When we were younger, we tended to make friends with girls who answered too enthusiastically, who would respond to “Have you ever seen a ghost” with an earnest “Yes, and he’s looking at us right now, through the window!” This also meant that having friends over sometimes ended in tears.
The next time I stayed at the house, though, I saw it. Or rather, her. A figure in a cloak who was sitting on the couches in the living room, which I had to pass through to use the bathroom during the night. She was bent over, her face shrouded. I couldn’t see her expression, but whatever radiated from her was something my mind registered as “benevolent” and “loving.” This did not stop me from turning around immediately, running back to my bed in the other side of the house and locking the door behind me.
For many nights, every time I slept in that room, there was an insistent knocking on the door, starting at 3 a.m.
“Kaitlyn, that is a woodpecker,” my mother said. She has no patience for the supernatural. It’s because of her that I cultivate these feelings. She used to drive from our white suburb to the black children’s bookstore three towns over for African and Caribbean folk tales. She loves ghost stories as part of our culture, but she’d never actually mess with the supernatural herself. It’s sort of like when my mother makes greens and uses Worcestershire sauce instead of ham hocks — she gave those up after too many relatives stopped eating pork in the 1970s.
My mother, through extraordinary misfortune and just general bad luck, has had to move too many times in the past 20 years. She gave up a fear of ghosts a long time ago, if she ever had one. As long as a potential home is safe and clean, she doesn’t see what the problem is. So, when I tell her I’ve seen a ghost, she responds with “Oh, come on!”
When a ghost shows up in a story, it is often a way to talk about what cannot be said, what cannot be acknowledged — whether that is a repressed desire, a family secret, an unpunished crime or a genocide that some do not want to reckon with.