Non-Fiction

Ghost Town: A Memoir

By: Cynthia Pitman

Death is a liar. I know. Almost fifty years ago, my father died. He was buried on a hot Friday in August. I remember looking at my future husband beside me at the funeral. He was sweating wildly. He had long hair then and wore a dark wool dress jacket. It was the only one he had. I remember the tenderness I felt as I looked at him. I remember a flag being handed to my mother. I do not like to, but I remember the look on her face. I could not look at it. I turned away.
            That night it rained. I couldn’t bear the thought of my father being underground in the rain. I slept fitfully. In a dream that night, I stood at the front door. My father opened it, but he didn’t come in. Instead, he knelt down. He explained to me that he wasn’t really dead, but that he was on a top-secret mission. We mustn’t tell anyone, not even my mother. He hugged me and disappeared into the night.
            When I awoke the next morning, I had changed. The pain was gone. I felt calm. I ached when I watched my mother grieving. My sisters and brothers had no idea where my father really was, either, and they cried. I hurt inside so much for all of them. If only I could tell them the truth. But I could not. I kept the secret. 
            The calm stayed with me. I continued to pretend that my father was dead, just to keep my family from becoming suspicious, but I knew better. I missed him, but I didn’t grieve for him. There was nothing to grieve about. He wasn’t dead. I kept to myself. I wanted to stay away from the pain surrounding me so I could stay away from the guilt I felt for keeping the secret.
            As I continued with my life, I found that when I was driving, I started noticing new buildings. The first time I noticed one, I made a mental note, “I need to remember to tell Daddy about that new building when he comes back.”
            One day, I noticed another one. I made another mental note: “I need to remember to tell Daddy about that one, too, when he comes back.”
            Everywhere buildings would pop up, seemingly overnight. Always, I made a mental note: “I need to remember to tell Daddy about all that’s changed here when he comes back.”
            Making mental notes about changes became a habit. Orlando, my town, was growing quickly because of Disney World having recently opened. I noticed all of the endless construction and added all of the new mental notes to all of the others I had already accumulated.
            Then the day of reckoning came. Reality stepped in. I was driving down the highway, and I saw not one, not two, but three new apartment complexes, all in a row. I was shocked. I had never noticed them before. I had to pull over to the side of the road. I got out of the car and stared at them. What had happened? How had I missed them?  I was horrified. I burst into tears. I bent over, sobbing. I wept for not noticing the change. I wept because I knew now that I could never keep up with all of the mental notes, all of the changes. I wept because I realized then that, after all, there really was no secret to keep. But most of all, I wept for my father.
            Now I drive down the many roads in my town. New buildings keep going up everywhere. There must be hundreds of them. But I make no mental notes about them. Not anymore. My father is dead. Only his ghost lives here in my town – the ghost of his memory.

Categories: Non-Fiction

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