There are certain aspects of life you never really engage with until you have to…until you’re forced to. I know that now. A lot of people say they want to understand death. They say they want to learn to embrace it, and explore the beauty in it. They’re full of shit. You don’t want to understand. You don’t want to understand what it’s like to live every day under a black cloud of memories that hurt too much to remember, and yet far more to bury deep inside yourself, the shame of trying to forget how happy you used to be. You don’t want to watch your little girl wither away for two goddamn years, to watch her shrink into nothing right before your eyes. Try moving on from that. Try picking up the pieces after that. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do; and it doesn’t get any easier when your baby girl’s spirit chooses to root itself in your home rather than crossover to an eternal afterlife. At this point, I’m just thankful I have a few spots I can escape to when the ghost of my beautiful dead daughter becomes too much to deal with.
1. The Basement
We never let Cassie into the basement when she was alive because of the rat infestation, but once the crowdfunding came together for her funeral costs we were finally able to fix up that chintzy paneling and afford a decent exterminator. Now, I’ve got the recliner and my Playstation down there and, while it isn’t much yet, I’m thinking it could become a certified Man Cave in due time. Dr. Towns says that an important part of grieving is giving yourself space to work through things at an appropriate pace. It’s important not to rush the process, he says, which is why I’m holding off on snagging a pool table until I can find a regulation sized one in red felt. Patience is key, he says.
2. The Garage
Cassie had been scared of the garage ever since that bat got trapped in there a few years back, so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about her apparition running around in there and reminding me of what my life once was. Dr. Towns mentioned that a lot of men deal with grieving by taking up projects, so I figured now was as good a time as any to work on the old Mustang again. She’s an absolute beauty, a cherry red ’69 with the original drum brakes, a dual exhaust, and a V6 cylinder engine that still purrs like the kitten we promised to get Cassandra for her 9th birthday. I would give anything to have been able to bring that cat home and see the look in Cassie’s eyes, but I guess I’ll just have to settle for being the envy of all my buddies once the Cherry Bomb is back in roadworthy condition.
3. Underneath the Patio
Cassie would never darego under here back when things were good and life mattered. She was pretty sure there were monsters living under the house, and I wasn’t exactly rushing to tell her otherwise. She had such an imagination, my tiny adventurer, and the last thing I wanted was her crawling around down there and getting hurt. Pretty ironic, all things considered. Dr. Towns says it’s important to maintain goals and remember that I still have things in life to work towards. Writing down notes of things I hope to accomplish is a big way to look ahead, he says. I woke up under the patio last week with a sticky note in my shirt pocket that said “Find a cure to cancer. Do whatever it takes.” I have a degree in social work from University of Phoenix Online.
4. The Spare Bedroom
We usually kept this room locked up when Cassie was still with us, and she generally knew better than to come in. Jess keeps all her sewing and knitting stuff in here, and Cassie was just always getting into some kind of trouble whenever she snuck in. Just too many pins and needles for such a mischievous kid, ya know? But there was this one time – God, I wish I’d taken a picture of this – when Cassie snuck in while Jess was taking a shower, and wrapped an entire ball of yarn around herself. An entire ball! She had to be about five, maybe six, and she was so caught up in the yarn that she could barely move! Eventually I find her, and she’s wriggling around on the carpet just covered in yarn, and she looks up me with her little gap tooth smile and goes, “Daddy! Daddy! Look! I’m a Casserpillar!” I mean how clever is that?! She was so smart, my little Casserpillar. I come in here sometimes, and I lay right down on the spot of the floor where I found her wriggling and laughing and smiling. At first, I worried that spending time in here would be intrusive towards Jess’s own grieving, but ironically, it would seem that I spend a lot more time in here than she does now. For the most part Jess just sleeps these days. Dr. Towns says this is a common side-effect of depression, and while I wish I could spend more time with Jess, I also I understand why she would want to spend days at a time in the dark of our bedroom. When you walk into the living room every morning to find the TV turned to Cartoon Network and the ghost of your only daughter practicing ballet, every moment from then on out just kind of feels like a waking nightmare.
5. The Minivan
Since the liminal plane containing my daughter’s soul seems to only really reach the 3900 sq. feet that make up our home, backyard, and driveway, I’ve recently begun parking the minivan in the street. I spent most nights out in the van during that first month without Cassie, though back then I was actually driving around town, sometimes until dawn. At this point, I don’t even bother bringing the keys with me, just a bottle and a book. While it’s true that I’d do just about anything to forget for a minute what has become of my once-charmed existence, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about my time out by the curb. Honestly – and this is something Dr. Towns sort of refuses to acknowledge, which has been a real point of frustration for me – the drinking isn’t meant to numb the pain. There’s no numbing this pain. There’s no muting this roaring deficit in my being. It really just comes down to this: If you’ve ever read Koontz, you know that his masterful storytelling goes hand-in-hand with a little sauce. Them’s just facts. Like I’ve told Dr. Towns over and over, Jack Daniels and Dean Koontz were my go-to duo long before my world came crashing down. I just happen to need them now more than ever.
6. The Attic
None of us ever really went into the attic much when Cassie was alive, what with all the loose insulation and fiberglass up here. That stuff doesn’t really matter so much now. I go up here sometimes to just think, to process. Lately, I’ve actually started bringing my laptop – just to get a little writing done, keep the ol’ ticker in shape. Dr. Towns says it’s healthy to exercise the parts of the brain that we often come to neglect over time. I was about halfway finished with a screenplay based of off Dean Koontz’s 1983 bestseller Phantoms around the time we found out Jess was pregnant. I had been working for Jess’s dad at the time, helping him sell car parts out of the family shop, but every night after my shift, like clockwork, I would just sit down and immediately get so absorbed in that screenplay. Even during the first couple months of the pregnancy, I’d be writing for hours every night – I had such a strong vision for how everything would turn out, and I even had this idea in my head that Ray Liota could play the enigmatic Sherriff Bryce Hammond. Jess would be right there next to me, knitting little caps and booties. It’s amazing how time flies, isn’t it? Ten years seems like a lifetime ago now. Though, I guess in the case of my only daughter Cassandra, it kind of was. It’s stuffy up here, and I’ve developed some pretty bad skin irritation, but I’d rather scratch myself bloody than watch the ghost of my daughter retrace the steps of a life that was stolen from her. It’s like…it’s like watching some little girl playing the role of my sweet pea. She looks just like her, and sounds just like her. She calls out to me sometimes, and she’s so happy. She’s not in pain, either; it’s as if the last two-and-a-half years never happened. It’s like an alternate universe. Sometimes, I’ll get up in the middle of the night and in my half-sleep, I’ll find her standing in the hallway. I’ll reach down to touch her head, thinking maybe she had a bad dream. But, my hand passes right through her. It’s like losing her all over again, and every time, just like that, I remember that it’s my bad dream. It’s my never-ending bad dream.