Ghosts are real. That’s a fact.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Ghosts are real, and what’s more, they are everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes, any and every color, ranging in age from infant to ancient. They take on many forms—from the cute and friendly to the eerily familiar.
Sometimes we can see them, but only if they want to be seen. Sometimes they’re a feeling—a sudden coolness in the otherwise-hot Los Angeles sun. Sometimes they aren’t a they, but rather a what: a bicycle, a coffee shop… a home.
They are here. They are watching. And they are taking over my hometown.
On a recent trip home (to a completely non-spooky, non-haunted, sleepy town by the San Francisco Bay), I had the ghosting of a lifetime without ever opening my Tinder app. One of my favorite things to do when I go home is to visit some of my old “local haunts.” There’s the coffee shop, where I did the bulk of my high school creative writing. Even after high school, I found myself constantly returning, mostly for the giant black and white cookies. The park down the block from my house, where I spent every summer afternoon until the sun went down and they had to call me inside. And let’s not forget the city’s favorite pizza joint, home of overpriced, over-cheesed pizza, but plenty of video games to keep every kid occupied for hours.
They’re still there. Only… they’re not.
The coffee shop, formerly Java Rama, has been through two different re-designs and re-openings since high school—they’re currently on remodel number three. The park is still a park, but the sand is no more, having been replaced by tan bark. We used to call it “Tunnel Park”—there’s no longer a tunnel. The pizza place is another story completely. It has not changed at all: same carpet, same décor, same set of games—the ‘90s memorialized.
Until recently, it had been seven months since my last visit home. Only it doesn’t quite feel like home anymore—more like an imitation, a snapshot. There are some places that haven’t changed a bit. There are others that no longer exist, though the locals will tell you stories of what they used to be “back in their day.” And then there are the locals themselves. The girl you hated in high school, because she always beat you out for the role in the school play—she works at the movie theater. Your oldest best friend’s mother—she pours wine at the winery across town. There’s no avoiding them—ghosts of your past. Ghosts of what could have been, of what should never have been. An alternate reality, if you will.
It’s a surreal experience to go “home”, only to realize that home isn’t home anymore so much as it is a place to visit—a weekend getaway from adulthood. It’s not the haven it once was; rather, it’s something (or someone) that haunts you until you return the next time. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my visits. On the contrary, I find each one more enlightening than the last…
Sometimes I see friends and family, but only when I want to be seen. Sometimes it’s an occasion of joy in an otherwise unhappy time; sometimes not. Sometimes I’m not really there, but home follows me anyway: a postcard, a memory, a smile.
I am here. I am always watching. And I’m a ghost in my hometown.