Mike, foot to the floor, speeds his pale green 1965 Chevrolet Impala Coupe up Bellaire Boulevard. At the top of the hill, he brakes, hitting the line across the four way stop so hard I have to brace my hands against the dash to keep from flying out the window.
With one hand on the dash, one clutching the strap hanging behind my door I yell, “You almost killed me!”
“Shut up. Who’s driving?”
“And if you tell Mom I’m speeding what’ll happen?”
“I won’t get rides.”
“Right. So shut up.”
Mike drops me off in front of the theatre, pulling his car to the curb with a jerk. “Have fun. Don’t scare the ghosts.”
“Shut up, Mike! I told you that in secret!”
“Don’t slam the door,” he yells as I slam it. He peels away, rushing to his job at O’Leary’s Ice Cream Parlor where he performs magic tricks; and serves floats and boats with blue sugar cube flames.
I run through the double glass doors clutching my script. “Sorry I’m late! My brother had to drive me.” Leanne turns around with her finger to her lips. Rehearsal’s already started. Leanne was my teacher at Casa Mañana Acting School. My first monologue in class was Emily’s end speech when she was a ghost in Our Town. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every every minute?” I cried and people clapped so I got pretty much hooked for life. Leanne invited me into this acting workshop for teens sponsored by Texas Christian University. She says even though I’m young I have what it takes.
We’re rehearsing Pegora The Witch. It’s my first role on a real stage. I’m going to leave Texas and be a big star, even if I start out as just the Assistant Witch in a kids’ play.
I say “Sorry” to Leanne and sit next to my new best friend Anson. He points down to the Ouija board sticking out of his backpack on the floor between his legs. We suck in our lips in anticipation of our lunch break in the basement. We’re the youngest in the workshop. Anson’s twelve and short and still a kid. I’m twelve and three-quarters and five foot seven which makes me old enough and tall enough to be taught how to French kiss in a game of spin the bottle by Peter. He is the handsomest nineteen year old boy-man who ever gave me the time of day. And to top it all off he has a goatee and moustache.
Peter told us that The Little Theatre where we hold classes, rehearsals, and performances is haunted. It has a dark refrigerator-cold basement used for dressing rooms and storing props. Anson and I use it for séances, Ouija boards, and ghost stories. During lunch break we go downstairs to hide in the darkest, coldest corner of the haunted basement.
Anson’s Parker Brothers Ouija Board comes in a game box just like Chutes and Ladders or Monopoly. The board looks like it was designed hundreds of years ago with ink drawings of the sun and moon, a Victorian lady with her hand on a planchette, and a ghost’s head floating behind her, whispering in her ear. It has a YES in the upper left corner with the sun and NO in the upper right with the moon. The alphabet is in two rows, arched in a double rainbow, numbers from 0-9 are below in a straight line, and at the very bottom it says GOODBYE.
Anson says it’s simple. You put two fingers each on the planchette, ask the board a question and let the ghost move the planchette. If you move it yourself you’re cheating. Ghosts can answer yes or no, they can write words or numbers. Most important: you must make the ghosts say GOODBYE to release the connection or ghosts can possess you, haunting you forever.
We put our fingers on the planchette, trying to call up the spirit of my grandfather Osburn. I never met him because he died when Dad was only eighteen, but since he was family he might be hanging around.
I call out his name, “Charles Osburn? Are you there?” The planchette is still on the board. Not even a wiggle. “I am looking for Charles Osburn. Are you there?” The planchette glides to the sun. YES, it says. My body jolts, electrified with nerves. I look at Anson, certain he’ll laugh at his trick.
“I didn’t move it!” He spurts saliva down his chin. The planchette moves back to the center. Anson whispers so softly I have to read his lips in the dimmed light. “Try it again. Ask it something else.”
“Are you my grandfather?” YES says the board. “Are you sure?” YES says the board. “Can you spell your last name?”
Nobody spells it right.
The planchette hesitates before sliding to the first letter: “F.” Osburn doesn’t begin with F. The planchette moves to the second letter. “U.” The beats in my chest are racing to escape my body. I can even feel them in my legs and toes. Who is this spirit? The next letter. “C.”
“Who are you?” I practically expect the last “K” when it comes. There is menace in the basement. The walls, the floor, even the air grows hard and closes in around me, pressing on my skull.
