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Becoming a Ghost: Losing Weight


Becoming a Ghost: Losing Weight -- Photo by Adam Burke
Part four of the ‘Becoming a Ghost’ literary nonfictions series — Photo by Adam Burke

‘Losing Weight’ is the fourth installment in Daniel Boscaljon’s literary nonfiction series ‘Becoming A Ghost’. The first through third installments are ‘Losing Worlds,’ ‘Losing Touch,’ and ‘Losing Time.’

Departing from the dead dog, I spin with the wind in a circle along with a coffee cup and a wrapper from someone’s lunch. The breeze blows us in a furious dance. It conducts a ballet of debris as it whistles down the alleyway and dissipates the sicklysweet odors of cologne and grease. I want the wind to carry me, to feel myself disintegrate, to separate from the heavy past that keeps my footsteps on cracked pavement, to become something light and pure that can reach the stars. But weighty regrets render me earthbound, separated me from the glowing abyss of the night sky.

The wind continues to court my dance, but grief divorces me from its frenzied flurries. I slump in submission to my sorrow. I have lost my words—and my way. Undaunted by my reticent hesitation, the wind’s insistences violate my stillness, and I stumble forward with slow footsteps, passing dumpsters whose contents the breeze stirs to momentary, beautiful life. Styrofoam stained with sweet-and-sour sauce scurries past my heavy feet, indifferent to the chicken flesh and bones still inside. I envy the Styrofoam, exhausted in its manifestation, filled with blood and bones and only that. I want to deprive myself of the nothingness that makes spaces inside me, to become the fullness of the takeout box, unconcerned with its contained. Boxes are neither empty nor full: they simply persist, materially. They matter through the world. Humans make boxes and skyscrapers as spaces for our emptiness. We deem something “empty,” therefore fillable.

I have lost all my containers. My emptiness remains heavy within me.

I want to become light and full like the undead foodthings entombed in plastic certainties, neither decaying nor nourishing the living. Nothing except gravity anchors them to the cracked concrete. Nothing but matter fills their existence. They are free from guilt, shame, accusation, forgiveness. I crave the brute honesty that each thing presents: they wear sins and scars with indifferent pride, untroubled by the ravages that time tattoos upon their flesh.
The wind whistles past. Constellations shed by the dull yellow of alleylight reflect off particles of glass sparkling in the street. Cigarette ends make their homes beside the cracked steps, flattened by feet whose unthinking passages forever changed their shape—although I know that the ashy taste of despair lingers within. Each filter is a scab, marking a momentary exhalation of heaviness—although lungs, thick with the weight of what remains, receive no reprieve.

A flier flies past announcing yesterday’s music: the wind instructs me to follow its rustling rhythms. It leads me toward a record store whose neon glow splashes friendly light that pools on the sidewalk. I continue, entering an alley, a parking lot. The lot is empty—but no! This, too, is my emptiness I project into the world. The lot exists for cars, but itself remains indifferent to their presence. Gripped with a mad fury, I long to birth nothingness into all this innocent world, seeing unpresences, erasing what memories of her remain. I fill a green car with her emptiness. I unsee her in each car, finding her absence. I know no longer who drives her, where her presence lingers. The joke I want to tell her tumbles into the void instead of her ears. Nothing greets my memory of when we walked here together, communicating love with lips and fingers. Nothing is there, and I push that nothing into the past so that it, too, means nothing. What had once felt full is now evacuated. Dead.

The office building looms at alley’s end, staircase brown beneath the insect-filled lights. Everything buzzes with complete, full lives. Shame seizes me and I regret all the emptiness I made. The bugs are real: I close my eyes and avoid annihilating them. I want to undo all the emptiness I made. Beneath peeling paint, the iron railing is cool to touch as I ascend grated steps to the roof. Nothing is at the top. My hunger reminds me of my emptiness. Nothing can fill me. Nothing can make me complete. I must annihilate my nothingness and embrace my thingliness, become body, fully present. The roof is cold. The stars are cold. The laughter spilling from the smokers outside the bar is cold. Lights flash. A siren shrieks. The wind suggests now is time. I close my eyes and prepare to fly with the wingless weightlessness of a thing. I summon feelings I had fought to free myself from: they are close. Nothingness is a lie. Love and joy, hope and sorrow, thrill through me. I sigh, smile, ready to pour forth my weighty emptiness as a final sacrifice, to become no more than the raw grace of Styrofoam, the exposed fur of an abandoned dog, the jagged reality of shattered glass.

Daniel Boscaljon, author of Vigilant Faith, is a theologian and a literary scholar who will spend the year teaching about secularism in the Department of English at the U of I.


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