There was a ghost haunting my crib in the winter of 1977. The year of the blizzard. The Big One Ohioans all over the state still talk about; statewide, and we’s a big state. Everyone, even those in cribs, has stories about the blizzard of ’77. Hundreds of miles away in a motel room in Minnesota my paternal uncle lay dead in a bathtub.
There’s one picture of us. He’s holding me in swaddling clothes. There’s no mistaking the family resemblance that I would grow into during the years that he was not there. I’ve stared at that picture for hours, wondering if in a cosmic moment something passed between us. And whether before my uncle left this realm, God laid down snowfall to make the Finnish spirit more comfortable for his journey? I’ve projected upon that picture a meaningful look, a recognition of what it means to live with phantoms. My brother, who was not of my uncle’s blood, was brought into the fold by his own suicide. I’ve long lived with phantoms.
There are new ones, though, that come only when you are diseased of mind. Only when you are touched in the head, only when God gives you a double-portion, only when you no longer can tell what is real and what is of the phantom.
From the Greek φάντασμα, the Latin fantauma, phantoms have been with us for millennia. Like the fourth rider in Revelation. Ring wraiths. Dementors. The Grim Reaper. They secret themselves, you see. That’s what you must understand: their horror is not in the terror you feel upon seeing them suddenly, it is in the horror of realizing they have been with you all along.
The new phantoms are ones I did not see coming. Ones that are taking over my body, making me question my sense experiences. If you were to ask me how I feel, I would say like a can of paint on a mixing machine, but my body betrays no such state. My hand might shake a little, but nothing like it feels inside. Is it the disorder? Is it the meds? Is there something else going on?
Living with phantoms is never easy. They pay no rent but take up too much space.