“You are not my grandfather. You can’t even spell Osburn!” The planchette goes wild, circling the board three times before flying across the room. It hits a wall and clatters to the floor. Too scared to scream, Anson and I leap to our feet and take the stairs two at a time to the grey light of an empty stage where more ghosts lurk in dark corners. I step centre stage, protected in the safe zone. Theatre ghosts are dead actors to help me become a star, but basement ghosts are only dead crew members and acting wannabes. Basement ghosts are jealous. They hang around kids like us so they can mess with our heads and take over our bodies and come back to life. Ouija boards are dangerous. If Mike were here, he’d beat that spirit up.
After dinner as I help Mom clean the kitchen, I ask her what Dad’s dad’s name was, just to make sure I was right. “Was it Charles Osburn?”
Mother stops the loud grind of the disposal. “I’ve told you before what your grandfather Osburn’s name was. William. Perhaps you should write it down this time so you don’t forget.” She shoves the last dish into the dishwasher and closes it with a bang.
I run to my room and lock my door turning on all the lights. Mom said his name was William. I asked the spirit if he was Charles. That spirit said YES. That spirit was a liar. And it didn’t say GOODBYE. That spirit could have followed me home.
There’s safety in numbers so Anson and I assemble a larger group in the theatre basement. We sit cross-legged in a circle on the concrete floor in a far corner between the stored flats and discarded props. Harriet, the Head Witch, turns off the light. I sit with my back to the wall so the lying spirit can’t strangle me from behind. We breathe lightly, listening for any ghosts who might be prowling in the cold dusty air. I act cool. I don’t want anybody to think I’m a wimp.
Peter, my boy-man with the sexy goatee takes the flashlight and holds it under his chin making his cheekbones bright bluish white, his eyes big black holes. He croons in soft bass about a faraway land called Devon over a hundred years ago.
“There was a brother and sister who loved each other so much they couldn’t stand to be apart, but it was time for them to grow up and find their own lives.”
I dive into the deep end of his smoky voice, imagining Mike and me in Devon in long skirts and tails and wild flowing hair. I imagine loving Mike that much, which takes some work since most of the time I hate him. Because most of the time he socks me in the arm and says “Does that hurt?” until I cry.
“The girl made her brother promise that if one of them died, their spirit would visit the other to say goodbye.”
A gust of freezing air blows down on us. Anson yells “BOO!” and we all jump out of our gourds and scream. Anson laughs at us and we laugh back, but Peter sits still with the flashlight on his face, waiting like the devil himself until we fall again under his spell. I close my eyes because I keep seeing shadows moving across the far wall.
“One night as the clock struck twelve, the sister woke up from a cold wind blowing across her eyes. Standing at the foot of her bed was her brother. ‘No!’ she said. ‘Please tell me you’re okay!’ He put his finger to his lips. ‘I kept my vow,’ he said, then vanished. It was a vow she knew was a curse. Her brother was dead.”
The closet light is on, the door slightly ajar. The clock’s glow-in-the-dark hands move slowly around the face. It’s 11:52. If I am awake any later than 11:45, I won’t go to sleep, but listen to the seconds tick their way to the top of the clock. If I fall asleep when the clock turns both hands to twelve, an evil spirit could take over my body and sever my spirit. Just like the lying Ouija board spirit looking for a new home, I could wander the earth, searching for another body to invade. Being a wandering ghost must be Hell, so I have to keep vigil at midnight to save my soul. Tonight could be the night. Mike is in the next room on the other side of my closet. If something goes wrong I can run in there. But it might be too late.
I lay frozen, waiting for the end of the witching hour in my brass bed with the striped purple, green, turquoise spread. The purple, green, turquoise psychedelic flowers on the wall come alive, moving above my head like spiders weaving their webs to trap me in my sheets. I close my eyes and see them spin under my lids. I try to stay awake. I try. I try.
My dream is like a Hitchcock thriller in black and white. I’m the camera, hovering up in the corner of a white room. It’s dark. Cold.
The camera looks down. A foot long cleaver digs deep into a butcher table in the center of the room. A lone spot light circles the table and grows larger, revealing a woman standing behind the table. She’s not working at the table. It’s not a kitchen. Her skirt is black, her blouse white. She waits. Still. Head down.
