“It seems, when you lose something, or someone, something strange happens. It isn’t denial. At least, for me, it isn’t. It’s like, knowing at dawn the air’s tears will be wiped away, to clear another aspect of the day, but not even caring. Not even recognizing. In fact, taking everything about this cleansing for granted.
You don’t see the person or thing as gone. An aspect of you is even evil enough to thwart grief. Because, you know, beneath it all, it’s inevitable it happens to all of us. So, the repetition of its occurrence stymies its originality, even as its originality is always sustained when it happens on a personal level."
These are the words of a character in my new, very unfinished novella; the doctor, that is. My novella focuses quite a bit on how death and recurrence both sensationalize and sensitize us. And being haunted, is either true hysteria or the hysterics of consciousness resuscitating the future. Yes, the future. Because, ghosts drive us into the future; we create a boundary for them, yes, they're from the past, they seem to be gone, but they're carried with us into some sphere of nothingness. Strange, how this sphere correlates so well the concept of a hereafter; as if, both the future and the hereafter share a secret not controlled by fate or chance, but denial.
In my novella, Evadne Duncan is haunted by her fiancee, Titus, who died after being struck by a car. They live on an estate, called Malmere, which is 300 feet away from a cliff overlooking the Long Island Sound. Which is surrounded by forest, The Wood. And there's this point of forest, beyond these gates, that is desert-like. Insomuch as once you enter beyond them, the gates, the air is sapped, there are no animals, the trees even seem scorched. It is all nothingness, stillness. And this is where Titus's ghost remains.
Even as my novella deals much with the concepts of love and loss, a pivotal scene occurs when Evadne ventures into this area of the Wood during a storm. As she enters this area, it's hot and stifled. So, she takes off her jacket, and sees Titus, who proclaims Evadne is in the realm of dirt, earth and he in the realm of the shadows and the sky. As Evadne goes farther into the woods, she comes upon a mere, in which she undresses herself, and submerges. And as she emerges to the surface, Titus is watching:
"When she emerged from the depths, she caught Titus’s eye. He was watching her, admiring her voluptuous neo-raphaelite frame. And, maybe because she was still inviolate, she found his eyes a violation upon her soul. And, for the first time, she felt anger towards Titus. Her body became the air, her soul the earth. And Titus trespassed the line that separated them; he ventured too far into the heat of the sun.
Evadne was hunted. He had hunted her all the way to this Lake. A place where she baptized herself in darkness. Just so she could get a glimpse of where he was; but he saw her first, and this was a violation she couldn’t understand."
From here I re-create the myth of Artemis and Actaeon:
“ 'Fear no more the heat of the sun, for it is in darkness that the sun evolves,' she whispered, and shut her eyes. And listened to Titus’s awful cries. 'Evadne! Evadne!' But she could do nothing. She looked at the surface of the lake, played with her finger so that it made little rivulets from the water.
And, Evadne saw her reflection. It was as if she were looking in a mirror, crystal clear, that would break with the touch of a finger. Her eyes were the color of pine, her lips redder than the sun when it melted at dusk. And her hair, in its wetness, frizzed into a mane of blue-black curls.
She was a part of the Wood. She didn’t want to leave. And as she grew more acquainted with the face staring back, she knew it was only Titus who made her this way. So she cried, and her tears hit the lake as drops of blood. There were no nymphets to swim by her side, to console. She was left with the guilt of killing him.
Evadne turned, and saw the hounds devouring the stag. It couldn’t be. She hadn’t killed the thing she loved; even if all things that were loved were destroyed, she couldn’t fathom doing it to him. She wanted to become the air, like he; she had turned him into earth, into fodder for the carnivores, so she could appease her selfish desire, of knowing what it was like to be ethereal and sublime.
She shooed the hounds away. And knelt over the dead stag. And her tears were no longer tears of blood, but dirt. Which, as she cried more, became muddy. It wasn’t until she gazed at the sky, now grey and thunderous, that she knew she had disturbed the balance. The stillness that only the dead deserved."
I focus on this myth because my novella pertains to the significance of myth, yes, but also because the concept of violation infiltrates every haunting. And here's where I want to go with this stumbling blog. In being violated, like Artemis, Evadne violated her boundaries; she had Titus turned into a stag, devoured by his own hounds. All because she wanted to violate him in the way he had violated her. To show him the boundaries, between earth and shadow. And, to show him that in becoming earth again, that in dying again, he had really killed her. It wasn't the guilt over killing him that's meant to be significant here; it's the guilt of disturbing balances, between here and the hereafter.
There's still quite a way for me to go with this piece. But, it isn't just a Henry James Turn of the Screw (I shouldn't say isn't just, because James was a genius, and the boundaries between madness and real haunting so ephemeral, in his famous novella, that you wonder if the two aren't co-dependent on each other). And, I suggest everyone watch The Innocents; Truman Capote and his co-writers did a fine job adapting James' novella to the screen. But, back to the "reality" of this blog, it does more than dance with hysteria and "truth." It accesses the very means by which we're violated, daily, by death. And how recognizing this, helps us cooperate with life in a way that isn't prosaic, but, mythic. As Dolores (Evadne's mother "maman") thinks:
"What were ghosts but the lingering resolutions left behind? The things that had no beginning or end. But lived in the mind by virtue of being made up?
Dolores had never really seen a ghost so realistic as Titus. There was a time, when she could feel eyes upon her, on the estate, before he died. When it seemed people were whispering, she even heard them, words not meant to be heard, but experienced. And the experience wasn’t in their translation. But in the fear their mood translated.
Maybe Evadne understood this, but never let on. She had to protect her daughter. She couldn’t let her go. But how what that suffice with Mitch? He seemed to linger on the doctor’s every word, as if, it were too difficult for him to grasp that maybe this ghost wasn’t a figment. But a fragment of something grander than imagination. Of our need to manage the world by holding on to all we must let go."
Do we manage the world by holding on to all we "must" let go? Or is this letting go a survival tactic? An illusion meant to allude us to times, which, may not have been better, but carry with them the conscience of antiquity?
I know from experience, as I miss my father dearly, how difficult it is not just to "let go," of the physical being, but to live in the fruition of their hereafter. To mine the ascendancy of what we'll never know. And by being here, go to places that make us angry, "irrational," and, more than anything, sad. Almost like having your lifeblood severed from its breath. I'll end with something Evadne tells her mother, about Titus, because this really sums it up:
“ 'I don’t know, maman, it’s just, I’ve always seen this world as a self-containing place. Where what we are within takes us without. And really, it’s what's without that takes us within. Titus taught me this; seeing him, after he ‘died.’ I took a handful of his soul, and turned him into a cluster of chrysanthemums and kept them close to my heart. And all this reminded me that the secret to life isn’t death, it’s having your beauty severed from its breath.' ”