Whatever you want to call them; Ghosts or spirits or just hopeful nostalgia playing mind games with a person who yearns for a long gone sentimental period in life — I’ve experienced something multiple times throughout my life.
Something otherworldly. Something I couldn’t quite see or touch, but something I could feel in the pit of my stomach or on the hairs of my neck that stand at attention.
Thousands of miles away from any semblance of scar or soul searing experience from my past, they still found me on the Island of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.
It used to frighten me much more than it did that Christmas in Thailand. It would usually send goosebumps crawling over my skin and my heart would pound against my rib cage the speed of a machine gun.
Most of the time you cannot see these wisps of residual energy left to frolic about between worlds, or those intelligent enough to taunt and torment the living. And that is terrifying. When you hear a voice as silent as a small breeze, or when you hear a creak in the floor boards as if they creep up on you, or when you catch the last instance of a shadow before it retreats into the darkness.
At those very instances it is nigh impossible to keep hold of your wits and senses because the concept of ghosts elude reality.
The first experience with a ghost would cause me to cower and weep. The second would provide a small insight and re-assurance. But more confusion.This time…it brought me to tears.
It was December 25th. High above the tourist ransacked town of Koh Phi Phi I sat with another backpacker on the upper porch of a bungalow under the dim yellow porch light. We faced out toward the blackness where the hill dropped steep into the now invisible Andaman Sea.
The wind was fiercer than the past few days. It swooshed up the slope to billow and gust through the rows of wooden bungalows. The palms swayed and danced in the darkness like some drunken shaman. Even with all of the commotion from what seemed to be a storm approaching, the night was eerily silent. The bungalow did not creak or make a peep. Our plastic chairs did not shift. Just the noise of the wind.
Here I would be suddenly reminded of those instances in my past where I experienced those mysterious somethings. It would also remind me of the age old book by Charles Dickens which tells a story of a twisted and wretched man whom believed he had no heart, and rediscovered it when ghosts came for a chat.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Little did I know that by the end of this night I would be visited again, and I’d feel like the changed Scrooge after his ghosts came to see him. My path was so very different now. I had changed course, and it had led me here.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Oh hell yes I do. I’ve had a couple experiences with them” I said.
“Now you’ve gotta’ tell me”
I stared off into that darkness for a few moments knowing all too well what my stories would reveal to a person I had not shared much with. All they knew about me, as with most people met on the road, was that I was a corporate escapee from the United States in search of adventure.
“Twice I’ve met ghosts. One was my mother on Christmas after her death. The second, my father after his death.” I said, very calmly still staring into the darkness.
My hands where now clasped together, and maybe the seemingly nervous writhing of them together like I was kneading dough gave away my discomfort.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t have to tell me.”
The surroundings at that very moment almost urged me to tell the tale, like a camp fire does with its whipping orange flames. That night had a very “Are you scared of the Dark?” feel to it.
“No, no. It’s okay. I’ll tell you the experiences.”
The nervousness hadn’t been the thought of telling the story of my parents ghosts and knowing that it would lead to more questions. It was more that I was afraid they’d think I was a loon. I hadn’t shared this story with more than a handful of people, and I hadn’t even told my own brother the story. I knew he’d say I was batshit crazy.
But this person, a backpacker I had just met a few days before, now sat at the edge of their plastic lawn chair in anticipation. I could tell they were truly interested.
As I began the first story the wind fell deathly still atop Phi Phi hill. The palms stopped their ritualistic swaying. Everything became quiet as if the wind and the trees listened to the story as well.My mother came to me one Christmas Eve.
As the young and ever so cute little boy I was growing up, I had a Christmas ritual. Every year when the dark green pine would be slung up on the stand in the living room I would eagerly await the night when we could decorate it.
Silver tinsel would fly in a flurry as my tiny self tried to hurl it toward the top of the tree.
“You’re making a mess!” My mother would yell.
“I can do it!” I’d shout, and would twist away as my taller brother would try to steal my Christmas feat away from me. I could decorate the freakin’ tree. My mother would always laugh at my miniature confidence.
I would plug in those chains of Christmas lights and wrap myself in them like a glowing yellow and green and red and blue neon enchilada.
