Some events stick in your mind, try as you might to drive them out. Try as you might to deny they happened. Try as you might to explain them away.
As a child I lived for one year in Belize. And recently while going through some old photos, I found two pictures: one of me and one of the house I lived in—in Punta Gorda, a small seaside village in southern Belize. These photos brought back many memories—but one really stands out.
We lived down the street from a small cemetery. In fact, there was only one other house closer to the cemetery than our house: Miss Mary’s.
Miss Mary and everyone else there was superstitious—and wouldn’t go anywhere near the cemetery at night or even at twilight. My parents said it was nonsense, and they tried to reassure me that I didn’t have to worry about the ghosts or spirits that my friend Kolo told me about.
“We don’t believe in those things,” Mom told my seven-year-old self when I approached her with a worried brow. So it was okay that we lived within a stone’s throw of the cemetery, even at twilight or even later when no one else would walk down the road toward that cemetery. And even though our closest neighbor, Miss Mary, made sure she was home safe and sound before then.
One particular day my mother and I were weeding in the garden. As the day wore into evening, and twilight came, my mother started to pick okra and beans for dinner. As the light faded, the colors turned gray, and I helped my mother pick the beans, careful as I stepped between the tightly-growing plants. On other days, we found spiders and once even a six-foot long snake.
I hurried, wishing myself back in our small cozy house, away from whatever was hiding beneath our feet. My mother was nervous, too; I could tell because she pulled the okra from their bushes instead of using the pocketknife she carried in her apron pocket.
As darkness settled around us, a shadowy figure silently emerged from the murky darkness, walking down the street toward the cemetery, toward our house—toward us. The figure was tall and shrouded in gray and glided along the road. I couldn’t see any feet touching the ground beneath the sweeping gown.
I reached for my mother’s hand and she squeezed reassuringly.
“Hello Mary!” My mother called out cheerfully as the figure walked by.
“Mary,” My mother called out again.
Still no answer!
I clutched my mother’s hand, not sure what to think. I couldn’t see the face inside the hood or under the veil. But I knew my mother had to be right. It had to be Mary!
The figure glided right by our house, less than 20 feet away, never hesitating or answering, never turning toward us.
My mother and I stood there a few more seconds, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, watching the figure disappear down the street, vanishing into the gloomy grayness around Mary’s house….and the graveyard.
We looked at each other.
“Who was it, Mom?”
“Must have been Mary,” my mother said matter-of-factly. “She didn’t hear me call,” she added with less conviction.
“Are you sure?” I pulled on her hand.
She briefly hesitated. “Of course. Who else, what else could it be?”
“A ghost, Mom? Could it be a ghost? Kolo says there are ghosts… in the graveyard.”
My mom shook her head.
“Are there ghosts in the graveyard Mom?”
“No, no ghosts! No I don’t think so.”
My mother swept the vegetable basket up in her arms and headed toward the house. I followed without question.
That evening, after dinner, my mom and I told my dad about “the figure,” as my mother would always call it. Even after I went to bed that night, I could hear them talking about what it was, what it could be.
My mother was a great storyteller, and I heard her tell the story of “the figure” many times. Over time, as the years went by, she chuckled as she told it. But I could still hear the chill in her voice. She staunchly refused to ever admit it might really have been a ghost, and yet still she told the story.
For me, it’s not that easy. That warm summer evening was long ago, but I still remember it like yesterday. Standing in the garden, hand-in-hand with my mom, I feel the cool shiver down my spine, the goose bumps on my arms, and the uneasiness in my stomach.
Because the event that sticks in my mind is a ghost story. And try as I might, I just can’t explain it away.