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A Haunting

Dispatch from the witching hour, 4 September 2018


I was at a party where I was being honored for some kind of achievement that wasn’t all that much of an achievement. JS said a few nice words about me to those gathered, and when I thanked her afterward, JK appeared and showed me an amazing new project: something to do with a structure that lived in his backyard, whose upside-down mirror image was beamed holographically across the city to his office via direct sight line.

The event had now transitioned from a well-attended garden party with elegant lighting to a slightly crowded apartment with the blandest possible white walls, carpeting, and sparse IKEA furnishings. PL was there. I apologized for being so slow to respond to his email, and was quickly distracted by another attendee: DG. I gave him an enthusiastic hello; he returned it with thinly-veiled sarcasm, congratulating me on getting one over on the people who sell concert tickets. He ended the conversation quickly, moving into the kitchen and closing the door behind him.

I headed home, wanting to express my frustration to someone about the snub. It was cold and dark outside, and I had left my coat at the party. Rather than go back for it, I settled on a few layers from a selection of thin jackets and sweaters I had with me in a bag. I remember waiting for the subway, but I don’t remember taking it. The D train had joined the 8th Avenue family of the A C E. Seeing that D in a blue circle was disorienting.

The home I returned to was my childhood home, and I don’t know if I even made it inside before I heard a car pulling into the driveway. It was still night. I came out to the driveway from the back patio to find my family in my old silver 1987 Camry. G in the driver’s seat, Mom in the back, Dad in the front passenger seat. Was I seeing that right? Could it really be him? Had these past eight years without him been one long, awful dream? Or was this the dream? I think I knew the answer, but I was nevertheless entranced.

Mom and G behaved as if everything were normal. Mom disappeared almost immediately and G greeted me with some kind of busy chatter, apologizing for the state of the leftovers she’d brought me. She quickly made her way inside with no acknowledgement of our father or the extraordinary fact of his presence. I’m not sure she knew he was there. Dad stepped out of the car wearily. He seemed to implicitly understand that I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and that I hadn’t expected to ever see him again, but he spoke with his characteristic cheer and didn’t address his absence. I don’t remember what he said.

I stood several feet away, stunned, agape, full of love and fear, pretty sure this wasn’t real, half-expecting it to end badly, absorbing and trying desperately to process every bit of the moment my rigid stupor would allow. It was just the two of us on the driveway, rendered in an ethereal chiaroscuro by the house’s motion-sensor spotlight and the Camry’s dome light. Dad walked around a bit but he didn’t come any closer to me. I remained frozen, with a growing awareness that something wasn’t right.

Suddenly, Dad winced, covered his ears, doubled over. I couldn’t hear anything, but when I see the image in my head now, my tinnitus comes to the fore. Dad was clearly overcome by indescribable pain, both physical and psychic. The look on his face and in his crumpled posture was one of sheer agony and terror. It was as if he had wandered off his assigned area of the afterlife, and now evident in his prior behavior was a wariness of this inevitable moment, when he would be sternly called back to the flock by his captor.

Why had he come? Did he know it would end this way? Was his new home terrible? Did he just want to see his family? The cliché of it all did nothing to diminish its overwhelming sadness.

I didn’t want to leave him, but I knew this was a dream now, and one I couldn’t bear. I woke up. For all I know, in whichever of my synapses these images were generated, his torment continues. I managed to find him for one brief moment and now I’ve left him to suffer alone.