Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Witnessing Book One

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When I was five years old, I watched my brother die.
That single event was the most tragic of my life, but it opened my eyes to another world that most people aren't privileged to see – a world in which the souls of the murdered roamed lost and alone, waiting to be released to something better. This was not a beautiful and wonderful thing for anyone to see. It broke my heart and wore on my soul, but I wouldn't give up my ability to see them for anything.
The accident that took my brother's life happened the day before my sixth birthday. It was a hectic day and Mom's nerves were frayed as she rushed around the house trying to make last-minute arrangements before the guests arrived. It was going to be a special celebration since Mom told me she'd gotten a clown for the party and invited all the kids from my Kindergarten class.
I was also supposed to get my first swimming lesson that day. That's what I looked forward to most, even more than the clown, the cake, and being the center of attention. Water called to me. I felt an attraction to it at the core of my soul. Mom and Dad wouldn't allow me to swim, so I guessed that was part of the reason I wanted to get into the water so badly. It was forbidden, and there's nothing more alluring to a child-- indeed to anyone-- than that which is forbidden.
Mom had the phone wedged between her shoulder and ear as she spoke on the phone, her voice harried, when we heard a loud splash from the back yard. It sounded as though something heavy had been thrown into the pool. Mom walked over to the screen door, her face pinched with annoyance. Undoubtedly my brother, Carlos, had jumped into the pool. He wasn't supposed to swim without supervision -- a rule he broke every chance he got -- and apparently he had broken it again.
I remember how she froze. I remember the way her spine stiffened, as though she'd suddenly suffered a fatal shock and would fall dead to the floor at any moment. She seemed to stand that way forever, and I can remember the anxiety that pooled in my belly like something hot and bitter. Even in that short moment I knew something terrible was wrong.
The phone dropped from Mom's shoulder and clattered heavily to the floor, breaking apart on impact. The noise snapped Mom out of her shock and she shoved the back door open, screaming my brother's name.
I wasn't quite six years old but I didn't need to be an adult to hear the terror in her voice. I rushed outside and watched her dive into the pool. I'd never seen her in the pool without a bathing suit on, and for some reason that scared me as much as the sight of my brother floating face down in the water.
Carlos was very fond of a game called Dead Man's Float, and for good reason-- he was very good at it. He could hold his breath for a minute and a half. I hated it when he played that game because he always scared me into believing something was wrong. I hoped against hope in that moment that this was another game of Dead Man's Float, and that Carlos would suddenly open his eyes and laugh while Mom yelled at him for scaring her, but he didn't.
Mom was a Nurse Practitioner. She pulled Carlos to the side of the pool and lifted him out, screaming for help as she did so. She was trained to remain calm in a crisis, but this was no ordinary emergency. This was her son.
I stood watching, confused and frightened, wondering what I should do to help her. I wanted to run and call 9-1-1 like I'd been taught at school, but my feet wouldn't move. All I could do was stand by and watch while Mom tried to revive my brother.
It was then that my eyes were opened to the world of the Specters. A strange light rose from Carlos's bellybutton. It was gold and green, and it sparkled like glitter as it rose high into the air and then disappeared.
I watched the sky for a long while, wondering what I'd just witnessed, wondering if the light would return, when our elderly neighbors, the Aldersons, arrived to see what the commotion was. Kindhearted Mrs. Alderson held a cordless phone in one hand and called for an ambulance while kneeling next to me, holding me tight. Mr. Alderson tried to breathe for Carlos while Mom did chest compressions.
Despite her best efforts it was clear that Carlos was dead.
I cried. I cried harder than I had ever cried before in my life. I didn't really understand death at that age, but I knew my brother was gone and I would never see or talk to him again. He lay on his back, his eyes black and unseeing as they stared toward the sky. Mom wept into Mr. Alderson's shoulder, and Mrs. Alderson told her husband to close Carlos's eyes.
"He's asleep now, dear," Mrs. Alderson had said.
He was asleep, and I knew he was never going to wake up.
A terrible aching pain started in my chest and spread up in a painful line through my neck and into my eyes. It was so intense it made me sick. I fell to my knees and vomited with my head throbbing and sharp, stabbing pain behind my eyes.
Mrs. Alderson tried to help me. She stood me up and tried to lead me back into the house, and that was when I saw my first Specter.
