Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ghosts



In the mantle space over the fake fireplace, where most people in the neighborhood would put their TV is the urn of mom’s ashes. Someday we’ll have to see about bringing them to a cemetery. But for now I like to look at them. She was homeless. I like to think that she’s home now. She’s with us. Next to the urn is a wooden plaque I had made up, with a black and white snapshot of her standing on the bank of a lake with a fishing pole in 1963 and she looks happy. The inscription is this thing from Robert Frost. It says:

"Home is that place where,
when you have to go there
They have to take you in."

Next to that is her wedding photo with Dad, looking like a young Al Pacino. He took the fishing pole picture with a Zeiss Ikon Twin Lens Reflex he bought in 1956 when he was a hot new photojournalist out of college. The old camera is upstairs on my bookcase. I like to look at that too.

There was a day, long ago, when I was watching a re run of the Twilight Zone. Mom came into the room and stood in front of the TV, which was annoying. She needed to talk. “Your father and I have made a decision. Just so you know. We’re getting divorced at the end of the month. You and David will stay with me. Your father is moving out.” Okay with me. I was fifteen years old.

This was the big news that I had feared and dreaded since I was a little kid. I’d actually had terrible nightmares about it. You love them both. You don’t want to hurt them by taking sides. So mom had made the decision for us and they were breaking up. I suppose it was one of those things that you see coming from a distance even when you’re a child, and when it happens, when the mushroom cloud finally flashes and blooms, somehow its not as bad as you thought it would be. But something happened. The trajectory of my life took a little jink sideways and then kept going that way. Though once a good student, I barely made it out of high school, I became a trouble maker. Mom died alone and insane. Dad died last November surrounded by friends, in the arms of a woman who loved him dearly. Gone, gone, all gone just the same.

Mom was crazy, mildly schizophrenic if there is such a thing as mildly. When its your mother, you don’t think she’s crazy, you think she’s normal. Just like when you’re a little kid you don’t know you’re poor, you think everybody eats oatmeal for dinner. Years later you start to figure it out. It scares you because you wonder if it can rub off on you, if crazy is contagious. I watch myself for signs of mental illness, but other than fiction writing my imagination seems benign. The problem is madness is transparent. A crazy person doesn’t know they’re crazy, refuses to believe it even when they’re being hauled off, or sleeping in a bus station like mom. They think the world is crazy. When its one of your own, its hard to be patient with them, because they disturb your plans.

When I moved out and Dave moved out, she was alone with the things in her head. She began her life of aimless traveling, chasing the ghosts in the fishing photo. She went back to Wyoming, to Rawlins, over and over even though she didn’t know anyone there anymore. When things got rough, she went to Atlanta to stay with her sister Joyce, who was not crazy. She would show up, and Joyce would take her in. After a while, they would quarrel and accuse and Mom would hit the road for Wyoming again. The ghosts were calling her there, the ghost of herself with the fishing pole, and Dad coming home at night, tired hungry and horny, and me at the kitchen table with my school books and a glass of Bosco. She was a home maker, a mother of boys, somebody’s red hot woman and sometimes a catcher of fish. The vital center of a world where people loved her and needed a piece of her magic and she needed our love to keep the evil ghosts in her head at bay. Where do the magicians go when they die?

If I were God, I would do a better job. The search for God has been the core of my life, since about the time my parents got divorced. I’ve chased my ghosts too, and haven’t had much luck. Ghosts will eat you alive if you let them. Mom let them.

For the time being, I’m not much impressed with God. I would have done things differently. In my world people would have what they want. Everyone would feel valuable. No one would be haunted. I don’t think I believe in Heaven, but if there is, if it were up to me, the magician would be there with the good ghosts that lived in her head. With her fishing pole, her two boys and her man, surrounded by love. Forever at home.





C. Sanchez-Garcia


18 comments:

  1. How beautiful, Garce, and how sad. I think that stories like yours (and we all have them, to a greater or less degree) are the reason why readers crave happy endings. They want to escape from the strange, awkward, painful destinies they or their loved ones have in life. They want to believe in a stasis where everyone is cherished and secure. Sort of like the traditional description of Heaven...

    My mom and dad divorced when I was twelve. She was a bit crazy too. My dad tells stories about how she came at him with a kitchen knife. I remember her throwing a dinner plate full of spaghetti at the wall. I loved her but was also afraid of her rage.

    After they split, she became an alcoholic. She cracked up several cars. She was brought home drunk from the bars by the police. Then she found AA, and God, and was sane and content for a while. Just as she was reaching a point of stability and contentment, she got leukemia. She died at age 52, younger than I am now.

    No happy ending. Life, though, doesn't really have any kind of endings, does it. You are the continuation of your mother's story. I'm the continuation of mine. Her sequel, if you will. The lovely and painful stories that you write are your contribution to the world, or one of them.

    As I recall, you have a son. He'll carry on the tale of your life, undoubtedly haunted by his own ghosts.

    As are we all. Perhaps people need happy endings in order to neutralize those ghosts, at least for a while.

    Hugs,
    Lisabet

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  2. That sounded like a lot to deal with and Lisabet is right - it's stories like yours that make us crave happy endings. I had my dad's ashes in the house for quite a time, trying to arrange to spread them on the road that he'd loved as a child. Not easy to do that surreptitiously! Some of my mum's ashes went with us on holiday to the States and we scattered them under a palm tree. She'd always loved the sunshine. I dreaded getting stopped at customs though - not sure I could explain this little bag of dust.