The camera stands behind a man. His arm opens a door into the room.
The camera closes in on the woman’s face. Her dark-lidded eyes look up, her pupils open into wide black holes, her face distorts in terror as she screams, “Get out of here! I don’t want you here! Get out!”
Someone appears beside me. I ask without seeing, only feeling their presence, “Who do we turn to now?”
“The only person you can turn to now is God.”
I think, “God is not a person.” But I call out. “God. God. God.” I’m talking in my sleep.
The room mists over in white clouds as if my words were flying to Heaven. They swirl and swirl closer together, bringing color and form to reveal a beautiful green, red, and golden garden. In the center, a little boy and girl sit together on a bench. The girl asks the boy, “What was that your father said to you?”
“Love is truthful, doubtful, and sometimes it is even hateful. Even though it is wrong.”
I wake up calm. The glow-in-the-dark hands point straight up to midnight. All is still, no evil lying spirits, just my room with my things; a music box with dancing ballerina, dirty clothes in a pile, an upright piano with unfinished lessons, my guitar resting against the piano, a Joan Baez folk song collection, and my latest book from the Red Stallion series. The purple, green, turquoise spider webs on the wall are back to flowers, tranquil and mute.
I tiptoe to the kitchen where Mike and Mom are still up, talking and laughing. Mother dismisses my dream. “It meant nothing, Julie. Just a dream. Go back to bed.”
But Mike says “That’s interesting.” He takes me to his room and opens his Bible to his favorite passage in First Corinthians, the one that says love is patient and kind and is not jealous, that it rejoices with the truth.
I sit beside Mike on his bed and caress the crisp translucent pages of his Bible. The gilded edges are silky smooth. His finger moves from line to line, verse to verse, drawing the lines, connecting the dots of our separation.
Our counselors have set up arts and crafts tables throughout Fellowship Hall in the church basement. All the kids in the church are here, ages eight to eighteen. With the blow of the leader’s whistle we’re let loose on the floor, checking out the tables strewn with paper, scissors, glitter, glue, watercolors, pastels, clay, beads and strings. We’re instructed to make the first thing that comes to our minds. When the leader blows the whistle the second time we stop.
“Now I want you to find someone you don’t know very well. And give your work to them. Just give it away.”
I give my pastel sketch of a horse to Gail, a new girl who’s fourteen like me. She’s shy. She keeps to the corner most of the time. Mike comes up behind me and taps me on the wrong shoulder. I know that trick so I turn against the implied direction.
He holds out a red clay mushroom frog in the palm of his hand. It’s cheerful and smiling. It’s not fine art, but a quickly squeezed toadstool with a large flattened button like a chair, indented with fingerprints. The frog had been made separately, with its fat body and crouched hind legs and shorter front legs, as though it were sitting like a dog. Two small balls of clay were worked onto the face for the eyes.
“I want you to have this.” He smiles at me like he means it.
“But you know me. You’re my brother.”
“I don’t really know you. Not really. And I’d like to know you better.”
I’m not sure whether to trust what he’s saying. I’m fourteen. He’s eighteen. There were a lot of socks in the arm and wrestle matches I always lost along the way to Fellowship Hall. But here he is, offering a symbol of truce. Of friendship. Maybe. I swallow pride hoping he’s serious and take it from him. We go out for Mexican together. El Chicos, just the two of us, eating corn tortillas with salt and butter and salsa. We talk in his room, share poetry and play guitars.
All My Children is on. I am lying on the floor at the foot of my bed, two feet in front of my nineteen inch black and white TV. My two favorite characters are in love but just as Mary’s about to confess this huge secret that she’s really a nun, Mike storms into my room and throws himself on my bed with his guitar.
“Listen to this song I just wrote for Nancy. It’s really cool.”
“Get out of my room! All My Children is on!”
He narrows his eyes and juts his lower jaw out at me like I’m the stupidest person on the planet. “That’s a soap. It’s soap crap.” He caresses his beat-up twelve string. “This is music. This is art. This is love.”
“I don’t care about your girlfriend or your song! This is my room! I don’t want you here! Get out of here! Get out!”
He stands up, disgusted, which makes me hate him more and he storms back to the door. “Fine. But you just lost your only chance to hear the best song I ever wrote.” He slams the door behind him so hard my full-length poster of Paul Newman shudders in his wake.
