I knew the ghost was there - just as I have felt the presence of many ghosts since I moved to Virginia. And I knew what the ghost was going through. She was thinking of her childhood, and the pain it brought.
I always thought that the painful separation from the real world, the fall from grace, and the suffocating roles that followed, only smothered me alone. Others seemed to adapt miraculously. So, I tried to ignore it, almost managed to, numbing myself in all ways I could think of. And dared to. Because, different from this ghost, whose name was Lou-Ann and who killed herself of an overdose of heroin in the seventies, I have always been chicken-shit when it comes to hard drugs, knowing well I would end up in a psychiatric ward just by looking at them. There are many ways to strive towards oblivion, however. Most are sanctioned by society.
To grow up is a hellish thing. If I believed in hell. Which I don't. No other than the man-made one anyway. Sometimes it seems that the loss of innocence is an accepted thing, only seen as a crime if it can be blamed on abuse. As if your free roaming spirit has to be beaten out of your body by angry hands.
I was never abused. I was a loved child in a grand family. Being the youngest I was sometimes almost forgotten, left to my own adventures. Which suited me fine. Sometimes I was also spoiled rotten. I didn’t mind that either. The abuse was the world crashing in, those dark entangled webs created to hold you in place. I fought with all the might my skinny being could muster up. As it turned out, that was not enough.
"It's part of growing up," they say.
But it shouldn't be.
It wasn't only me. It was also her. The ghost whose name is Lou-Ann. Who turned to drugs because growing up was too hard. I'm pretty sure she never meant to die. Her death was a mistake. A horrible moment of misjudgment with lethal consequences.
Me, I can still re-model myself with time. Perhaps have a near-death experience and see it all anew. Something broken, something gained. Lou-Ann never had the time to set things right. Never had the time to reclaim her innocence, her real self, her strength to live the way she wanted to.
What is a ghost, if not an unlived life?
I had to restore her. Give her what she needed. I decided to do a journey to the Underworld. It was a long time ago since I did that. But the Underworld is the place where lost pieces of self can be found. And Lou-Ann needed those pieces right now.
There should be a word when the terrain has changed shape but is emotionally, absolutely familiar. There should be a word for traveling in the world some call the astral but seeing almost the same thing as you do with your physical eyes, only seeing … a bit more. There should be words, and maybe there are, in some language.
I did not know. I dove down in the muddy waters of the creek and followed the roots of the southwest guardian tree - the tree with the giant branch-arm. Here I found a landscape I already knew, though I never saw it like this. There was a river, wide and still, and trees old with wisdom. A canoe was waiting for me: light and smooth. Stepping into it was like stepping into a well-known secret; a secret of soft movements. The canoe glided effortlessly on the water surface.
I looked for a power animal for Lou-Ann, though I had never heard of journeying for a power animal for a ghost. I didn't know what to expect: something wild and strong perhaps, a ferocious protector. Instead I found a hedgehog, the sweetest thing you can imagine, with squinting eyes. He opened and closed his little hands, making me remember the hedgehogs in my childhood, curious but cautious, hiding behind raised spikes if threat was near. I carried him to the canoe and carefully put him in my lap. Then I headed back through the dreamy landscape, that was as real as any landscape, one water-dripping paddle stroke at the time.
Lou-Ann greeted me unexpectedly on the shore. I left her there, hedgehog in arms, with talking trees and healing grounds all around. For a while she would remain at the corner of my unconscious, in the Underworld, where she could grow stronger. I felt her. Part of her wanted to crawl back into the folds of oblivion. But that was not an option anymore.
"Bring them to the light!" they said. "Bring them to heaven." But Lou-Ann didn't want to go to heaven. She wanted to find a dusty ghost truck and drive from state to state, picking up lost-soul-hitchhikers along the way, and to make friends. She wanted to experience the world, on her own terms, and do everything she longed to do when she was still alive, until one day the truck becomes a spaceship ready to fly over the starry skies.
By Sofia Karin Axelsson
This story was first published in The October edition of The Echo World. More Ghost stories to come ...