Banishing the Ghosts
I’m standing in Terry’s mum’s house for what I think will be the last time before it’s sold, and I’m looking at the ceiling light.
It’s an ordinary kind of ceiling light: unassuming, maybe a little bit dated – nothing at all remarkable about it.
But I remember last Christmas, when we decorated the house for what we knew would be the last time, and Terry hung a little Christmas elf from that light. He did it as a joke, but his mum let it stay there, and, for the next few weeks, every time we visited, I’d sit in my usual chair, under the light, and I’d watch that little elf dangle in front of my face, while Max kicked away inside me, and everyone tried to pretend that this was not the last ever Christmas we’d spend here.
Now I look at the ceiling light, dangling in the empty room, and it kind of breaks my heart. The house has been sold, the keys will be handed over in a few days’ time – but as I look out of the room into the hall, I swear I can see the ghosts of our former selves come through the front door, and walk down the hall, just as we did every single week, for more years than I can count. I look around the room, and I can still see it filled with family, everyone talking and laughing, and behaving as if this moment is not precious: as if it will last forever. I see us sitting outside on the swing on a summer’s day: I see Terry and I on the garden bench, showing Soula the photo from my 8-week scan, watching her face light up.
And it breaks my heart.
It’s not just the house, though.
Last week we driving home from somewhere, and, as we started up the hill to our house, in my mind’s eye, I saw Terry and I driving the other way, on the morning of December 29th, filled with hope and fear, as we headed to the hospital to have Max. Two people drove down the hill, but three drove back, and as we continue on our way, I can see us all – plus all of the other times we’ve gone to and from our house. The hill is crowded with ghosts: some are happy, some are sad, but all are part of our story, and they’re all. still. there.
And it’s not just the hill, either.
Lately, everywhere I go, I see the ghosts. At our local park, where Terry and I went to kill time after my miscarriage, I see us on the swing, and I feel the bizarre need to walk past it with Max, almost as if I’m showing my former self that, look, it happened! Maybe not THAT baby – the one you’re crying about on the swing, in September of 2016 – but THIS baby, right here in the pushchair in front of me. I banish the ghosts, and then I move on to the next ones, to banish them, too.
The ghosts at Hopetoun House, where I had a faux-happy afternoon tea a few days after the miscarriage.
The ghosts of Linlithgow, where I took photos the first time I was pregnant, thinking that one day I’d show our child them, and say, “Look, you were in there!”
A particular table at TGI Fridays, where I felt like I would never feel happy again, and a supermarket cafe where I waited for a set of blood results during my ectopic pregnancy. They all have their ghosts, and even once they’re “banished” they still linger on.
Last week, we went back to Terry’s mum’s house, to see the new owners about something that doesn’t matter. The house is different now. Halfway between old and new, the floors are bare, the wallpaper gone, a wall knocked down. It looked so different, filled with new people and new possessions – at first I thought it would be OK, that I would get through this visit without seeing the ghosts.
But then I looked up, and saw the ceiling light.
They haven’t changed the ceiling the light.
And they don’t know that last Christmas, a silly little ornament dangled from the fitting. They don’t know that we all sat underneath it on Christmas Eve, eating Chinese takeaway – or about all of the Christmases, birthdays, and perfectly ordinary, infinitely precious days, we spent in that house, in that room, under that light. They don’t know – and will never know – about any of those things.
But I do.
And as we walk out of the house, for what will definitely be the last time, I realise the ghosts are not in the house, or on the hill, or in some random supermarket cafe: they’re in me, and in all of us.
And maybe I don’t really want to banish them, after all.