Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A ghost story, translated from reality

(the last ghost story I posted was translated from Chinese. This one's translated from that thing which words can't approach, no matter what your ridiculous feelings about the "truth," a vacant abstraction if ever there was one)

Dad is walking around like a ghost now. He’s a little lost without his wife to complain at. And she too keeps thinking he’s still alive, the same person. They’ve been dead to one another for a long time now. I had to separate them. They were getting on each other’s nerves.

I’m a ghost myself. I’ve died lots and lots of times, and I’ve been reborn a few times too, but I don’t think the score is even. By my count, I’m still dead.

It took a while for me to realize that I’m a ghost. We all resist. We’d like to think that we’re still alive, just like my Dad would like to think that he can still drive. Actually, he gets downright ornery on the topic. It would be as if you were trying to shove me into a coffin and put me into the ground and I was shouting at you that I’m still alive. If you can imagine that, you can imagine levels of rage you have never displayed in your actual life.

That’s pretty much the way a ghost is born. It’s not the killing, it’s the resistance, and so I’m not feeling guilty here. I’m no murderer – I just divert attention, trying to come up with a few new things to put into Dad’s field of thought and vision so that he forgets the car.

I took him to his summer house, the one Mom loves, but I made her choose between having him around, which just makes her sick, or letting go of the house. She still won’t stop decorating it, but I think she’s not planning to live here anymore. But it seems important to her that the real thing looks good in her mind.

She still worries about me too, which is pretty silly considering that I’m sitting in a nice chair in a cool summer house, looking out over a calm lake in perfect summer weather. Birds are twittering. Mom worries that I’m giving up my life to take care of Dad, which I sort of am, but then, you know, how do I tell her I’m already in heaven? She might take it the wrong way, or get jealous. The sweet little lies get trickier all the time.

It’s only a car, Dad. I’m only taking away your ability to hurt yourself or others. But for all of us now, the car has become a symbol. Just like those people who think they have the solution for our economic woes by re-denominating the dollar in gold. They don’t seem to realize that gold has only symbolic value. There’s nothing more real about its value than there is about the equation between the automobile and freedom. Well, except that in our minds there is a strictly limited quantity of gold. I read somewhere that all the gold in the world would fill a brick only 80 feet by 80 feet. Amazing!! Can you imagine!! But there’s always more to be found.

Well, we can’t all keep driving cars, and that’s for sure. There’s only a limited quantity of oil under our feet, and the environment can only stand a certain amount of extra carbon. But damn if any of us want to give up our cars any more than Dad does.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve all already become ghosts, you know, kind of like those tall buildings which get demolished by an explosive charge. For just a moment afterward, they still look intact. And then they fall to dust. Just like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ incredible One Horse Shay. One minute it’s there, and then poof, it was made so perfectly and designed so well that every single piece of it wears out at precisely the same instant. Makes a good metaphor for life, don’t you think?

We’d like to think that someone could plan it that way. You know, someone so brilliant that he could get all those super patriotic operatives to agree that killing their own compatriots was the only way to save them. Some God-like figure who might just be the devil in disguise, but after all God is looking out for the greater good, always willing to sacrifice a few Jobs along the way.

What if it’s all just dumb luck? What if all symbols are empty unless we invest them with something? What if ghosts are no more or less real than the people all around you? Most of them you treat as though they were ghosts anyhow, don’t you? Brother, can you spare a dime?

Ghosts don’t like to be exposed. Like that one time when I was born again, I wasn’t all that happy about it at first. No, it wasn’t one of those symbolic religious things. I’m not that kind of emotional, as you can tell. I was living aboard my old wooden sailboat, and some random chunk of ice woke me up. It sounded like it was going to crush the hull. I couldn’t’ get back to sleep after I rescued my hull, and so I started writing.

Just a few weeks ago, I gave the boat away. I used to love sitting down below each Spring, remembering sailing adventures from my past, stirred by the smells, of salt, for instance, which lingered long after the boat was moved to the fresh water of the Great Lakes.

I must be wooden myself, devoid of human feeling, because it wasn’t all that hard to let go of the boat in the end. Sure, I’d put it off for years, thinking that I might regret it; that I might finally have a chance to fit out that interior I’d dreamed of like the glossy pictures in a craftsman’s magazine. But who was I kidding? I wasn’t born with that sort of skill.

Mom and Dad are having a harder time letting go. Still decorating, still imagining future summers with the grandkids. Some shells are harder to let go of than others.

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