If I could photograph the ghost on my shoulder, I would. Polaroid, Instagram, iPhone, I wouldn’t care. I just want the proof so I can go around and shove the picture in people’s faces and make them believe that my misery is not my own creation, but cause by something else. All I want is to pretend that I am not the victim of my own feelings. That my sister is causing them, and she is still some being that is at fault. I only want to be blameless. I only want to be happy. I can be neither.
It has been embarrassing. I have become the victim of mourning, and I have never been a victim. I have been struck by another car, a driver has thrown their door open into the bike lane as I have ridden by shoving me head first into traffic, with my helmeted head landing under the tire of a taxi. Thank goodness the taxi was stopped at the red light. I often wonder if I would be alive had the light been green. I was the victim there. I was the sufferer. I am still the sufferer. I am not the victim. I do not know how to feel. My emotions have no measure and no justification any more. How long with this grief last? How long this grief will last! I cannot. I just can’t.
I walk with the memory of my dead sister sitting on my shoulder, a ghost in its own right by my own machinations. She sits on my right shoulder. I’m left handed, so I look to her often while I write. I know she’s not really there. Please don’t be concerned. The ghost on my shoulder is just a metaphor for her memory. She has become a bubble I walk in during the day, a ghost on my shoulder, the background music that swells too loudly. Ghost on the shoulder was the best metaphor I could come up with. I use that for anyone reading this. It becomes a bit cumbersome to say the memory of my sister. Maybe I just think it’s more poetic. Maybe I am going a bit wonky after the death of my sister. I have so many uncertainties in my life after her death.
How can I be happy when I’m writing and looking over at my shoulder and reminding myself of her every day? Check that: it is her ghost that reminds me of her every day. I am not at fault. I am the victim, right? I hope to become more comfortable with her ghost. But that isn’t happening. So I’ve started talking to her.
I own a rowing machine. I keep it in my basement. Basements, by the way, are a novelty to me. I grew up in Florida. I was pretty sure the base level was the basement for much of my early life, growing up in a place where all the houses sit on stilts. The rowing machine is very “House of Cards” if you’ve ever seen it.
One night a few weeks ago, I was rowing. I was exhausted, and I row when I’m exhausted. I run, when I have the energy. I never seem to have the energy in the winter.
I was rowing, and I was rowing not because I was exhausted, but because I couldn’t escape the ghost on my shoulder. I figured I could outpace her. So I rowed and I rowed and I rowed and I rowed. But the ghost remained. I turned up my music–the Power Pop and Hip-Hop Workout station on Pandora, but that didn’t seem to do it’s work, although it did increase my rowing speed. I breathed harder. I pushed and pulled faster. I raged. I became furious with the machine for not being easier. I skipped songs I didn’t like and cursed myself for not catering the station better. I pushed, and exerted and overexerted until I could no longer push so fast, and began to lessen my speed. That’s when I started talking to Alex, my dead sister.
I told her about how mush I missed her. I recounted memories of our most recent trip this August to Bali, where she lived. I told her about how sad we all are. I told her about the secret picture I snuck of two friends crying at her memorial service. I told her how difficult it was to see hear body at the funeral home before she was cremated. I told her how it was the first time I remember our brother crying out of emotion instead of pain. I wrote a letter to her and told her all of the terrible things I was feeling and asked her forgiveness for feeling so sad. If there was anything my sister was, it was positive there would be a bright tomorrow, and so I filled my letter to her as I continued to row, gasping out angry statements of sorrow and depression in between pushed and tugs.
I told her about the night our mom texted me to tell me there was a Wheel of Fortune Spin ID that had the same initials as me, and asked if I had won anything. I told her how dad says he has good day sand bad days, but every day I talk to him he seems to be having a bad day. I told her everything, and hoped that would get it out of my system. Verbal bloodletting. Let her take all of my bad humors away, and maintain balance to my delicate body. Could she suck the cancer of depression away?
I was exhausted, truly exhausted, when I finished my workout. But I was happier to have spilled all my feelings out into the world, even if it was only an empty room. It was really a love letter to the ghost on my shoulder. My best friend. My oldest friend. My only sister. I can only smile and continue to love her.