Ghosts in Motion.



I was eleven when I found out my dad had killed his marriage. He drove me to the beach on State Road 60.  The ocean looked like a coloring book.  If I had opened the windows the colors might have spilled inside the car.  I tried to open my window but it didn’t budge; my dad had locked them.  We were sealed inside.

I loved the beach because the world ended at the sea – there were no cities, no people, no rude conversations, no glancing strangers.  For miles there was nothing but sparkling blue water, the orange sun, a gang of seagulls, a banner of clouds across the sky.  In the evening everything was just a silhouette of itself, like lazy ghosts in motion.

We parked somewhere, not quite the beach and not quite the road.  My dad rolled down the windows and all the smells came in.  Salt, tea leaves, clay, and something like the frozen meat section in a grocery store.  My dad pulled the keys out and we just sat there for a while.   The sunlight poured in and I started to sweat in my jeans.

My dad said, This is where your mother said she wouldn’t take me back.

I just nodded.  I was in the backseat, what else could I do.  I looked outside and a seagull was gnawing a piece of pizza.  It probably looked at me but probably not.

He went on, I begged for her, I said I was sorry.  She said it was over.  So I told her it’s better if we die.  He pointed to some spot up the road and said, Right there, I told her we could drive off the bridge together and die.  

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I was in the backseat, there wasn’t much I could do. The seagull outside poked holes in a beer can.  This time I was sure it looked at me.

He said, Remember this spot?  We went fishing here once. You, me, your mom, your brother.  I caught the fish and you counted them.  We were a good team.

I didn’t remember.  I wondered if that made me a bad son.

I wanted to tell him, This is your fault, you know.  You cheated on mom.  You’re never home.  You tell us we’re a terrible family.  You talk about all these dreams and you’ve never accomplished anything.  You’re just an old loser living off past glories that you probably exaggerated to sleep with all those women.  I hope you’re proud of yourself.  I hope you die alone and sick and miserable.

Suddenly my dad punched the steering wheel.  The car horn went off and the seagull outside fell over.  My dad said something but I didn’t understand any of it.  It was yelling probably, or noises, or crying.  I just sank into my seat and flew out of my body, out of the car, over the sand, over the water, into the sun where no one could see me.  I wanted to be one of the ghosts.  I didn’t want to care.

When my dad finished, he started the car again and trundled up the road.  I looked back and the seagull shook its head.  It squawked but I didn’t hear it because the windows were up again.  I tried to remember the time our family went to the beach but it never came to me.  Maybe my dad had made it up; maybe he wanted the lie.

I glanced at my dad but I was staring at a different person.  He had left himself on the beach, another ghost, disappearing with the setting of the sun. But I wanted the fake stories. I wanted the glory days.  I wanted the lie, too.  I wondered if that made me a good son.

— J.S.

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11 thoughts on “Ghosts in Motion.

  1. My heart breaks for you over this and it reminds me of my own dad. Telling me things no child needs to hear, putting heavy burdens on my back and feeling extreme guilt and inadequacy at my ability to solve very adult problems, and my just wanting to escape…

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    1. I think we probably all have similar stories. Though it didn’t have a happily-ever-after, it’s still a part of who we are, and I’m grateful for making it anyway.

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  2. Such a sad experience … Just because our parents are bad at marriage or bad at parenting doesn’t mean we are bad children or will be bad at our marriages or parenting … True our parents are our examples but it is up to us to break the chain … The chain of broken marriages and painful child raising … We have something our parents may not have known or even cared to choose … We have the Chord of Love … Three strands that will never be broken … Love Faith and Hope in Jesus Christ who never abandon us

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  3. I was six when my dad took me on his lap in our kitchen and told me he was “going to visit his cousin.” I knew, I don’t know how, maybe an overheard conversation, what that meant. I said, “You and mommy are getting a divorce.” Something died in me that day. I ran to the backyard sobbing. I haven’t cried much since – 41 years. I became the “man of the family” responsible for my two year old brother and receiver of my mother’s anguish. I barely spoke for a year. I was so angry. I admired Spock (the Vulcan, not the Dr.) for his emotionless state and modeled myself after him.

    I still cling to emotional control and am very self contained. I have a VERY patient and loving husband. 🙂 The Holy Spirit in me has allowed me to release (some) of the burden. I am aware I cannot release any of it without Him. Onward and upward only by His grace. Bless you.

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