the thing that was inside her head and soon would be inside my own, always telling her to kill herself or to kill us all. I had to escape from the man who hanged himself in the toilet, eyes bulging out like my big green marbles.

That’s why I was sleeping in the old coalbunker at the back of the house. It was safe in there, even if there was someone watching me. I glanced over at our neighbor’s house and just for a moment I saw that long white nightshirt, floating slowly towards the dividing fence. That’s what happens when you stare too long at the flames, in the blackness of the night. You see things that are not there.

And it made the woman in the white nightshirt, who was not there, look like she had a yellow face and long grey hair.  If she was there, she wouldn’t be able to see me because I was inside the old coalbunker, looking out.  It looked like she was watching the sparks from the campfire as they floated up into the dark night sky. If she was there.

Then she floated towards me, howling like a dog as she came up to the low fence and moved right over it. She reached out her arms, the way that people do when they pretend to be a ghost. And her long yellow fingers twitched like she was trying to hold onto something.

I ran, of course. Mum said I had an overactive imagination. That’s what mothers always say to small boys who have seen something that was not there. It was the following day that Joan from next door came to tell us that her mother had died. It was to be expected. She had been dying for a long time. But now she was finally dead in the back bedroom, arms folded across her chest and pennies on her eyelids. She died that previous afternoon, Joan by her side saying the Lord’s Prayer, for it was the only prayer she knew.

If I were to run away again, I would need a different plan. The coalbunker was now no different from the attic or the toilet. And I knew that sooner or later something bad would happen if I stayed, something really terrible.

And I learned right there that I could run away but it didn’t mean I could escape. Some of our ghosts stay with us forever.

The Ghosts That Live Inside Us

I hear that some people don’t believe in ghosts. That’s alright. When they were tiny children, they had orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling.  And their mothers tucked their blankets in cozily around them while they drank hot chocolate to the whispered tales of Beatrix Potter.

They didn’t have ancient slaves living inside their bedroom walls who cried to escape and cracked their knuckles in the night like giant walnuts.  And they didn’t hear the funeral music booming on the bellows organ, louder, louder until their beds shook in the dreadful violence of the night.

And they didn’t know of the man who hanged himself in their toilet.  A man whose eyes bulged out like giant green marbles, swinging there by his neck from the water pipes.

And they didn’t have a sister who locked them in the cellar where it was so black they wouldn’t know if their eyes were open or closed.  Counting up to a thousand and saying the Lord’s Prayer, rocking back and forth in that silent breathless prison.

Nor did they hear that girl who screamed in the attic, abandoned by the gypsies who fled in the night.  Or a sister who painted a picture of the thing that came into her bedroom time and again and told her to kill herself.  A picture so utterly terrible, they had to burn it, like it was alive.  But it never died.

I can close my eyes to things I do not want to see.  But I cannot blank the images of things I have already seen.  I can press my hands tightly over my ears.  But I cannot erase the sounds of those endless screams.

I am glad for you if you do not believe in ghosts.  Some of us live with them.  They are inside our heads and they are real.

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