Do you believe in ghosts?
On the surface it’s a simple question, answered with a definitive yes or no. But before you respond, take a moment to consider: what is a ghost, exactly?
Are we talking about the literal spirits of our dearly departed?
Well, if those are real it would explain why I smell my grandmother’s perfume when I’m longing for the sound of her unselfconscious singing to her African violets every morning, or feel her cool hand stroking my forehead when I’m feeling hot and sick and feverish.
(She had such elegant fingers. Mine are short and chubby.)
That kind of ghost – the gentle spirit that guides and soothes, in the form of sense memories and inner voices, that’s the kind I want to believe in.
But, if we believe in helpful, loving ghosts, aren’t we then obligated to believe in the other kind, the malicious entities that seep into the walls with every argument, and linger in the backs of our minds even when we say that we’ve given and accepted forgiveness?
Can we pick and choose which ghosts we invite into our lives, and which we banish forever, doomed to the land of unresolved issues, empty CD cases, and unmated socks?
Maybe it’s just that it’s October, and my neighborhood is slowly being decorated for harvest and for Halloween, or maybe my mind is on the spiritual and supernatural because I’m involved in an autumn/horror project, but I’ve been considering ghosts a lot lately.
Specifically, I’ve been considering the ghosts we choose.
For me, those ghosts come in the form of memories.
A bottle of Clinique make-up, left in the medicine cabinet in my guest bathroom, smells like clay, but it also smells like Halloween, 1976, when my mother costumed me as Pocahontas and used her normal color to darken my fairer skin. (Cultural appropriation wasn’t a hot topic, back then, but even if it had been, my costume was an homage, not a mockery.)
Forty years later, that scent is so closely associated with my mother that when I see her and she no longer carries that aroma (because she’s long since changed her make-up routine), I have to stop and remind myself that she’s the same woman who bore me, raised me, and whose opinion is still, always, vitally important.
I catch a many-times-rerun episode of an old television show, one where the children in the fictional family are playing with a slinky, and I’m thrown back to my high school chemistry class, and the teacher who used the helical spring toy to illustrate wave forms.
The remembered sound of the whispering of the metal coils sends me deeper into memory, to my grandfather’s basement, filled with cobwebs, clutter, and a vintage oscilloscope. I loved to talk into it and watch my recorded words become a wavy line on the tiny screen, decades before we could use our smartphones or tablets to produce entire audio productions.
I see an antique hand mirror in a garage sale, or catch a whiff of homemade raisin bread, and welcomed ghosts use those overtures to visit me for a while, reminding me of special moments, and beloved people, some of whom are still with me – if separated by geography – and some who have moved on, beyond this world’s constraints of linear time.
Intellectually, of course, I know the other ghosts, the less welcome ones, still exist. Those are the ghosts that creep into our thoughts, our senses, in the bleakest moments of our lives.
I suppose, we must all, at some point, learn to vanquish them forever, but until we do, calling in the friendlier spirits, the positive memories – the ghosts we choose – keeps the darkness at bay.
Do you believe in ghosts?
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.