ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
I recently got a direct message on Facebook from a high school friend I haven’t talked to in many years.
“Do you still have that picture of you and the ghost in Africa?” He wrote.
I sat there staring at the screen, thinking it funny that after so many years, this friend would still remember and even want to see proof once again that I had in fact, a run-in with the dead.
I hadn’t seen the picture in many years myself so accepted the challenge and dove into the closet that I knew it would be in-the one containing my dogeared travel trunk from when I was 19.
In this trunk is anything a human being would want to intimately know about me from the ages of 12-26: Kodak envelopes filled with negatives and blurry pictures of travel and boyfriends, shells and rocks from a beach in Cinque Terra, Italy, bits of the Berlin Wall, my silver monogrammed cigarette case, a blood red turban from that weekend in the Sahara, my memere’s vintage National Geographic maps and stacks of private journals documenting daily experiences from coffee shops, bows of ships, southwestern desert ruins and deep in the dark woods of the Pacific Northwest.
If you’re anything like me, once you open a portal that big, you have to just dive in. Flipping open my very first journal, messy handwriting chronicles sleepovers, dreams of kissing boys and whole pages where I just wrote “Fuck you mom and dad!!” as if it would help being a tween in 1982 with the world on fire and a Marlboro clenched between my teeth.
Leaps forward to high school and college prove the most lethargic with Kate Chopinesque awakenings that pushed me off the island of Cape Cod for the first time and onto a plane bound for Florence, Italy and school and new friends who knew nothing about me, except that I had a foul mouth, was a “writer” and proved to be an exceptional candidate for painting and sketching countless pictures of.
Flipping the pages, dried flowers from mountainsides, locks of hair and train tickets fell out on my legs. History.
It was during this time living in Europe that the ghost picture came to be. It was spring break, in the outskirts of the Sahara, and we’d just pulled our Jeep up to a cave inhabited by an Arabic woman tattooed with a lizard from her lip onward down her neck. The story itself is strange and long – how we got to be in this woman’s cave home – but we suddenly were and the woman never left my side, looping her arm within mine, staring into my face for the tour and appearing downtrodden as we left.
We figured she was just lonely, I mean, she lived there alone. This was verified by my travel mates who will vouch there was never a little girl there. Much less a girl in a burial gown that showed up months later back home in the famous picture.
But back to that old friend.
When I began searching in the trunk for the picture, I thought of why my friend would want to see it again. Had it altered his life somehow? Did he need to believe there was life after death? It certainly altered mine and the group I ran with at the time. It became an image we all came back to over coffee to ask “Why?” and “How could it be?” as it was perpetually side-lit with sandlewood candles and surrounded with bits of broken shells and sand.
I’m so sorry to say I did not find it, but have hopes it will one day tumble out from a book or be in my hand one sunny morning reaching for a pair of socks from the back of a drawer.
One thing I do need to point out is that this friend, who I wrote of at the beginning of the column still has not heard back from me about this picture. I came to the selfish conclusion that this was my history and I could write it however I wanted and he could write his own until just very recently, reading Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook.”
Didion writes: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise, they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
I wonder if this is how it was for my friend. Lying in bed with his wife, reflecting back on that lost time post-high school where he learned something he could never plainly label. Being a man of substance – a firefighter and a Sunday church goer, he opens his eyes in the twilight with a sigh and remembers that one piece of the puzzle that never made sense. That made him question and question and question “what if?”
Perhaps it is only our histories that in the end keep as a sounding board – our biographies that tell a billion histories from different perspectives. One, no more correct or truthful than the other. Each and every one part of life’s amazing puzzle.
Between the Lines is a weekly column by EcoSalon’s Editor-in-Chief on navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of conscious life and culture between city and country, between inner worlds and outer.
Image: Moyan Brenn