I turn up the volume to the TV and settle back to my position on the blue and green shag carpet.
A clear voice that is not my own, not a fleeting thought, nor a pang of guilt, but a clear voice inside my head instructs me firmly, “Turn off the TV. Go into his room. Tell him you’re sorry. Listen to his song. Do it now.” The instruction is so urgent and strong, the voice so present I know I must do as it says. I turn off the TV, knock on Mike’s door, and wait for him to say “Come in.” I tell him I’m sorry. I’d like to hear his song.
He shrugs, pleased.
“Okay.” He even smiles at me.
I curl into Ma B’s old hand-me-down rocker and listen to “Nancy’s Song.” It’s good. I don’t even mind when he sings off key.
I’m back in my room watching TV after dinner. Mike didn’t eat with us tonight. After he played his song for me he drove over to a friend’s house to hang out. It’s getting late. I turn off the TV before Mom yells at me.
An ambulance siren invades the silence. We never hear ambulances in Tanglewood. It’s so boring here. It’s roaring up Bellaire Boulevard, getting loudest when it passes our block on Chaparral Lane and fades away as it climbs up the hill toward the four way stop. A sorrow wells from deep within my stomach making my whole chest ache. I look to the window and whisper, “That poor family.”
It’s been a whole day since I sat in the rocker and listened to Mike play his song. There are too many people at the house. Too many people who tell me they know how I feel. Too many Frito Lay Casseroles and bundt cakes and homemade fried chicken. Ma B says that’s what Texas folk do. They bring food so we’ll eat instead of weep. But Mom can’t stop crying. She may never stop.
I escape the house, breathing in warm spring air with yellow-gold sun on my face. The cicadas whine their late afternoon song in the trees. They’re early this year, which means a hot summer coming. I walk along the creek to find the tree, four blocks from our house. We were told he crashed somewhere along Overton Park East, across from the Pepto-Bismol-Pink house so it’s easy to find. The solitary oak stands between the road and the creek. Its branches lean left in an upward plea, missing its natural balance. Fifteen inches to either side, his pale green 1965 Chevrolet Impala Coupe could have rolled down the gentle bank to the creek. He could’ve walked home. I run my hand over the fresh gash where his car hit. Someone’s carved his name in the trunk. Blood rushes to my cheeks. God! If you’re going to carve a boy’s name into the tree that killed him, shouldn’t you spell it right?
“It’s only a name, Julie. Doesn’t matter how it’s spelled.” Mike’s behind me, whispering in my ear. “Don’t tell Mom about the tree. She shouldn’t see it. Our secret.”
“You didn’t say goodbye.”
“You wouldn’t let me.”
It’s been a month. We’re about to move to Arlington and Mom says she won’t let me apprentice at Casa Mañana Summer Musicals because she can’t trust any stranger to drive me back and forth from Arlington to Casa in Fort Worth. “I can’t lose another one,” she says. Covering her face, she cries.
I’m at church in the Youth Minister’s outer office, twitching in a side chair, waiting to see him. Jonny is a chain-smoking, whisky drinking, ex-wild-madman-turned-preacher who cracks jokes and makes us laugh.
I called him in the middle of the night when it happened. “I just thought you’d want to know Mike died tonight,” I said. He sat by me the whole next day on the sofa while everyone else came in and out bringing casseroles of comfort for Mom and Dad. Maybe he can talk some sense into Mom.
I look up from my shoes to see Pamela, the Assistant Youth Minister staring at me, her face white with worry. Am I scaring her or something? Why is everybody so nervous around me?
When I enter Jonny’s inner office he looks up from his desk and his tanned brown face turns white as a ghost too. They’re scaring me, all these white faces with wide eyes. From their nervous stares something must be really wrong with me. I look over my shoulder to see if Mike’s ghost is standing there or something. He’s not, so it must be me.
I can’t sit down. My body twitches more and more as I pace back and forth in front of his desk. I want to throw up. Tears, snot, hot cheeks and a wobbly voice garble my words, spewed in a rush, “Mom wants to make me a prisoner in Arlington and I have a plan to be a star and Casa’s a professional theatre and I can’t can’t can’t be stuck forever in a strange house in Arlington because she’s afraid I’ll die in a car crash like Mike and you have to help me. Please?”
