Lay down your ghosts
by CAITRIONA MURPHY
I was a ghost, but as far as I was aware, I was still alive. Just about. Physically, I remained much the same as always; the same dyed hair, fuzzy with split ends. The same blue eyes, inherited from my mother, maybe a shade cooler. The same nose myself and my siblings hate, all inherited from our dad’s side of the family.
Except when I looked in the mirror, my eyes had a haunted look that I didn’t recognise. They were dull, and it didn’t matter what I did with eyeliner, they remained deadened. My skin was always ghost pale, so no changes there. I was moving in the real world. I ate, I drank. I spoke. I said the things he wanted me to say, what he needed to hear. I imagined a long string coming from my back, connecting to the place where my brain, where all rational thought, used to be. I imagined a quota of maybe six sayings there. “You’re right” “I’m wrong” and “I’m sorry” the most used.
What intangible essence makes us, us? It’s something I’ve always wondered, perhaps more than most. I am a triplet, identical to my middle sister and near identical to my oldest. People who don’t know us that well comment, over and over about how incredibly alike we are. And don’t get me wrong, I can see it. I look at a picture of myself and my middle sister and I see the exact same smile; I see the fringe that won’t sit properly, I see the same shaped hands and the identical teeth. I look at my older sister and I see eyes the same shape as my own, even if hers are a different colour. Her lips move to speak words so different to mine, but their curve, even their volume, is the same. Yet those closest to us will tell you that they can always, always tell us apart. They say they can see something different in our eyes. The see beyond the physical. Not just in the way my oldest sister walks into a room and commands it, or in the way my middle sister bounds into a room and charms it; but in our presence. Even when we aren’t speaking, even when we are silent, they know which is which. My mother has spoken of the essence inside of us that makes us, us.
I lost that essence for a while. As a Catholic, my church talks about our souls, about how they will ascend to Heaven one day. Our soul lives within us, the thing that is bigger, better than us, what gives our lives meaning. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any spiritual text about losing one’s soul.
I am my mother’s daughter, in every sense of the word. I am hers, in the good and the bad. The good; the aforementioned eyes, the shape of my face, the blue-purple veins. I am hers, the bad; crooked front teeth that are lovely on her but ruin my smile, a quick temper and a need to please. I look at my mother and see so many things; the kindness rarely seen outside of a Disney princess, intelligence; rapier sharp and all-encompassing and the inherent perfectionist qualities that make her a people pleaser. I see people hurt my beautiful, wonderful mother and yet time and time again, my mother reaches out to these people. Not just to help them, but to make them happy. My mother gives 110% in every single thing she does and unfortunately, stepping back from those in need, even those who have treated her cruelly or have been unkind, just isn’t in her nature. Not that she is a doormat. Far from it. Just incredibly giving, especially with those she loves. I have inherited that from her. Not, I hasten to add, the perfectionist qualities. I am quite lazy and function at about 66%, given my interest in the task at hand.
When I met him, I was just finishing school and beginning to feel that hesitantly, I was making my way into the world. I was exploring what it was to go out, to see the world, to meet boys who might want to be more than a friend. It was exciting and weird and horrible and fantastic, all at the same time. My sisters and I set out to capture what we could of the world.
When I met him, I never really thought twice about what I said; jokes were jokes to make people laugh, I happily voiced any thought that sprang to mind and I was free and giving with my compliments. If I were to offend someone, I would apologise profusely. And move on. A boyfriend seemed like a really good idea. Someone to be grown-up with, while still retaining the light heartedness of years that had just rushed past. My friends were going out with boys and it was a bandwagon I eagerly jumped on.
At first, I was little more than a friendly phantom to him. He certainly did not see me in that way, the way I needed him to. I wish I had remained that way; translucent and intangible, just shimmering on the outskirts of his knowledge, of his conscious. I had to make myself seen though; I longed to possess and be possessed, with all my immature understanding of what that entailed. I wanted to haunt him the way I fancied he haunted me. Really, it wasn’t him that haunted me, rather the vision of him; the ghost version of a man that I did not really know and certainly did not understand, apart from what he wanted everyone to know.
Eventually, I made contact, real, tangible contact with him and we started going out. It was fraught with demons, right from the start. He had every characteristic of a narcissist; a mother who treated him like a king and looked at him as if he were the dawn of every morning. And a casually cruel father who dismissed him with careless insults. He had the ego of a high powered CEO coupled with the crushing paranoia of the truly damned. He was barely older than me but so messed up, so deeply troubled that he might as well have been from a different world, a parallel universe where he was the only one making sense. I should have walked, no, ran away the first time he scared me with screams and words and temper. Instead, I shouldered his pain and tried to make the impossible a reality; I tried to make him happy, to be a reason for joy in his world. To do that would be the equivalent of disappearing into thin air; fanciful and impossible.
The more I gave him, spiritually and emotionally, the less of me there was. In my darker moments, I thought maybe that was what love did to you, that it would take from you and drain you so your other half, your “better” half was a more complete, happier individual.
Over the years, his mental abuse, his surveillance and his torture began to take such a toll that I felt I was floating away from the people I really loved, from those who really mattered. I was watching my family but could not connect with them, could not be a part of them. He had taken the best of me and all that was left was a wild-eyed, nervous wreck constantly jumpy and apologetic, watching her loved ones from a distance, too ashamed to tell them what was really going on. With him, I was a ghost haunting my loved ones, my adored ones, without them knowing.
Without him, when he was finally gone, when I finally exorcised him, I was more grounded, I was flesh and blood, but I felt as if I had lost the part of me that gave my eyes life, that laughed easily and set me apart from my sisters. I could not see any life within me; I could not see any spark that might have made me different. Look at pictures taken from that time and it’s as if there are orbs obscuring me in the photo; or as if someone stuck their finger over the lens and blurred me ever so slightly. I was alive, but only existing.
I only broke the spell when I finally opened up to my family. When I revealed what had really been going on and why it had taken so much out of me. I took back my power and by being open, by being honest and true, I slowly came back to my real self. My best friends who had been kept in the dark were horrified but slowly, they helped me come back to myself. They listened to me and we cried together. One day I caught sight of myself in a mirror and I saw an actual person, a real girl, someone who was not just flesh and bones, nor just someone who was mentally miles away. I saw a culmination of the physical and the mental, the emotional and the intangible.
I still don’t know what makes us, us or what makes me, me. I can’t put a name to that essence that was missing for so long. All I know is that we are more than flesh and blood. We are more than our emotions and our fears. We are more than what the demons tell us we are. What we will ever be.
All I know is that when I look in the mirror these days, I see a girl who finally put some of her ghosts to rest.