It was a little girl clutching a teddy bear by the back yard fence. I knew something was wrong with her as soon as I looked at her. She looked like a photograph that had been processed to have nearly all the color washed out of it. She existed almost completely in black and white. She was about my age, but there was a hole in her forehead and a tiny dribble of blood had seeped out on one side, as though she'd been poked in the head while lying on her left side.
At first she merely gazed at me, but when she realized I could see her she ran toward me, moving unnaturally fast. I grabbed Mrs. Alderson's leg, afraid of the strange girl.
"Will you help me? I want to go home. Please help me," the girl begged.
"Where do you live?" I'd asked her.
Mrs. Alderson mistook me. She thought I was talking to her. "I live next door, dear," she said wetly. Her tears fell from her wizened face and splattered on top of my head.
"Not you, her," I pointed at the gray girl.
Mrs. Alderson looked to where I pointed with a blank face. It didn't take me long to understand that she couldn't see the little girl.
I allowed Mrs. Alderson to usher me into the house. She led me through the kitchen, then into the living room where we took seats on the sofa. The girl followed, floating an inch or so above the floor, moving along in front of me.
She pleaded incessantly for help, but no matter what questions I asked she refused to answer. It was like she couldn't comprehend the words I spoke to her, or wasn't aware that I was speaking at all.
The paramedics and the police came next, and Dad arrived a few minutes after them. He held me in his arms, and I'll never forget how glad I was to be wrapped in his strong embrace. He made me feel safe from the strange little girl who wouldn't shut up, who begged without ceasing for help.
"Daddy, please make her shut up," I complained.
He thought I was speaking about Mom, who wept bitterly at the kitchen table while the paramedics worked to load Carlos onto a gurney.
"Mommy's sad, honey," I remember Dad saying.
"Not Mommy, her."
I pointed to the girl. Dad looked right through her.
Over the next few days I tried to convince my parents there was a little girl with a hole in her head aggravating me night and day, begging me for help getting home. Because they couldn't see or hear her they naturally assumed I was traumatized from witnessing my brother's death. I had no relief from her constant demands for help until finally, unable to stand it any longer, I shouted at her to shut up and leave me alone. She immediately obeyed. Her pleas fell silent and receded from me, getting smaller and smaller until she was gone. She eventually returned, but after that moment she remained silent, doing her pleading with her incessant stare but never uttering another word. 
Mom and Dad were scared for me. They took me to a counselor, and as soon as I sat down across from him I knew at once my parents thought I'd gone crazy. I feared being taken away from home and put in a place for crazy people, so I began to lie and say that I didn't see the little girl anymore.
Thankfully, they believed me.
The trips to the counselor eventually stopped. I never mentioned the girl again. I never mentioned any of the other Specters that approached me as time went on.
They all behaved the same way. I would go to Kindergarten, or out with my parents, and they would realize I could see them. They approached, begging for help, and I would have to wait until I was alone, sometimes for hours with two or three of them constantly demanding I help them out of their pain and suffering, before Banishing them, forcing them into silence.
The worst part of seeing the Specters wasn't that I had to pretend they weren't there. It wasn't that I had to carry this secret ability alone. It wasn't even their obvious, never-ending pain. The worst part was that I never really got to know them.
Specters stood silently by, existing through a world I wasn't sure they were fully aware of themselves—at least not in the same way that I am. Their entire existence was nothing more than waiting and hoping for freedom that I could never give them.
I dreamed of them at times. I dreamed I could see the world through their eyes. It was an empty place, cold and forever frozen in the time period they died. The loneliness I felt was profound and about the closest thing to hell I could imagine.
In the dreams I existed completely alone, unaware even, of other Specters. Then I would find someone I knew was alive, someone who had the power to see me. I knew this person had a duty to save me from my torment and pain.
I would rush to them, elated, begging for help, only to be rebuffed. My lips would seal. I would try to plead for help but the words wouldn't come. The one who was supposed to help me only condemned me further to a never-ending existence of misery and solitude, and I would hate them for it.
As I grew older I stopped shying away from the Specters. I realized they weren't just ghosts. They weren't people who had died in their sleep, or by accident. Every single one of them had been murdered, and that was the reason they were trapped.


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