He picks up the phone and dials. His hand is shaking.
It’s been a year and a half. I’m starring as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific at Sam Houston High School in Arlington. The girls use one of the choir rooms to dress, the boys are in the other across the hall. All the girls except Karen are onstage. She’s changing costumes up on the top row of chairs. We smile but don’t feel the need to talk since we’re not really friends, even though we’re in choir together.
It’s opening night. Mom and Dad are in Hawaii so only strangers are here to clap for me at the end.
Miss Peveto, our drama teacher, is on another warpath against me and says I have to stay behind tonight to sweep the stage. Just before opening curtain, she shoved the broom in my face in front of the other kids just to make them feel good. I’ve had three leads so far and they’re jealous. She says in front of everybody that I can’t be funny. She says I have no sense of humor. The kids join in, “Yeah, Osburn. You can’t be funny! Go sweep the stage, Osburn!”
On stage, the boys are singing “There Is Nothing Like A Dame.” The chorus girls squeal and the audience laughs. If Mike could be here to see me perform maybe then I could be funny. Maybe he’d beat Miss Peveto up. Now that would be funny. Mike should be here. My throat tightens but I won’t cry.
“Brothers be, though different in creed, must we stay apart…?” My ears tense, pulling backwards like a cat to hear Karen singing behind me on the top row. I turn to face her. She smiles at me, bewildered.
Why would she sing that song? Nobody in this school knows about Mike except three really close friends because I didn’t want special treatment or any more white faces and white eyes. Kids think they’ll live forever and don’t like to be reminded they could die any old day.
“You knew him?”
Karen nods, smiling even wider. “We were in Celebration Singers together. It was Mike’s favorite song.”
“I know.” I stumble out of my chair toward her. She likewise, stumbles to me. Tripping over chairs and purses, costumes and shoes we clutch our arms round each other in a tight squeeze.
She whispers in my ear, “You’re not alone.”
“Don’t make me cry. I have to go onstage and sing ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.’”
That makes us laugh.
“You can do this.’ She stands me up straight. ‘I didn’t sing ‘Brothers Be’ just now. Mike did.”
It’s been three years. I’m packing only the most important books to take with me to Trinity University, mostly plays I might like to work on. I remove my mother’s frayed blue college Shakespeare anthology from my bookshelf, causing other books to domino, which almost causes a small domed glass case to tumble to the floor. I catch it before it breaks. Enclosed is the clump of red clay molded into a mushroom with a frog perched on the top. Mike had just turned eighteen when he made that. He died a month later. I will turn eighteen in October. I can’t help but fear that maybe I’ll die, too. If I make it past November, one month after my birthday, I’ll be officially older than my older brother. I keep the mushroom frog as a token, as if Mike’s spirit were contained in the soft clay to keep me safe.
I carried it with me when I visited Mrs. Frick, my Senior year English teacher. She had lost a son in a car accident. She knew first hand what it meant to carry a ghost around.
But I forgot about the mushroom frog and left it in my car. It melted to a molten red puddle from the Texas summer heat.
I took the lump of clay home and resurrected the Mushroom Frog in my cold air-conditioned bedroom where the flat lump regained its former density, molding an exact duplicate of what Mike had made for me. Pretending it was his because it was from the same clay, I placed my token in the glass case that my mother had bought to display a medal I had been awarded for Best Actress in Regional Theatre One-Act Competition.
After righting the books and dusting the empty spaces left behind, I gently restore the mushroom frog to its place at the front of my shelf, with the Best Actress medal turned to the back. The frog smiles, keeping guard over the foot of my bed.
“It’s been eight years.”
“No. Really? That long?”
We’re lying on our backs side by side, staring at the ceiling, semi-naked on Mark’s bed. Mark is a flight attendant for TWA. He rents this little shack on Long Island close enough to JFK where he can hear the ocean waves and walk on the beach on his days off.
“When was the last time we saw each other?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t the funeral, was it?”
“I don’t remember.”
Mark played “Nancy’s Song” for the service. He had helped Mike compose it the day before he died so he knew the song well enough. Mark was Mike’s age. He had Mike’s sense of humor and his love for the guitar. Mark called when he heard I had moved to New York and asked me out “to catch up.” He was funny, sweet. We ended up way out here and both made love to a ghost.
