When I was six years old, my atheist father accompanied his eccentric sister on a visit to a psychic. Such is a secret that he’s forbidden to disclose to my mother; as a firm believer in spirituality and being aware of my aunt’s frequent ventures, she’s resolute in maintaining an after-the-fact ignorance.
Consequently, nearly a decade and a half later, I am the sole person to share the depth of his secret; that on what should have been an ordinary afternoon, a fragile, elderly figure named Eleanor predicted to a non-believer that the dark-haired-girl he loved would gravitate toward language, so much so that she would experience great success regarding the subject as she matured. Eleanor has since converted him.
Not so much converted but influenced, my father clarified to the now-adult version of said girl. I’d arrived home half an hour after curfew after heavily speeding and narrowly avoiding a police ticket. When the hallway light had turned on the instant I’d slipped in the doorway, I’d assumed he would confiscate my keys. Instead, he’d followed me to our living room without taking the keys from their hook.
My father has always been my best friend. While to some, it’s a prodding discomfort to hear a parent admit their humanity, our abstract conversations are the aspect of our relationship I cherish most.
And so I listened, like routine, to additional details the woman had correctly predicted: that my father would be in a wedding party within five years, that we had bought a new car, that we would order the wrong French doors for our dining room.
My father is a scientific man; he rationed his belief by the truth that time slows once in space, and explained to me the proof that scientists set four atomic clocks flying in different directions, their resulting differences consistent with special and general relativity. He thinks that, for every Charleston, there are psychics born with an ability to touch the forthcoming, to transcend and pivot into patterns of time that most are unable to uncover.
Exactly one week ago, I had a similar conversation with a man I’d met earlier within the day. We lay in his bed, engrossed in a series of questions that I, in reflection, regard as invasive for two people who’d first spoken mere hours ago. When it was my turn to post a meddling prompt, I’d asked whether or not he believed in ghosts.
I’d meant the typical, terrifying kind, the headless kind that my grandmother once swore she’d caught a glimpse of as a child. He was a physics student; I was certain he would immediately disregard any proof of a supernatural phenomenon. Instead, he’d confirmed my belief of ghosts wholeheartedly, insisting the normalcy of speaking to one in a response that resembled something Carl Sagan would say:
Books are ghosts; I listen to the stories and thoughts of a person who died thousands of years ago as vividly as if they were next to me. Books are a way of transcending our limited lives — just a hint of immortality, the author’s hope of not being forgotten.
Only then was it apparent to me just how similar he was to my father, though it should have been overt from his bookshelf of non-fiction literature and homemade whiteboard. But, as my thoughts’ ambiance became the literature of his family’s inconceivable stories, I felt a tangible weight to his interpretation.
Admittedly, I’d originally planned to abandon my growing self-awareness for the new year. In a feeble attempt to do so, I’d planned a date with a friend. I’d planned to smoke weed. I’d planned to get a tattoo. I’d planned to live freely and selfishly.
As someone who’d gravitated toward reading from a young age, as someone who’d chosen to foster that gravitation toward postsecondary study, my unwavering ability to understand stories has left me overanalyzing my actions. Just as I’d spent my childhood urging that instinct, through reckless action, I was urging its release. I still want my tattoo.
I yearn to understand, to control. It’s futile. There will always be knowledge I won’t be able to refine. There will be literature I won’t be able to grasp. There will be ghosts that I’ll never speak to.
On the contrary, there are thoughts I do understand, but they travel so quickly through my mind that if I attempt to isolate one to study, it would evaporate, and I would instead face my mortality. If I were to focus too much on what I cannot recognize, I would lose the knowledge I already have trying to find its answer. The thoughts would become dust. I will one day return to dust.
“You’ve never told me that before,” my dad answered after I told him my opinion. It is the reason I’ve abandoned a new-year rebellion to read Sagan, the reason I remember my grandmother’s narration of headless ghosts, the reason I publicly unpacked my soul when my father got sick and, in doing so, inadvertently launched my journalism career.
A juvenile habit: when uncontrollably overwhelmed or excited, I play voice recordings of poetry and circle the island in my kitchen. On what should have been an ordinary afternoon, a psychic predicted to a non-believer that a little girl would experience success in language, so much so that it would become her identity.
As I circle, I don’t consider my feelings or purpose. Instead, I catch a glimpse of my true form: afraid and small, a speck of dust occupying a flash of existence, running to the sensation at such a great speed that time slows down and I simply exist.