Ghosts I have known and sometimes had the hots for

I made one of Julia Jackson’s pictures (Julia Jackson was Virginia Woolf's mother) into my computer background, and even started talking to her. Peggy didn’t exactly insist that I get rid of, “that awful picture of that depressed looking dead woman,” but I nonetheless replaced it with one of Peggy smiling broadly. When I turned my computer off for the night, Julia Jackson reappeared just before the screen went blank. I was considerably taken aback, but didn’t really believe—despite my desire to do so—that Julia Jackson was inhabiting my monitor.

I remembered a walk I took in the desert ten years ago during which I heard the ghost of Katherine Mansfield talking to me. I challenged the voice to present me with a gift to prove that I wasn’t hallucinating, and I immediately found a large, jeweled, feathered, brightly painted stick in the sagebrush. If the object had been a gaily wrapped first edition of one of her books with the inscription, “Best wishes to Snow from your dead friend Katherine,” I would have been more impressed, but I couldn’t connect the stick with anything I knew about her, and since I was at the bottom of a mile wide volcanic crater during an era when small groups of New Age men were running about the desert trying to get in touch with their primitive selves, I suspected coincidence.

Several observations keep me from believing in ghosts despite my very great desire to do so. For starters, they are seldom said to do anything worthwhile unless moaning, rattling chains, knocking over lamps, and otherwise scaring the hell out of the living, can be considered worthwhile. Secondly, on those rare occasions when they decide to actually say something, they don’t say it to the person it is intended for, but to a stranger who charges money to repeat it.

When I was a teenager, I used to visit country cemeteries hoping to see a ghost. One night I saw a red light slowly arise from my Granny’s grave and move in my direction. I ran like a dog with its tail on fire. I went back the next day, but didn’t see anything to account for the light. I even returned several times after dark, but never saw it again.

Granny died when I was eleven, and I was afterwards afraid of the room in which she spent her last years. It was separated from the rest of our large old house by a long hallway, and I wouldn’t venture into the back portion of that hallway in the daytime much less after dark. Yet, I had a very great curiosity about whether ghosts were real. One night, my mother sent me to the store on my bike. I had two routes by which I could return. One was by a path that ran alongside the house, and the other was around the block.

I chose the first because it would take me directly beneath the window behind which my Granny sat rocking for her last few years. When I passed under her window, I looked up, half hoping and half dreading to see her looking back at me. At that very instant, my bike stopped. It didn’t veer, it didn’t fall over, it didn’t slide, it didn’t tumble; it just stopped. I somersaulted over the handlebars and got up running. Fortunately, I was carrying the bread in a backpack, because I don’t know how I could have found the courage to go back for it.

The next day, my bike was still standing there, a sight that spooked me considerably until I realized that a horseshoe stake had become wedged between the chain and the back wheel.

Peggy’s grandmother was a great believer in ghosts. She told of hearing her bedroom door open one night, and footsteps crossing the room. She anxiously poked her head out from under the covers and saw a sallow figure in antique clothes standing at the foot of her bed staring at her. She drew her head back in, and spent the rest of the night saying, “Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus…”

And, of course, there was my dear demented, departed father who became convinced that he was being haunted by my mother’s ghost. He was notoriously forgetful about where he put things, and she had been able to point him in the right direction. When she died and could no longer do this, he became convinced that she had returned from the grave, and was hiding important papers, stealing money, and even rearranging the furniture.

He went from being annoyed to becoming absolutely livid, and the situation climaxed one night when he felt her pull back the covers and sit on the bed as if to join him. He said, “Kathryn, you’re dead, and I expect you to start acting the way someone in your situation is supposed to act.” She left the room, never to return. Since his death—in this house—Peggy and I often have a good laugh when we can’t find something. “Tom must have taken it,” we say.

If I really were to see my father’s ghost, I would only be worried if he should be as crazy dead as he was alive. Oh, I know, I just admitted to talking to not just one but two women who died long ago, but surely there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that, now is there?

An update offered in lieu of anything better

I’m still unable to write anything creative or thoughtful, but I will at least check-in. The pain is no better on the shoulder that was operated on in December, and it’s significantly worse on the other, presumably due to continued arthritic deterioration. I don’t sleep well because of the pain, and the longer I stay in my chair, the worse it hurts. Narcotics have become all but useless for pain relief, but they still get me stoned, and if I’m having an especially bad night, I had rather lie awake stoned than sober.

My lower leg bones are now giving me fits, as if they had been burned. Shin splints feel that way; only my pain is higher up. I finally connected it to the recliner I sleep in. Peggy bought the chair years ago, and it’s a little short for me, so I tend to lie with my legs bowed. When I finally realized that this had to be the cause of my leg pain, I tried forcing myself to keep my legs straight. This didn’t work, so now I’ve taken to fastening a belt snugly around my lower thighs.

Sleeping is complicated. I tie a blanket to the footrest to cushion my heels; place my pharmaceutical stash and toothguard (I grind my teeth when I sleep) within reach; fill my CPAP tank with distilled water (a CPAP is a machine for sleep apnea); hook the mask and the tank to the CPAP; and get one or two ice packs and a heating pad. I drape one towel over the chair back to protect it and another towel around my neck and over my shoulders so I won’t get frostbite from the ice packs. Now, I’m ready to sit down.

