I used to dream about ghosts.
From the time I was a child, I had a recurrent dream where I was terror-filled: running, running, always running. Trying to escape some invisible thing that would never let me leave. I can remember pieces of the dream, but most of all, I remember the feeling—the pit in my stomach that made me nauseous and left my heart racing when I woke up.
My childhood was the stuff of nightmares. Homelessness, drugs, and stories that either seem fake when I say them out loud or that I’m not ready to talk about publicly yet. The list is nearly endless.
I’m an adult now. The things that put me in danger as a child that I couldn’t control are behind me. The people that I was supposed to be able to trust, but couldn’t, have boundaries countries-wide. My rage, difficult to contain then, but carefully acknowledged and confronted until I could process anger and hurt and fear more rationally, is calmer now.
And yet: that invisible danger that I can’t escape is so familiar to me that I can still recall it at a moment’s notice. The fear remains. My throat seizing up, my stomach churning, a hopeless feeling that I can’t shake, all still so fresh, like I’m still that little curly-headed child that people smile at and then use for whatever purpose they like.
And sometimes, still, I have to close my eyes and will the feeling away, trying not to see flashes of worst-case scenarios for everything that makes me happy.
Sometimes, still, I walk away from my partner and my trust falters and I think—briefly, but still there—He could just leave me here, because he doesn’t care about me anymore.
Sometimes, still, I think to myself, These people aren’t really my friends, they’re just talking to me because they have to.
Sometimes. Still. I have that dream. An invisible demon, flying after me, flipping my childhood play tables and ripping my clothes from my suitcase so I can’t get away. The weight of fear is so heavy, and I feel so small.
And sometimes, I worry that will never leave me.
“I Used to Dream About Ghosts” was originally published in the Fall 2021 Tomorrow & Tomorrow Anthology, which you can find here.
This piece is autobiographical and references some painful parts of my childhood. Times are different now, but some things remain. I used to dream about ghosts, but not so much anymore.