I check my watch and wonder if I can catch a train back to the city. It’s midnight.
I reach for my skirt. “I’m sorry.”
“I think we were both looking for Mike.”
“Mike’s not here.”
“Yeah.” But I look for him over my shoulder as I pull my sweater over my head. I feel him. He’s sad.
It’s been eighteen years. My friend Donna and I cut out of acting class in the Valley to meet Pat and Gerry back in Venice for dinner. I’m driving south in the fast lane through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405.
“Julie, look at the moon. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I glance out my side window at the moon, full and bright, hovering over Mullholland Drive. “Yes. Gorgeous.”
We fall silent as close friends do, rushing down the 405.
Suddenly, the voice, that present voice which is not my voice, but clear and strong in my head says, “It’s a full moon. Crazy things happen on a full moon. Watch out.”
I know well enough to listen. I widen my eyes and become hyper alert, leaning forward with both hands on the wheel. One minute later I brake hard and fast, pumping them so the flashing brake lights will alert the cars behind me there is trouble. There are too many cars passing to our right to swerve away. I punch my emergency lights and come to a complete stop in the fast lane, praying that others behind me are paying attention. In front of me is a police car with no flashing lights or headlamps parked behind another lightless car in trouble.
It’s almost midnight. I can’t sleep. I keep thinking of that voice and the car and the full moon. I double-check audition appointments for tomorrow to make sure I don’t have to get up too early. It’s May 9th. The eighteenth anniversary of Mike’s death. He has now been dead as long as he lived.
It’s been thirty-three years. I am sitting at Mother’s bedside in our house in Laguna Beach, chatting about her life as her body daily succumbs to cancer.
She had been talking about her father dying of a heart attack when she was fourteen. “…WWII ended and he was laid off. Pounding the pavement downtown Ft. Worth looking for work, he collapsed…” Her words drift off as she looks out her French door to a screened-in porch. The mechanical click and hiss of her oxygen tank fill the silences between her words like the tick tock of my husband Alex’s antique clock. A Christmas present from Mom.
Trying to resume the conversation, I prod. “I was fourteen when Mike died.”
She gives me her one eyebrow up glance. “I remember.” She fiddles with a fold in her coverlet. “I read your play.”
“Okay.” I take a breath. I hadn’t wanted her to read it. Personal Mythologies is about growing up in Texas structured in mythological format. It’s fictional, but I had incorporated a few autobiographical stories – including dreams and events surrounding Mike’s death. It’s been over three decades, almost to the day he died. And still – we can’t talk about him.
“I have a question for you.”
She starts with a question. No praise or comments. This sounds ominous. “Shoot.” I give her a friendly I’m ready for anything grin.
“Your dream of the butcher table in the white room. Was that real?”
“No.” She looks at me as if I had betrayed her. “You read my journal. Or I must have told you and then you projected it into your thoughts for the dream.”
“Mother, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I told both you and Mike about this dream in the kitchen when I was twelve. Two years before Mike even died.”
She shakes her head in disbelief. “But that’s exactly what happened to me that night, Julie. If you didn’t steal a look in my journal – ”
“ – then I must have told you and you wrote it.”
“Suppose you tell me what happened to you. What night?”
“It’s all the same. The white room, the man coming in. No butcher cleaver on the table, but it’s – the image – it’s appropriate. Because I knew why they shut me up in this room. I knew why they shut me away so others couldn’t see me. And I did scream at him to get out. Those words in your dream. ‘Get out. I don’t want you here.’ The social worker, who showed me Mike’s senior ring and driver’s license and asked which funeral home I wanted to call, I screamed those very words at him.”
We stare at one another a very long time with the hiss of the oxygen and the click of the tank. Like the clock.
It’s been forty years. As I sit at my desk on an unusually warm Spring day, halfway across the world, I shiver with cold. I thought his ghost had gone. But he flies back to me, speeding up to the four way stop.
Those words. Those words Mother thought I had stolen from her memories. Those words are mine.
I said the same words from my dream to Mike the day he died. Twice. I yelled the words at him that afternoon, when I kicked him out of my room. And I wailed the words to him at midnight, hiding in my covers, knowing he was dead.
Terrified that his ghost would visit me at the foot of my bed to say goodbye, I keened through my pillow-stuffed mouth, “Get out of here. I don’t want you here.