one year ago, i wrote this little piece of prose about my life in rochester. i’m happy to say that many of the ghosts mentioned below have since found their resting places. still, i think it’s a nice portrait of what it’s like to live alone in a new/old place. It was originally written in my planning book while teaching a night class at RIT.
“A quick side-note. This place is full of ghosts. This university, I mean, and I suppose the city, too. There are so many instances when I’ll be driving down some road and a memory, crystal clear and almost audible, glides into view, taking a seat next to me. It does not vanish so quickly. They tend to linger as I pass on through the streets, below traffic lights, around corners. I remember waiting fretfully in the Delta Sonic on Rt. 15. I remember Clay’s green truck, sitting as he drove, that awful beige interior. I see, suddenly, his beard, the way he tipped his head back when he laughed, I hear his laughter, his voice. I remember how his smile filled his whole face. And then there was the night he insisted on french fries from McDonalds; I knew he was missing his mother terribly. It broke my heart.
I remember spending my 23rd birthday by myself on the frozen banks of the river at Genesee Valley Park. I was taking hundreds of pictures, trying to preserve the memory of a lonesome birthday bathed in beautiful golden light. I remember smokey bonfires behind dilapidated houses surrounded by rusted car parts and patches of poison ivy clinging to the chain-link fence. Michele’s laughter rises up through the furnace of my memory; another steamy, gray ghost shimmering in the thin winter air. She got so serious, so soon. I remember the pink light of the morning and the groaning sounds the wooden boats made as we stretched our oars out over the icy water at 5:45 am.
I remember so many things, so many people, so many instances that, while seemingly insignificant, somehow helped me to arrive here: this strange place of delayed early adulthood and professionalism, the place of missing continents and disappeared forests and faces. Of lovelessness, of intense doubts and fears balanced by waves of bone-cracking confidence. And all the while the ghosts continue to come, continue to flutter in through open car windows and up over stacks of papers to grade. They come from everywhere.
Most of them are here in the city, making themselves visible whenever I get close, but some visit from far away—in space, and in time. Some of them really are dead, others are just gone. Others yet are sounds at night on the side of some unnamed road by a trashy beach, sacred smoke, roosters and sea waves, conversations and unbridled laughter, things said in passing, or sitting on a toilet in a cabin in the Amazon, watching the rain fall through the dozens of layers of tropical leaves.
I can only suppose this sort of paranormal activity is to be expected when one is alone so much of the time. Alone and with so many experiences, loves, and losses behind them, now vanished or tucked into memory books and miniature SD cards.
Ghosts are the norm. They keep me sane, maybe. They remind me of where I’ve been, how I’ve lived, what I’ve learned, and how I managed to arrive here. As difficult and lonely as this place is at times, it’s also been a place of intense joy, learning, and movement forward.”