I’m a ghost chaser.
I find myself constantly chasing ghosts.
Under the bed, in the closets, in hallways and alley ways lifting and tossing stones along the way. I sit at bus stops and train stations and wait for them to come. I get on the bus with them, watching them, hunting them, but never seeking to demolish them.
I’m a ghost chaser. I come from a long, personal history of chasing ghosts. Thirty three years, perhaps. I feel it may be more like twenty-five, starting sometime after I turned eight.
I realized this yesterday as I was walking through the rolling gardens of Mater Dolorosa, a retreat center for people seeking a bit of respite and refuge from their worlds. They come seeking answers, seeking questions, seeking some sort of peace of mind, or piece of mind. The grounds are littered with bloody Jesus’. Bloody Jesus. Every so often you come across an altar with a bright white engraving of one of the stations of the cross; Jesus falls for the first time, Jesus falls a second time, Mary wipes his blood and sweat. It’s all, in complete honesty, frightening. Each little station of the cross has a small wooden bench you can sit on, so that you can contemplate that particular station of the cross. In between the stations are a few statues of various patron saints. Diego, St. Paul, St. Bernadette, St. Me…
The small hills rolling underneath the altars are well manicured green lawns or miniature landscapes of cacti and succulents stretching out into the sun. There are three pathways carpeted with fallen leaves from the giant rubber trees that line the area. If you walk slow enough, you’ll travel through space and find yourself isolated somewhere in the Garden of Eden, just before Adam & Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
And then the gardener starts up his leaf blower and you know that apple has been bitten.
On one of my walks I spotted a rubber tree standing in a large open field. The field was not well manicured; it wasn’t cared for by gardeners. It didn’t seem that it was cared for by the wildlife neither. There were no small rolling hills, no cacti, not a single blade of green grass. It was yellowing and dying, like an old letter in an attic that was never sent. Lying flat and defeated on a bed of dirt, its tiny mouths of dried grass and weeds staring at the sky like open mouths waiting for droplets of water to fall from the greedy clouds. Fading away.
I saw it and I chased it.
I was nowhere near equipped to go on this little journey, a whole 20 some yards away. I was wearing my soft cotton shoes, the ones I wear to feel light. The weeds’ splinters immediately began stabbing my toes and every so often I’d get one of nature’s little ninja stars jabbed into my sole. They kept jumping at my feet, stabbing me, making me look down at them. I’d pick them off and they’d look at me saying “don’t…”
As if they knew what I was going to discover.
I did anyway, and I got to the tree, which was encircled with fading brick. At it’s base, in front of me, a low-laying bench, one to kneel on – to pray on. It obviously hadn't sprouted from the earth. It was obviously built, and built well, by someone, sometime.
I thought it was a bit curious for there to be a praying bench at the base of this tree, on this land filled with bloody Jesus’ and small wooden benches to contemplate his pain and grief. Yet here, a tree.
I dusted off the bench, as if it were to do any good after years of neglect, and knelt, looked up and saw the carvings on its branches. They typical initials and hearts and a few dates. Who were they? Why were they at that tree, in that field, in that retreat center, in this world, in that time, in that state of mind. Who were they?
I heard a rustling in the weeds and noticed a few small quail running through the patches of desert sage that were, despite all their odds, thriving in the field. Then, an altar appeared. Well, I suppose it was always there, and always unnoticed. It was a small square structure, with small wooden beams for a roof and small wooden benches for walls. I walked another ten yards to it and discovered a small statute of the virgin sitting, alone and white, on a small wall made of the same brick surrounding the tree.
I stepped over the bench and sat for a while. At the base of her feet was a small cactus plant, dying. Strange, I’ve never seen a dying cactus. I’m sure they die, I’m sure people see it, but I’ve never seen a dying cactus plant. There were a few other remnants of what I can only imagine were at one point a small bouquet of roses.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be there, so I looked behind me to see if there were any gardeners chasing after me, waving their leaf blowers telling me to get out of there. But there weren’t. Instead I discovered that there was a small concrete path leading right to the altar. It was broken and some weeds had already penetrated its innocence, but there it was, leading directly to where I was sitting.
I turned back around and stared at the brightness of the statue, the lightness of her, singing white in that field of dying yellow.
And I started crying. Not a mournful sob, not a confused lost cry. It was a simple cry, with no real emotion attached to it. I started crying in the middle of nowhere, with nothing in particular to cry about. At that lonely altar in the dead field full of life. I started wondering who else cried there, why was I feeling their sorrow or joy or whatever it was that was driving my tears out of me.
Staring at the dead bouquet of flowers, I felt compelled to arrange them. They still smelled like roses, but they were hardly recognizable as roses. Skeletal. How long had they been there?
Then I realized… I can’t help but to think about ghosts all the time. Everyone’s ghosts. Living ghosts, dead ghosts, ghosts who want to be thought of and ghosts who want to be forgotten.
Who are you? What haunts you? What galaxy of vast infinite stars lay in your eyes?
Who was here? What was their sorrow? Why did they cry, why did they come to this place and these grounds? So many questions about ghosts haunting the halls, the beds, the grave yard in the rolling green hills, the lit windows downtown, the busses and the bus stops - each one of them leaving a lingering scent. But I’m not afraid, I’m never afraid. I’m curious, curious to know what stirs inside of this world, living and dead. Curious to look into windows and see the other side of the world that doesn’t know I or you exist. Living in sorrow, making cups of coffee, parting bread, slipping into cool sheets in the middle of the night, staring at walls, being the person the world doesn’t know.
Ghosts, all the time ghosts.
“Don’t,” the blades were telling me. Was I ready? It didn’t matter anymore, I’m here. Chasing ghosts.
I chase them down, look for them, want to hold them and comfort them and tell them they can haunt me if they want to, they can seek me out in dying fields and barren hallways, in passing glances and carried off in clouds of violet sighs, in old letters and photographs that fall at my feet when I open books.
I’m a ghost chaser, I come from a long personal history of chasing ghosts. I myself am a ghost, I suppose.
I feel like I’m restless. I’m constantly shifting and traveling and redefining which way is up. I’m never still, stirring and tumbling constantly, inside of me. As if the nerves in my body are those broken concrete paths being penetrated by dying weeds and small patches of desert sage. I’m constantly searching them, hacking them down, clearing them away and then watching the weeds take them over. Crossing them again, pulling at the blades, standing aside and watching them take over again. Finding my way through to liver rubber trees with ghosts that hang from its branches, kneeling at my spleen, rolling through my lungs, taking naps in the caves of my temples, sitting still in my intestines; tumbling, tumbling, tumbling and at night laying in the grass, in the middle of my chest, staring that the stars that illuminate my brain. What ghosts am I chasing?
Just as I see the world filled with ghosts, my body is an inverted universe – this is where I exist. Bleed and bruise I’m sure to do, but the millions of particles in me are a universe, condensed in meat and bone. The energy inside of me, the energy that is me, pushing, breathing, thinking, beating, is me. My skin, nails, hair, everything grows and heals and scars from the inside.
The world external another universe, breathing into me, pushing into me. The world external, my world internal, energies like a magnet pressing us together creating more energy.
What place is there for ghosts? Maybe this is why I’m always chasing ghosts, what place is there for them in the ever constricting space between our warm bodies and the cool universe? What of the ghosts, of their stories, of their memories and open windows…
I’m a ghost chaser.