There are times when in my peripheral vision, I will detect motion – blurred or a smear of light. How one might expect to catch a glimpse of a ghost. This ghost, unconvinced perhaps that it should reveal itself to you, inconsequential and mortal as you are.
And so a test: A shifting of light. A breath of wind just enough to flutter through the loose pages spread across your desk.
Clever ghosts. Nudging you awake in the small hours.
So you rise, make your way down the stairs. Fill a glass of water at the kitchen sink. And as you are about to set it down, you turn your head.
Is that you, ghost? It is a lonely hour. Stay.
If I am asked, I will say that over time, my ambitions have become more modest. A few quiet hours to read, to write. Now and then, with friends, a lingering dinner for which I have made fussy and overwrought preparations. An afternoon at the beach, the brown limbs of my children dusted with damp sand. A familiar hand on my thigh as the light fades.
Long gone the daydreams of boardrooms and sleek suits and wood-paneled offices. The immigrant daughter’s fantasy of ascendancy. The orphan’s compulsion to prove a particular kind of worth.
With each day that passes, it becomes clearer how ill-suited I am for such a trajectory. How unwilling I am to bear its myriad costs.
We choose a table by the window, my friend and me, and it overlooks the dark river. She has been sailing. A couple weeks here at home and then she is off again. She names the islands: Antigua, Barbuda. And then the saints, she says: Lucia, Vincent, Christopher and Kitts.
A vocabulary of difference. She speaks to me of island and rainforest. Mango and breadfruit and the quiet Caribbean at night. And when I tell her of my life, it is parking lot and sidewalk and desk. It is gas station and snow.
She tells me of her friend, who is dying. And of the woman whose son hung himself in his apartment several months ago. How she hears from her every couple weeks. It is dark, the messages say. It has been so dark. But now after some time has passed, she says, there are at least fleeting glimpses of light.
My mother, in a dream, once told me that I was a spirit sent to protect her from sadness.
You are a ray of pure light, she said.
She was standing at the foot of my bed. She was wearing a nightgown I had never seen. It was satin, the color of the flesh of a ripe peach and its hem grazed the floor.
I was sitting up in my bed. That is too much for me, I said. And she grew agitated, raised her voice:
You are a ray of pure light. You are a spirit. A protector. You do not choose, she said. You are chosen.
I walk through the city on a cold rainy afternoon, my hood up, my eyes cast down. This protracted winter, relentless.
There is a man standing beneath the bus shelter, and as I approach he calls out to me. Excuse me miss can I ask you a question.
I am sorry, I say as I walk past.
Hey, he says as I quicken my pace. Hey, don’t you hear me calling you?
The rain has kept the skaters away, the rink downtown pristine and white. A saccharine loop of music plays as rainwater collects on its surface.
It is raining harder now.
Through a friend, I am introduced to a woman, another adoptee, and we meet to have a drink downtown. We talk easily. We have traveled, it seems, on similar paths.
When she speaks of her adoption, she says: All my life I have been the one who was chosen. It is only recently that I have come to understand that I am also the one who was given up.
We sip our drinks. We touch our napkins to the corners of our eyes. We laugh. This sudden intimacy thrills. After years of guarded, cynical youth, how willing I have become to take comfort from wherever it is given.
When we are done, we embrace, make plans for the next occasion.
I walk to my car in the cold damp night and think how strange that we should come to know each other now. All these years, I have embraced only the unwanted, relinquished self. How tightly, all these years, I have held this. To imagine the other side of this coin. To not only have been given up but to have been chosen.
For a time, as a child, I had an invisible friend. I cannot tell you what I called her because the name is such a strange and inexplicable phrase that I cannot bear to see it written down. But she lived in a narrow pantry closet in the kitchen of the apartment where I spent my childhood.
After dinner, while the adults lingered at the table, I would slip into the kitchen and stand by the closet and call to her. Sometimes, she would talk to me through the closed door. Sometimes, she would tell me to open it. And once in a while, she would beg me to come inside.
It was not easy for us to both fit in there, with the dustpan and the broom and the rolls of paper towels. But her requests were so rare and she would ask so sweetly, in a voice barely above a whisper.
Come inside, my friend, come inside.
I am so lonely here. Come inside.