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Becoming a Ghost: Seeing Good


-- photo by Adam Burke
“Two women walk down the street, headed toward a gas station…” — photo by Adam Burke

‘Seeing Good’ is the tenth installment in Daniel Boscaljon’s literary nonfiction series Becoming A Ghost. The previous installments can be found here.

Two women walk down the street, headed toward a gas station, smoking. Their cigarettes have a light beyond the red glow of smoldering tobacco. “That shit is haunted,” one says, pointing to a brown bag cradling the remains of a half-consumed burrito. Both laugh at some private joke, an idiosyncratic vocabulary I cannot fathom.

I turn from them and walk toward the light across the street toward the parking structure that occasionally houses the Farmer’s Market. I had met her there, before, at times—brief occasions when our paths overlapped on Wednesday night. We would gather near a table laden with sweet potatoes and embrace, and I would inhale the scent of her hair, an earthy fragrance unique to her that made me feel simultaneously grounded and transcendent, alive in all my being. Home. Looking ahead, I stare at the streetlight and its reflection glimmering on the sidewalk beneath. The light seems out of place, out of sync. It is a dead light, disconnected from the dance of living illumination I had been immersed in.

I step closer, staring, and see that it is light I have met before. I know the particular shade and radiation of that light. I close my eyes and recall it: it is light from a warm summer evening, two years ago, when the heat made my shirt stick to my skin. She and I had left the Blue Moose and were headed back to my car, our fingers close to touching in a dance of nearness and I had seen a star and realized, in a flash, how beautiful life can be. I smile, feeling the threat of tears lodging in my throat. I move underneath the streetlight, but see, instantly, that my presence does not alter the light’s composition. Nothing does: the light is locked into that space, preserved, unchanging. I take a step forward, into the grass of Chauncey Swan, and find myself suddenly in a patch of daylight as I look south toward Nemesis. Its brightness, suddenly emergent, startles me: we had eaten sandwiches from New Pi at this spot on an August afternoon, listening as William Elliot Whitmore sang an ode to old devils, at it again, through my phone’s speakers. I move forward another step and find a space where I had shared a cigarette with a bearded friend, talking over the world’s woes. These had been good days.

I run north and feel the backward pull of the mute unlight that trails behind me. I pass a fire truck whose siren reflects to me light that it gathered on a warm afternoon when I was riding to get donuts in my friend’s Dodge Aries, Black Hole Sun blaring from the speakers. It had been a good day.

I step forward onto a part of the pavement where I had walked with her toward El Bandito’s for a lunch in which we would discuss her problems and I would apologize and accept blame for my faults. She had come with eyes still raw with tears, but we ended the lunch holding hands, with her braving forth a smile. It had been a good day.

The window of Artifacts glints at me a reflection of shopping for Christmas presents, hoping to find something cheap, functional, and with kitsch appeal. We had held up clothing and hats, daring each other to try things on, suggesting board games that we could play while dreaming of a future where our laughter never needed to end. It had been a good day.

I look left, toward High Ground, and see many days coalescing in the windows: the glass had embraced the expression of joy and pride lighting her face as I read her an email I had received from work concerning a successful proposal. It gathered her look of peace as she had accepted a sandwich and a pep talk during a particularly challenging afternoon. “Coffee heals everything,” I had said. I miss her laughter. I shift to move in that direction, wanting to see more light there. I teeter vertiginously and feel as though I will fall again if I move in that direction, and notice only then that the inert blackness that had slowed each movement remained with me.

I hear a noise from my right: the door to John’s Grocery has opened and discharged what sounds like a pair of revelers from within. I hear them, but I cannot see them. As I look at John’s, I notice that its sign shines forth with remembered light from when I was biking away from her apartment, smiling with a heart full and confident with love. I touch a light hand to my chest, feeling the warmth of that moment return—we had spent that morning dancing to the new Lord Huron album, moving around her coffee table and the pile of clothing discarded the night before. It had been a good day.

I cross the street, heading for Dave’s Fox Head. I neither see nor hear cars, although I quickly dodge past the sound of a late night bicyclist pedaling swiftly without light or helmet. I pause to let it pass, and then hear the sound of a new voice behind my left shoulder: “Can you help?” it petitions. I exhale, oddly irritated by the request. Turning to face John’s from the crosswalk, I realize that I must never have looked at the store from this vantage point: it lacks the light that surrounds me as well as the darkness that still trails behind. It is merely blank, a space in my visual field. Other voices intervene. I strain to see them, but the light of days past blinds me to their present status.

“What’s up?”

“I …uh. I just need a light, man.” The voice mumbles something about a misplaced fifth of Jack Daniels and a fight with a roommate. And keys, lost somewhere. I hear laughter, but it is kind. A lighter clicks. A satisfied sigh. The Fox Head, buzzing with alcohol-fueled anxiety, momentarily eclipses another droning sound. I look closely at the tavern, and then back at Bandito’s, and realize that the latter is brighter, possessing a greater quantity of memories woven into the fabric of its bricks.

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I see the street we traveled as I would drive her to her job, a path that blazed from light that the pavement had gathered. It releases the light I saw as I held her hand while driving, moments we sang together to Kurt Vile or Wye Oak. Repeated hundreds of times over the years, those moments blazed in my vision as I focused on it. I saw my path marked out for me. As I focused on the path, it became brighter still. More light streamed forth, highlighting the places that we had laughed and loved together, shining with more fierce concentration near where we had met, kissed, and embraced. These had been good days.

It occurs to me to stay and rest in this place, but the thought departs almost as quickly as it had arrived. I feel incomplete. Restless, eyes open, I move forward into the cold embrace of night’s darkness.


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