“When you get electrocuted I’ll tell you I told you so...” My mother would say to me. But nothing could snatch the joy of Christmas away from me. Nothing.
Every night up until Christmas Eve when my parents would remove the door handles so we couldn’t shake the present to guess what was in them, I would sleep beside the tree on the couch.
And then that Christmas joy was stripped away.
My mother had committed suicide sometime in my mid-teens. As I’ve told in the past, I repressed most of that occurrence into the depths of the deepest hole I could dig inside my brain which is the reason I cannot remember the exact year it happened. We also couldn’t afford a gravestone for her.
It had occurred in the summer that year, but still sat heavy in my heart as the temperatures dropped and the Christmas cheer was flaunted everywhere in town. To me, it was atrocious. It was a sickening reminder of a happy time long past. A smiling fat bearded man with rosey cheeks stared at me everywhere I walked aching for a punch in the face. I didn’t even decorate our own tree that year, deciding it was a bore.
Christmas had lost all of its joy and light.
But on Christmas Eve I awoke in the middle of the night after everyone had fallen asleep and crept silently into the living room. All of the lights in the house were turned off, and just the glow of the Christmas tree illuminated the room and a golden splendor. Something about it felt warm and calm. Some reminder or echo from my childhood twinkled in those lights and on the ornaments.
I curled up on the couch and sank into those familiar dark green cushions and stared at the tree until sleep overtook me. The lights blurred into a kaleidoscope as my eyelids fell shut.
And at some point during the night jolted awake. Something startled me enough to wake me and send my heart racing.
At first I thought I was dreaming. There was a distinct sound heard loud beside me. I heard two footsteps walk into the room and stop, almost as if admiring the tree.
When I fully came to I leapt upright on the couch shaking. My eyes darted left and right trying to discover who was inside the house when suddenly the footsteps ran past me and continued down the hall.
That distinct sound was one I knew very well. It was the sound my Mother’s church heels. Those tan generic heels that click clacked down the marble floors whenever she went to service, and I was the only one that would go with her.
“Sometimes when she came to church, she was the strongest woman I had ever seen. And other times, she was the most fragile.”
Those words our minister spoke at her funeral came echoing back with the sound of her heels by the Christmas tree. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was frightened and confused. I knew she had been there at that moment. Just as fast as she came she was gone again.
And an uncontrollable flood of tears poured from my eyes.
Her heels trailed off into the darkness of the hallway leading to my parents old room, as if she was getting ready to go to church.
I wept terribly at her memory in front of that Christmas tree like a child crying for his mother, and then suddenly the tears stopped. There was this immense calm I felt at that moment, as if I knew she would always be with me.
Nobody would ever hear of that story until nearly ten years later. And until the second occurrence, it would confuse me.It was a summer day when my father came to me, like the day he had passed.
Whether it be your eyes that see a ghost, or your ears that hear one, it can also be in your mind and in your heart that you know an experience to be true.
The summer after I buried my father I could not handle the torture of being in that same house anymore. I had to even quit the job we both worked at because every time I saw his empty chair I nearly threw up.
My brother had met his future wife and was always staying at her place every night for months, which left me alone in that great big house with its long and now lonely history.
This was a house once full of love, lies, smiles, violence, laughter, hate, growing up, breaking down, broken hearts, and broken dreams. It was the house of my childhood, and now it was empty. A big brick and wooden void in which most nights I would find myself sitting alone in silence.
The kind of silence that was so loud it hurts your brain and drives you mad. And it was slowly driving me mad.
Soon the DVD movies on the projector got old. Then I’d switch to trying to throw parties to bring some life into the house and then I hated people being there. Then I’d switch to drinking alone instead. I’d try to spark up an old hook up out of some desperate loneliness that might distract for a while, but soon I’d tire of that as well. And soon I’d tire of even watching porn as a distraction. I’d just sit in the loud silence like I was trapped in a cage of sadness.
While living in that big creaky house with the yellow shingles and the brown shudders and the hallowed halls with bleeding walls and the screaming silence, I rarely got sleep.
