Talking to a Ghost
You meet her for lunch to catch up for the first time in a while, knowing she’s been through her own hell in all the time since you last saw her. You’re concerned, and she senses this, so she tries to put on a brave face to reassure you that it’s not really as bad as it seems, that she’s holding it together some days and not sobbing into her pillow as much as you know that she is.
She looks much the same as she always does, yet seems like someone else. You see the hair cut at her jawline, in the way she’d chosen as an outward expression of the loss she was caught in. The edges are jagged, as if she’d rapidly hacked away the dark brown locks with shaking hands, just desperate for the veil hiding her pain to fall. Her eyes are underscored with dark circles, the result of the sleepless nights she tries to convince you are just because of insomnia. You know that isn’t the case, that she’s awake for so much of each night trying to fight off sleep so she doesn’t have to dream of him again or of the void that surrounds her on all sides without end in sight. She just doesn’t want you to worry, but of course you do because those brown eyes of hers are of someone haunted for so many of her waking hours by how broken inside she’s become. They are infinitely sorrowful, offering a glimpse into the battle she’s losing just to keep living at all.
Your conversations with her are pleasant on the surface, but they always return to how she is trapped in an empty world longing to stop feeling that shadowy despair that infects the mind in times of loss. She sees life clouded by this despair now, the future seeming to her a labyrinth of dark years and memories that only wound. Her words trail off sometimes, to stifle the tears waiting to fall. There are times when you almost lose her, the moments when she seems to turn her attention inward and in the process, finds herself far from here.
She is somewhere else entirely, some island or the far off seashore she used to speak so often of, at the water’s edge she stood at all those years of her life wanting nothing more than to walk farther and farther into the ocean until it swallowed her whole and took her from this world. Eyes on the silver waves against the setting sun, she will take the steps in her mind and in so doing, banish herself from the years ahead.
You know she’s always on that shore, waiting for the light to fade from the sky. For her, for the lost little girl who had never found a real home, for her remnants of a profoundly empty life. She doesn’t know where home is now that she’s left to face her demons alone.
You want to tell her that he wasn’t worth it and that he was never good enough for her, but you know she sees that herself. She’s just too caught up in how she’s feeling to fully accept the truth of this. She knows it, she just doesn’t feel it.
You know how scared she is that the rest of her life will only be more of this. You see the brokenness in the slight tremble of her figure, watch her lip quiver as she fights back another flood of tears. She looks away from you, unable to meet your eyes.
You tell her that things will be okay and that she’ll get through this, but you already know she’s all but certainly lost. She will hear your reassurances, but years of watching the people and places she loved be torn from her will cloud her mind with doubt over what you say and it’ll be like your words were an empty promise. She won’t truly believe it because her mind and heart are telling her that respite from her suffering will never come. She’s already gone, lost in that dark place in her mind where no one can reach her.
When it comes time for you to part ways, you ask if she’ll be alright. Her hollow smile betrays the doubt before she even speaks. She tells you she’ll get by and before you know it, she’s turned away, retreating back into the dark yet again. You see her fade from view before you even have the chance to call out her name, a ghost caught between living and dying.
Debbie Haddow is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.