When I was little I was really scared of ghosts. Not like a white sheeted floating figure but actual spirits. I’m a pretty reasonable person and I like to think I’m fairly grounded in reality and yet I don’t know everything and there are millions of things in the world I don’t understand so while there may be (and probably is) a reasonable explanation for this when I was little I was plagued by this apparition of an old man walking past my bedroom.
To set the scene we were living in this old house that was owned by The Blue Nurses who were left it in a will by the old guy that lived there before us. We had just moved back to QLD after living down in NSW in a caravan by the beach where we ate so much fresh fish that I seem to have developed a permanent aversion to it (but that is beside the point) and taken up residence in this giant old house. I assume at one point it was all joined together but it was like a duplex by the time we got there. Two large bedrooms either side, bathrooms and kitchens and living areas and on our side a wide enclosed verandah. No toilet. The toilet was downstairs and I was terrified of it. My parents are like the King and Queen of ‘making do’. Most women would be driven crazy by having to cart a 5 year old outside and downstairs in the dark to the toilet but my mum just stoically bore this burden. This wasn’t the only flaw in the old house. The bedrooms which came off of the enclosed verandah had large glass doors – beautiful – but impractical to shut every night so we left them open. And the enclosed verandah had windows but no glass. Just fly screens. And some didn’t have fly screens because they had long been torn off. One night I woke up basically exsanguinated by mosquitos. My dad also liked to pot plants (once in the living room which did drive my mother to distraction although we can laugh about it now) and at that stage he was in a cactus phase and he kept them all over and he was also fond of rocks and he carted ones he particularly liked home and put them on the verandah. My mother worried the verandah would collapse under the weight but she just puts up with these little eccentricities. I should mention that I actually really love rocks also so this isn’t weird to me. I just managed to have both my dad’s love of hoarding with my mother’s love of purging items so I collect them and then throw them all away in a fit of decluttering. Anyway. Back to the house.
The other side was linked to ours through various doorways that were closed off with furniture. In my room it was kind of barricaded by my large wooden toy box, which I was grateful for because the other side was completely full of stuff that had belonged to the old man and his wife before she passed. It had their pots and pans, clothing, her make up, furniture etc. I assume the Nurses went through it and cleared out anything of major value but the fact there was still rouge that had once coloured this dead woman’s cheeks kind of freaked me out a little.
Most of the time when I was small my mother would read me Enid Blyton books and draw on my back until I drifted off. But sometimes I would be lying there awake and I would see this old man walk past my door. It freaked me out so badly because I kind of knew he shouldn’t be there and that he wasn’t actually THERE. I lived in fear he would one day not just walk past but turn his head and look at me and if that happened I would just die of fear but I couldn’t stop watching for him in case he DID look at me. I kind of brushed this off as an overactive imagination on my part. Nothing is there, nothing is there, lalalalala, go to sleep…
Anyway, I had this cat Tinkerbell and one day she got hit by a car and died. After that I kept seeing Tinkerbell. Lying in a patch of sun on the verandah, walking through the house casual as you please like she wasn’t dead and buried under a tree in the backyard. Finally, I come to my mother and tell her I’m seeing Tinkerbell. And mum doesn’t appear shocked by this at all and says, “That’s okay. Sometimes they just stick around for a little while after they die.” (Years later she would tell me she wasn’t shocked because she herself had also been seeing Tinkerbell). THIS COMPLETELY FREAKED ME OUT. Because my line of thinking was that if I was seeing Tinkerbell because, no big deal sometimes they just stick around awhile, then maybe I WAS seeing Old Man because HE was sticking around. And I didn’t not want Old Man to be sticking around. I wanted him to not be walking past my room, thank you very much.
We moved into my parents first bought house when I was seven which effectively put an end to the Old Man walking past my room but I was still completely freaked out about going to sleep. I would lie awake for ages. I would pile dozens of teddies around my body in bed in order to confuse any potential ghosts about where I was, perhaps they would just miss me if I was camouflaged by teddies. Almost every night I was anxious about ghosts. Avoiding ghosts was my primary goal in life. And then one day I got sick. Probably with just a flu or something but I was completely miserable and far too sick to care about anything except sleeping and trying to keep down fluids and not boiling my brain with fever. And I stopped caring about the ghosts. I was so sick I was just like the seven year old version of, “I’m too sick to deal with your shit.” When I got better I began to worry about ghosts again. But I found that interesting. That when you were very sick, you didn’t really care about anything except being sick.
Now days when I am having a rough patch with myself mentally it’s difficult for me to care about anything but how sick I am. It’s consuming. It pushes everything else out. I don’t do my hair. I don’t care I’m wearing jeans four sizes too big. I don’t care that I’m 34 and don’t know what I want to do with my life. Every single fibre in my body is dedicated to one purpose – survival. Last week though I found myself obsessing over my face. I get hormonal cystic acne on my chin when I’m about to ovulate because my body is under the impression the best way to catch a mate to fertilise it’s impending egg is to be sure he sees me by planting a beacon on my face. It’s frustrating to the extreme but my body is very firm on this being the correct plan of action so I suffer through. And last week I was like “THIS IS BULLSHIT! No one should have to simultaneously deal with acne AND the emergence of smile lines.” And I was googling how to clear the cystic acne and really miserable and then I remembered that a month ago I wouldn’t have given a shit about my face. Because I was too busy just surviving a month ago. The fact I was caring about something so trivial was a sign of WELLNESS. Cystic acne was basically my ‘ghost’. You only have time to obsess over the little stuff when you aren’t busy doing battle with the big stuff. I was still morose over my face but I was happy I could be morose. That there was enough of me left over to give to something petty. To care enough to be vain.
I looked into the mirror. And I smiled.