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  3. Hi Garce,

    Great post.

    The thing about real life is you have to kind of put up with whatever it throws at you and the people around you.

    The world at large writes, and your just a character who does their best while stuck in the middle of it all.

    I find writing and reading fictional happy endings a comforting balm to all that. I decide how it ends. I can make sure no one gets screwed over by the gods. It's a nice feeling.

    Kim Dare.

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  4. Garce,

    You are by far the most authentic writer I have ever had the honour to have met. It is one thing to have a crazy mother (mine was a crazy father) but another to be able to step back and yet inside at the same time and gather those truths into something universal and resonant to everyone who reads it.

    Thank you for the ghost story. It reminds me that all good stories are just that...ghost stories.

    Hugs,

    RG

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  5. Garce,

    Again a thought provoking post. I guess we all have our ghosts, our moments of horror that build us, make us what we are. The snatches of happiness are hopefully enough to keep us going, for awhile. Maybe that is why people want the book to end on a happy note. No insanity or abuse, no screams of pain or failed escapes.

    Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your life. I wonder what your son will say about you when he's your age. I often wonder what my kids say about me, but I'm not sure I really want to know. LOL

    Hugs

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  6. Hi Kathleen!

    Thanks for reading my stuff.

    Garce

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  7. Hi Lisabet!

    Its amazing when you poke around, like posting something like this, how much we're all the same. Nobody gets a really clear shot. its terrible when we see our own parents in trouble, because they;re like God to us and when things don;t work for them, what else isnt going to work?

    So maybe you have a point, people want happy endings. Maybe that is the big difference between romance and other forms. Other forms the rule is "kill your darlings". But with romance, they want the ending when the darlings do well. I think because we suffer, our species has a universal longing for justice and love.

    I don;t encourage my son when it comes to religion, which is a sad legacy for someone like me. My son will have his own ghosts,as you say. I just want them to be different than mine.

    Hang in there Lisabet.

    Garce

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  8. Hi Barbara.

    Its nice that your moms ashes were spread as she would have wanted them. This summer I'm going to Minnesota, to my Dad's fishing cabin and we plan to scatter some reserved ashes there where he loved to fish.

    Garce

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  9. Hi Kim!

    Yes, we have to play the cards we're dealt. It makes me think about what Lisabet said about happy endings. Maybe that's why human beings, ancient and modern, all over the world, have a craving for the story. We want that world that makes more sense and where virtue is rewarded and evil punished. Thanks for reading my stuff!

    Garce

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  10. Hi RG!

    Thanks for reading my stuff. You had a crazy father? You see how it is, there's a lot of it going around. Maybe we're allcrazy more or less, and some of us just manage it better. Stephen King once said that he's crazy and obsessed (he had rock star grade drug and alchohol problems) but that he's lucky because his obsessions are able to make money, whereas other guys end up in rubber rooms.

    I'm very glad you see something in my writing. It means a lot to me.

    Garce

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  11. Hey Jude!

    Thanks for reading my stuff.

    Yeah, I wonder what my son will say about me also when he's my age. I'll have probably moved on to whatever the next thing is by that time. But you never know. People live a long time these days.

    Well, that's it. Let's raise a glass together to happy endings! Maybe God will learn something from us fiction writers.

    Garce

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  12. Have you ever considered writing a memoir from your perspective as a child? I've read several good ones lately. I believe they serve two purposes.
    1. They are very therapeutic for the writer. It gives him or her the opportunity to let out any emotions that have built up over the years. The key, however, it to be brutally honest -- with yourself and your reader.
    2. They help others who are living through the same thing. It's nice to know "we're not alone" when we're faced with challenges.
    God bless you. You should be commended for making something of yourself with a lot against you.

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  13. Hey Garce,

    Nothing new to add that hasn't already been commented today, but I wanted to say congratulations on another great post! You have such a way with words.

    Take care,

    Jamie

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  14. I remember a writing instrutor at UC Berkeley saying there are no happy or sad endings, just inevitable ones. I guess because I write literary fiction, I've kinda gone with that. I lost my mother in my early twenties. She was my one big love and she was gone. Some twenty something years later, I still miss her every day. I realize as I read your post and talk to a lot of my friends, I was very lucky to have such a great mother. But I lost her so I don't know. Seeing your mother standing at the shore, it was both ethereal and beautiful, a happy moment. I'd like to believe she left you more of those than her end. The picture would make a beautiful cover of a memoir. It would be something I would pick up and read...Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, 'The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget' and the upcoming novel, 'Night Surfing'.

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  15. Hi Luann!

    I don;t know if my life is that interesting. In a way it is, as a young man I had a very adventurous life. A lot of stuff happened to me. I might write about it here off an on, but that's how it works.

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    Garce

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  16. Hi Jamie!

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    Garce

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  17. Hi word actress!

    In one of the books I studied it said that a good ending should feel inevitable, it should grow organically out of the story. I think I agree with that. I know people like happy endings, but I still think the ending shuldfit what it fits. I know in the movies, its usually the endings that get screwed up when the story was going well.

    Its a wonderful thing you were close to your mom while you could be. I wish I could have been closer to mine.

    Good luck with your work!

    Garce

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