Commentary: Ghosting

I wrote “Ghosting”, originally titled “Static”, when my father was first diagnosed with lung cancer in December of 2013.  I wrote a very short version of it in a day as a way to process this information and the idea of “Numbers” took off from there.  I then spent most of my time working on the other stories in the collection- most of which did not make it into this project.

I revisited “Static” when my father passed away a year later and from there, the story evolved.  Initially, I had glossed over the loss of Ba in Kaleb’s short story and focused on the fact that Kaleb’s position in life was stuck.  He was, as the title suggested, static.  He couldn’t move on from anything but the story at the time had been more of a skeleton than a story.  It wasn’t until the loss of my own father that I began to understand that Kaleb’s story was never meant to be one about not changing or growing up – it’s a story about grief.

While a lot of Kaleb’s experiences stemmed from my own, I also really wanted to explore what it meant to be a man in a household that expected so much out of you.  Unlike me, Kaleb does not have the luxury to deal with his loss.  To him, the loss of his father comes with a set of responsibilities, familial and cultural pressures that only people in his position can understand.  And yet, Kaleb is young, he is sixteen, he is hardly a man, but as per his role in traditional Chinese familial structures, he has to be.

This change in focus meant that I had to change my structure and I kept almost none of the original first draft in my final one.  My first draft was written as if it was a set of bulletpoints for each year that Kaleb aged.  For example, “When Kaleb was sixteen his dad died” and “At New Years, when Kaleb was seventeen, he decided to… ” but as the story was restructured to focus on this one specific event in his life, all of that had to be cut completely. Then, after writing a second draft, with the help of my classmates as well as my Professor Bruce Snider in workshop, I realized that this story isn’t just about a boy who is resisting grief- he is a boy that is haunted by his father’s presence even when the man is not there.   It’s because of the absence of a father that Kaleb has to step up into his father’s role and claiming that responsibility for his family means that he is unable to spend his time grieving.    It’s this haunted aspect that made me decide to break up the chronology of my story.  Originally, I had written the story in a very linear fashion but upon realization that plot and story are two different things, I began to break up the scenes and play with their positioning.  It’s through the way I was able to play with time that I was able to more successfully create this sense of eeriness in the loss of something to death.

I’m still playing with the story.  I’m unsure if I will ever fully complete something as I’m always playing with things but for now, Kaleb’s story remains at a state that I am satisfied with.

Numbers: Ghosting

This piece is one of the short stories in a collection titled “Numbers” and was used in my senior project for Fiction Writing.  It was also submitted under its original title “Static” into the 2016 USFCA department writing contest for fiction, judged by Naomi J Williams, where it took first place in its category.

Ghosting

There are several things Kaleb must do to prevent a ghost from following him home.  There must be no mirrors in view of the casket; the reflection is a bad omen said to curse whoever sees it with death.  Every time someone exits the funeral home, they must cleanse themselves with a pomelo leaf that has been soaked in water; the same thing must be done when entering a home.  The pomelo leaf, according to his mother, wards off any of the spirits following them.  When it comes time for the closing of the casket, no one should look at it, doing so will tell the dead that someone isn’t ready for them to depart.  The same is true when the casket is lowered into the ground.  Finally, one must literally walk over a ceremonial fire when leaving the burial site for the first time to fully cleanse themselves of any remaining bad spirits.

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Eulogy: Gone, the kind of Gone that means they’re never coming back

There’s a lot of things no one tells you about. Things like, who takes the body away, what day to schedule the funeral, how to pick a casket, what flowers look nicest against mahogany, what should he wear, who to give his things to, what to do with the room, how to cancel his credit cards, how to answer the phone when they ask for him, how to transfer ownership and how much money it’ll all cost.

(Don’t worry though, your life insurance will cover all the things that didn’t end up working for you that we still have to pay for)

The things they do tell you, aren’t quite right. They say it’s supposed to go:
1. Denial,
2. Anger,
3. Bargaining,
4. Depression,
5. Acceptance

but it’s really more like everything all at once and then nothing at all and then everything again and then nothing for awhile.

They don’t tell you that step five is somewhere you never really want to be.

It hasn’t stopped raining since they moved his body away from his bed. I don’t really want it to. I want the world to feel sad with me because I don’t know how else I’m supposed to measure what I’m supposed to do. If it storms, I’ll be angry I suppose, if it rains, I’ll be sad, if it’s sunny, I’m sure I’ll be deep in denial. I’ll let the world tell me how to feel. I don’t really want to do it myself.

You know, it’s easier to live in other people’s words because I no longer want to use my own. I want to live in books and movies and video games because then I can feel what they feel since it’s probably better than what I feel.

They don’t tell you that sleeping means laying in bed for hours awake and then laying in bed for hours more to sleep.

They don’t tell you that when you’re working or scheduling or taking care of everybody and everything that you stop and think and everything around you looks, is, feels like him. They don’t tell you that when you look in the mirror all you see is everything he made you to be.

They don’t tell you that you take a step and think dad, that you sit down and think dad, that when you try not to think dad you think

dad, dad, dad

爸爸爸*

We have to pick a picture to use for his shrine. There’s not enough pictures of him.  I think I have three on my phone.  I should have taken one on my birthday because I knew he wasn’t going to make it to the next one.

He didn’t even make it to Christmas.

A baby was born two days ago, my dad died the day after. It’s funny how the world balances itself out. I think I knew the second my aunt went into labor that my dad was going to die. Doesn’t make it easier.

The smoke alarm went off yesterday at six AM. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have watched him die. I would have slept in till three, I would have had good dreams, I wouldn’t have been so tired.

Thestrals, I keep thinking about thestrals and about how I see them everywhere I turn.

The best man on Earth was always him.

The last thing he told me before he lost his mind was to respect everyone and to take care of everyone.

He once drove me two hours away from home so I could spend the day with my friends.  I told him to go and enjoy himself for the day, he said no and waited in the car all day, then he drove my friends and I to eat.  

After he stopped talking and started grunting, I became his nurse and not his daughter, he became my patient and not my father.  I kept hoping he would die because then he would stop asking to but then he did and I feel like there’s nothing left to hope for.

Everyone keeps telling me sorry and that I’m strong and asking if I’m okay and I never realized that those words only make me feel worse.  Like every time I hear them, I think he’s gone.  Like every sorry is a measurement of how long it’s been since they told me I’ll never see him again.

Four professors, six classmates, every family member, and none of my friends.  I haven’t told them yet.  I don’t want to.  I don’t know how to.  

Fact:  Incense only burns your eyes when you’re crying.

Fact:  I can’t wear the color red anymore

Fact: I don’t know when I’ll be able to stop reminding myself to breathe because sometimes I just sit there and think and I realize that I haven’t.

I keep seeing his last.

Fact: They wore blue latex gloves when they touched him and wrapped him and took him away like death was contagious and they didn’t want to catch it.

i held him with my hands and kissed his forehead and told him i’m sorry

i’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry

Fact: The world wasn’t good enough for you dad.  It gave you nothing and you gave it everything.  I’m sorry it was so bad.  I’m sorry you didn’t get to see it better.

i’m so sorry. i’m sorry.  i’m sorry.  i’m sorry.

Fact:  I don’t know how to do this without you

Fact:  You were already gone before you were gone.

The kind of gone that means you’ll never come back.

I knew this already.  I watched you lose your body and then lose your mind.

Fact: It doesn’t make it easier.

Fact:  I’m still sorry

Fact:  I love you.

Fact:  I want you to come back.

Fact:  You’re gone.

Fact:  You’re never coming back.

 

* Pronouced ba, the word for dad.