BY KAILEY TEDESCO
My parents used to spend their Sundays shopping at Sippersteins, a small-town paint and cabinetry shop in New Jersey. We had just left our old house and moved to a new one. We had just left a lot of things…
Seeing paint samples once was enough for me, so I opted to stay in the locked car with bavarian cream donuts and quiet every week afterwards. It became a sabbath of its own. Me, nine years old, alone in silence for thirty to forty minutes a week. I used this time to my advantage. I prayed, but not to God.
I asked her to show herself to me. Please. I needed her to show herself to me. "I’m all alone," I said, "I swear I won’t be afraid." Sometimes it made me cry when she didn’t show. When not so much as a light would flicker or an object on the dash would move. There was no sign at all. I cried or I shouted or I grew very afraid.
I lost my Grizzy (Grandma Lizzie) just months prior. She suffered for a long time, and the day she died, I sensed it. My hampster, Muffin, died that day too. I found out when my dog, Boz, carried Muffin’s little lifeless and now bloody body down the hall. My mom had packed Muffin in a grave. We were going to bury him together, but she got a phone call. Muffin stayed in his open casket and Boz helped himself. That night my parents sat me on the basement stairs and told me about my Grizzy. They asked if I wanted to see my Grizzy one more time. I thought of Muffin’s body, open-mouthed and neck-stretched grotesque. I didn’t know what they meant by this. I said no. It took me 24 hours to cry, but I haven’t really ever stopped.
After my Grizzy passed, we moved several towns over to a newly built home. It was an upgrade, clearly. But the smell of fresh paint and sheetrock only further masked the scent of her perfume in my old bedroom. Her body could never visit us here, but I worried that her ghost couldn’t either. We were too far from everything she knew.
A while after that, I lost my dog.
Everything left at once. I wanted it back.
I started doing spell work before I could identify it as such. I kept the tissues I had cried into. I prayed over them daily, asking to see those I’d lost in my dreams. It worked once:
I am in a pound full of dogs. All of them are angry and snarling. All of them are mangy and sick. I get to a cage at the end. My Grizzy is in it, wearing her hospital gown. Her hair is not in "popcorn" curls, as I liked to call them, but it is balding. She barks at me from within the cage. She barks and barks and barks.
I conflated my losses. I had been trying so hard to look for them both, My Grizzy and my dog, and now I had found them both at once. The dream made me feel sick and guilty. I kept looking though.
I’ve had an unwavering belief in ghosts all my life. I tell this to others openly, and when people disagree with me, I nod. But it doesn’t change my mind. My belief in ghosts is so intricately knotted around my belief in a God, my belief in the safety of my loved ones, and even my own identity that it has become like a mess of delicate jewelry stuffed into a drawer with abandon, so impossible to untangle & dangerous to try.
Some people are afraid of ghosts. They’re afraid of being haunted by the past, of having nightmares. I’m afraid, terrified really, that their aren’t any ghosts. I have to keep searching for proof.
This isn’t to say I have none. My fiancé, for example, often challenges my belief. He is Scully and I am Mulder, all the way. When he explains why ghosts can’t exist, I take it in. I respect it. I even believe that maybe, for him and for others, it is true that ghosts are not real in any way. But after listening and taking in his well-researched logic, I present him with my small fragments of evidence, all spectral.
2. A couple years back, while working at a seasonal Halloween store, on Halloween Eve, a man walked into the store with a small group. I greeted them (this was my job because I was the smiliest of all the employees). The man went through the crowded store and came almost immediately back to me. He handed me a card that said Paranormal Investigators with a phone number. I laughed. He looked concerned. He said I looked "haunted." He wasn’t wrong.
2. While living in a Victorian duplex in Philadelphia, strange sights and sounds echoed almost daily. An entire toe-nail fell on me from the ceiling once. At another time my fiancé and I both swore we said two small hands drag down the length of a curtain. I had sleep paralysis every night.
3. The morning after my fiancé proposed to me, we walked through the stormy hotel parking lot to find our car. Next to the passenger side door was a wedding bouquet, perfectly preserved, wrapped in unstained and dry white ribbon. I kept it. I knew it was a gift for me, maybe even from my Grizzy.
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The tragedy of believing in anything is in the believing itself. To believe means to feel sure of something that is entirely unsure, unfounded, uncertain. It’s guesswork and it’s hopeful and it’s a little cruel. I try to define what a ghost is, to qualify my argument. At some points, a ghost is an energy or a feeling that resounds so strong in my bones, in everyone’s bones. It’s an intense sense of knowing. At other times, and more religiously, ghosts are beings as preserved as the bouquet I found, passing through one world into the next and guiding the living. At other times, ghosts are nothing. They’re just the negative of what once was, dotted around like a crime scene, and wounding the present moment with their absence.
All of the fragments and dreams are ghosts in themselves, and I am surely haunted. I’ll go on quietly searching for ghosts, holding the objects of those I’ve lost, and writing letters to a place I cannot fathom. It hurts to believe, but I’m happy to keep holding on for as long as I can.
Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges.
Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.