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Angela Townsend

Giving up the Ghost

Monk Talking to an Old Woman by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucietes

I am not a ghost.

I could have told you this when I was nine or twenty-two or thirty-five. But for five years, I threw a sheet over my name.

Angie-at-nine would have been incredulous. How could I trade in my tendons and long brown braids for a boy?

I feel Angie-at-nine across the years, her fluttery fingers squeezing my wrist. Didn’t you feel that? Don’t you see that cool freckle that’s always been your friend? Can’t you taste the raspberry jam? Can’t you smell something Grandma calls Shalimar? Don’t you hear the cat burp when you put your head on his belly? Who is this boy?

I try to answer her, but language collapses. Angie-at-nine, he was the answer to questions you weren’t yet asking. He was the one I braided my hair for. He was the coda that made all the choruses worthwhile. He was the end of my overlong beginning.

Angie-at-nine, you can’t know how much Angie-at-thirty-six needed to believe this.

He saw me, he said so, and I believed. He saw me, and he told me that made it safe to become a vapor.

He told me so much, Angie-at-nine. He told me the Virgin Mary had prophesied my coming while he was in prison. He told me he knew me. He told me my own name in ways that made me think I’d heard it wrong all those years.

He told me casually that the back of his SUV was “filled with ghosts,” gesturing broadly at his cargo. It was one of the first times I pushed back, one of the last times. “Maybe they’re angels and ancestors.”

This was not an acceptable answer.

He told me that, on the video game we would soon play every weekend, his handle was V-Ghost. “How about we make you Angie-Ghost?”

Angie-at-nine, I didn’t love it, but I loved V. I wrapped that white sheet around my head like a scarf and told myself I was elegant like Audrey Hepburn.

I tried to keep up with V.’s haunting, but play is more complicated at thirty-six than at nine. The damnable video game became a mean mentoring session, V. bellowing at me for firing too slowly or wasting bonus lives. I apologized. I apologized. I apologized. I kept my mouth shut.

Angie-at-twenty-two can no longer keep her mouth shut. I just finished getting you a Master of Divinity from an Ivy League seminary. You had all the angels and ancestors, not to mention your venerable mother and your bawdy boss and flotillas of friends. You wore bangs and big pink bows and hearts all over your sleeves. You were as solid as a sapphire in the smile of God. Who is this boy?

She is harder to counter, her newly minted M.Div. and earthy faith in her fist. She had made Princeton her own, believed herself beloved, felt goodness and mercy in the New Jersey sun and the softness of sweatpants and the texture of her own voice. She had dated and shrugged and preached and thrived forward.

Angie-at-twenty-two, what can I tell you? Should I tell you how, when I suggested we pray, V. recoiled and asked if I was “one of those people who think God will give you a parking spot?”

Should I tell you about the day we played his game in the city, stopping at a store for new coats? Sipping Starbucks afterward, the receipt seemed wrong, and my flesh pebbled when I realized we’d been undercharged. The suggestion of “making it right” proved one of my greatest wrongs, and I trembled beneath my sheet as he wrenched off my goody-too-shoes.

Should I tell you how, when I told him he was one of the truest people I’d ever known, V. rightly repudiated me? Why did I tell him things like that, Angie-at-twenty-two? Young truth-teller, forgive me for how far I fell. Should I tell you how I spoke in mist, exhaling absurdities I needed to believe?

Angie-at-thirty-five is quiet, with kind eyes. She was just a year away from V., and she knows much. She takes my hand. I know why you lay down and lied. I felt the worrying wind. I was losing my reflection in the mirror. I started disbelieving. I choked on vapors. I believed “he was out there.” I forgot I was in here.

Her hazel eyes overflow. I forgot. I’m sorry.

Angie-at-nine flails. You should be sorry! Ghosts are stupid! I’m about to win you the 1990 Bradlee’s Halloween Costume Contest for being a real, live, unicorn!

Angie-at-twenty-two whinnies.

Angie-at-thirty-five gives me a spoonful of raspberry jam.

I slip out from under the sheet and into the day.

Angie-at-forty-two pinches herself often. I am flesh and freckles, bangs and bruises. I am impetuous prayer and awkward honesty, lungs and longing, sinews and Shalimar.

I drive a Subaru full of saints and angels into spots God opens for us.

I am elegant and impossible, playful and protected, belching and beatific.

I am a host of contradictions.

The host has extended an irrevocable invitation to love’s table.

I taste and see.

I am here in full.

About the writer:
Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cagibi, Hawaii Pacific Review, Invisible City, The Razor, and Spotlong Review, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years and laughs with her poet mother every morning.

Image: Monk Talking to an Old Woman by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucietes (1746-1828). Watercolor on ivory. No size specified. 1824-25. Public domain.

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