Most of the time I feared someone would break in. They would take the last bit of my childhood and my family memory away from me and so I never slept. It was just me on my back alone on that leather couch staring at the ceiling into the nothingness. Staring so long at the cracks in the plaster that the began to wiggle and writhe like worms. At the same time I couldn’t ever pull myself together to leave that prison of tormenting memories.
I finally moved out the summer after. Madness drove me to escape with a couple of my best friends, only temporarily, to work at a beach outside of town.
And at some point during that summer of sun and booze and hangovers and blackout hookups, my father came to me in the shit-hole of a beach house we all stayed in.
I was fast asleep on the top bunk of the rickety matchstick construct we all slept on. This time, I wasn’t startled awake by a ghost, but I met my father in the parallel plane where the body sleeps and the mind rules.
It was so vivid and real.
In the dream, the sun was beaming so marvelously bright. Everything was basked in some sort of warm hue, almost like the leaves of fall. I entered the house into the empty living room where the dust danced in the sunlight that peaked through the blinds.
“BUBBA!” My father called out to me in his joyful and raspy growl. I ran to him. So fast I ran, but I also moved in slow motion. It was as if I was a child again but in my twenty year old body. He sat in his favorite chair soaked in golden light and suddenly everything seemed right in the world.
He was wearing this familiar yellow shirt; one dotted with holes and oil stains and emblazoned with the faded logo of our weekend lawn mowing company. He always smelled like a mechanic.
I embraced him — clashing against his rotund belly and attempted to wrap my arms around his whole body.
“Where did you go, I’ve been waiting for you. I missed you.” I said.
My father patted my head with his large rough hands. I could feel the gristle of his beard scratching my face like the times as a boy when he would sit me on his knee.
“I’m on vacation. I needed a vacation for a long time and I went.” He said to me.
And then I woke up. It wasn’t an alarming awakening, more like I slowly came back into my body and was confused as to why I was in this run down beach house and not with my father at home in the golden splendor.
It was so surreal and yet so very real. As I sat there, I could still smell his shirt and feel his beard against my face.
He was just on vacation.Then a ghost came to Koh Phi Phi
After I had told the person those two stories about my parents (the abridged version of course) something strange happened.
“Though it frightened me the first time with my mother and slightly confused me the second, it was also a reassurance that they were still with me. That I wasn’t truly alone.”
Right as I finished the story and let the weight of it sink into the silence of the night, our bungalows power went out. Every other bungalow, more than 30 on the hill, all had their faint yellow porch lights still buzzing bright.
After a couple of seconds, the power came back on and the wind began to slowly swirl through the trees again.
“I’ve been here for weeks and that has never happened” the listener of my story said.
I was turned away facing the darkness as if I was looking around, but in truth I was hiding the two tears that had escaped my eyes.
It was my father and my mother who had come to me again that night, and they were telling me on that Christmas Eve where I felt lonely that I was not alone.
I was not alone.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, or ghosts, or the afterlife — I know what I felt in each of those instances. I believe we are all made up of some type of energy. The universe was created by accidental collisions of energy and atoms and molecules over the course of billions of years.
Those accidental collisions came to form the galaxies and the stars and the planets. We are born of the universe and our bodies are made up of it as well. Understand that we are pieces of the great universe made to be great. My mother’s and father’s bodies expired on this planet, but I believe their energy is still omnipresent. They have yet again become part of the universe.
They are now in the breeze and in the earth and in the trees. For so long I chose not to pay attention, almost yearning for a never-ending loneliness because it comforts you in a dark way.
But now I know for sure as their ghosts or presence visited me on that Christmas Eve. I am never alone.
I was a Scrooge for so very long not wanting to enjoy the company of other family and friends on that holiday — or in most instances. I could not stand to see people happy or successful and I resented everyone. Like a poisonous envy. And anyone that took me in for the holidays and offered their love would fall to break into pieces against my armor. I would sit in a corner awkwardly not knowing what to do with such a tainted holiday like Christmas.
And now I remember those times spent on Christmas with family and friends and it gives me a pang of sadness that I never took advantage of it.
Holidays on the road when traveling are tough. You have flashbacks of the food and the laughter and you yearn for it. You might even feel alone in those instances. But whether you are traveling and you have family at home, or if you’ve lost your loved ones and the nostalgia pains you, you are never alone my friends.