I fasten the belt around my thighs to keep my legs straight; unfold my afghan; lay the ice packs over my shoulders, lean back in the chair while trying to keep the ice packs from falling off; lay towels over the ice packs to keep the cold in; put the heating pad on my chest so I won’t shiver from the ice packs; take off my glasses; put in my toothguard; put on the CPAP mask; and, finally, adjust the mask ten or more times until I get a tight seal. One to two hours later, the pain wakes me up, and I have to go to the kitchen for fresh ice packs.

No one knows why the shoulder that I had operated on in December isn’t improving. My physical therapist suggested that I see an MD who specializes in chemical imbalances, but it would cost a lot, and since my yearly physical—which is paid for by insurance—is in a few weeks, I’m going to wait and see how that turns out. If nothing else, it will provide me with test results to take to the new doctor.

If I had only myself to think about, I don’t know how much more of this pain I would tolerate. I had years of it before surgery—although to a lesser degree—and when I had my first surgery a year ago this month, I figured that in twelve months, I would have both surgeries and most of my rehabilitation behind me. Now, here I am twelve months later, still in pain, partially disabled, and anticipating at least one more surgery on my right shoulder. The final outcome of the surgery on my left shoulder won’t be known until the end of the year.

In other news, I’ve been spending hours a day creating a synopsis of my writings. I started in February, and have completed eighteen months out of 30+ years—I don’t know the exact number because some of them are handwritten and unorganized. I had previously completed fifteen years, so the job isn’t quite so voluminous as it sounds. I enjoy the work but wish there were less of it. I also wish I could focus better. Unless you have been in pain hour after hour, day after day, for months or even years; you can’t imagine how tiring and distracting it becomes.

I have zero social life because I have no energy for it. I walk the dogs for a half hour each day, but the rest of my time is spent indoors, often close to despair. I’m not without hope however. I also have a bottle of Lexapro, but I’m not taking it because I’m on so many other pills, all of which are tough on the liver and kidneys—I’m in no mood for organ failure.

As for what efforts I’m making to actually help myself, I’m doing my prescribed stretching exercises—when I can tolerate them— eating sparingly, and taking various vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements. I stand 5’10” and weigh 168 pounds, so I’m already on the lean side. However, a minimal diet has been found helpful for many problems in animal testing even when the animals weren’t overweight. I’m also intrigued by such a diet because, years ago, I fasted one day a week and lived almost entirely on raw smoothies that I made from nuts, grains, fruits, berries, veggies, and soy milk. I found the combination of fasting and smoothies to be a tremendous boon to my general health, so it seems worth trying now. I haven’t started the smoothie part yet, but I lost three pounds this week.

I have contemplated such a regimen for the better part of a year, but because Peggy opposed it when I did it before, and because food is one of the few things I still enjoy, I only made half-hearted efforts. I kept hoping there would be another way to deal with my problems, or that time would work its magic, but neither has happened.

Some of you have suggested various alternative therapies, and I am grateful for those recommendations. However, I have sometimes been accused of preferring to wallow in self-pity when I didn’t do what you suggested. I never reject a suggestion without first learning something about it. I’m just not willing to spend time and money on things that—in my mind—make no sense whatever and lack even a smidgen of scientific validation.

Things that go flat

My air mattress went flat last night leaving me atop a sheet of plywood that probably wasn’t the worst bed in the world but wasn’t the best either. I took my pillow to Peggy’s room planning to spend the rest of the night with her, but when I opened her door, I saw that she was with a guy—a black guy. I’ve put up with her shenanigans too long to be surprised by much of anything, but I was vexed to note that he was in the middle of her bed. This left no room for me to sleep next to her, and I wasn’t about to sleep next to some s.o.b. who was in bed with my wife.

As I turned to leave, the floor squeaked, and he opened his eyes and looked at me in surprise. We glared at each other in silence for what seemed like a long time, but probably wasn’t more than a minute or two. I wondered what he was thinking, and I suspect that he was wondering the same thing about me. Maybe he thought I was going to hit him, but I was just trying to figure out what Peggy saw in him; what he could give her that I couldn’t. All I could think of was that he was younger than I by a lot of years. Okay, to be completely honest, I have to say that he was good looking too—at least for a black guy.

“Sleep with her, but don’t marry her,” I whispered, “or you’ll end up like me: standing in the dark with a pillow in your hand, a flat air mattress on your bed, and some other dude with your wife.” I don’t suppose a marriage between a woman and a schnauzer would be valid anyway, but I wasn’t sure he knew that, and I wanted to say something that would make me sound superior. I slept in Peggy’s recliner. It, at least, was available.

The three of us had breakfast together, but he didn’t talk much, and she didn’t either. I knew better than to ask questions because Peggy doesn’t like questions before mid-afternoon. Even then, she doesn’t like questions that are too personal. Years ago, I asked her about this, and she said, “Just because we’re married, it doesn’t give you the right to go snooping into my affairs.” I knew she was unaware of the pun, but I didn’t have the guts to point it out. The thing about making Peggy mad is that Bonnie Blue Heeler will help her beat me up. I don’t know why this is because the dog seems to like me better the rest of the time.

The black guy is still here—planning to spend another night, I suppose. I couldn’t find the leak in my mattress, so I’m looking at another night in a chair.