I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!- and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barret Browning , sonnet 43
When I think about him at all, it's in bits and pieces. After all, what has he ever been to me but a ghost? Which is why I hate, after all these years, explaining what I've known all along.
Til Human Voices Wake You
A cold hand on my shoulder, the coldest touch I have ever known, just enough weight to wake me. Even when the faint pressure of that ghostly hand is gone, I can still feel its chill all the way through to my bones. I've lived in California all my life, and the touch of the ghost that I knew, just knew, lived in my house was the most chilling thing I had ever experienced. In my mind, echoing and distant, I can hear a faintly accented voice insisting that I go to the school and help Suze. When some part of my mind protests that it's late and I'm tired, the voice presses harder against my brain. She needs, the voice insists, for me to go right now. As scared as I am both for my new sister and by the invisible presence I could sense watching me as I pulled my clothes on, I feel a trickle of excitement at this proof that the house is haunted. I knew I was right.
Suze, getting dropped off by a car I don't know. She left with Jake an hour ago, and now there's this strange car, but she's in it. I watch from the windows as the driver leans in to kiss her, watch as she suddenly bolts from the car. The car pulls away, but Suze is still outside, yelling at something. Something that interrupted the kiss. Something that is, I hear her clearly say as I come outside, acting like a jealous boyfriend. I know she can actually see the ghost in the house, but this is the first time I actually understand that there might be more to it than just that she can see him. I come down to talk to her, because she looks foolish, yelling at the air. It's enough that people think I'm strange. They don't need to think it about Suze, too.
Dancing in the Dark
I think I knew he had come to the prom when I saw Suze leave the dance to sit by herself in an empty courtyard. Of course, it was only empty to the rest of us. Suze, she had all the company she needed. Because when I came around the corner, I saw Suze dancing, her arms around nothing I can see, her head resting on empty air. This, I knew from my observations, was her only dance this night. Saying nothing, I backed off and left her to her moment of romance. It wasn't like she was going to have many.
Suze's door closed, as always, but I can hear her talking. She's half laughing, half arguing. You'd think she was on the phone. "No, no, quit!" I hear, but she's laughing, so she doesn't really want whatever it is to stop. I think she forgets, sometimes, that I'm home. That my room is so close. That I can hear her. A pause in her conversation, and then more laughter. I know that if went through the door right now, without knocking, the phone would be firmly on the hook and Suze would be, to my eyes at least, alone. This is exactly why I always knock first. Loudly.
Older now, coming in to my own, as the books put it. Suze's door is open because no one else is home. I walk in, just to chat, cause Suze is my sister now, and we do that kind of a thing. That's when I see the chess board on her desk, and I ask, stupidly, who she's playing with. She says, "No one," in the tone of voice that I've learned over the years means Jesse. I ask if that isn't just encouraging him, and she just looks at me crossly, so I look away. I don't like fighting with Suze. That's when I see the white rook move. By itself. Yeah, yeah, I get it, Jesse, you don't need to spell it out. Her white knight. Good to know.
Light on Her Feet
Coming home unexpectedly early from computer club one day, hearing music, old fashioned and romantic, pouring out of the stereo speakers in the living room. I open the door to see Suze dancing, swaying gently to the music. Fine, no problem, lots of people dance by themselves. But Suze is half a foot off the ground, held by nothing I can see, and her head is resting lovingly on nothing. And she looks, I realize before she is gently lowered to the ground, happier than I have ever seen her look. I finally understand why none of the boys who call for Suze ever call twice, and why she's not interested in getting a date on Saturday nights. Yeah, she looks happy, but all I feel is sad. What kind of a life is this?
Will I Ever See Thee Wed?
It's a small ceremony. Cee Cee and I as attendants, and a disapproving Father Dominic to lead them through their vows. Suze wears a simple white gown as she walks down the aisle alone. I only have her word for it that her father is walking by her side. For that matter, I only have Suze's word that Jesse is here, waiting nervously by the priest. The ceremony is as Catholic as agnostic Suze can do, surely not up to Jesse's hope. Father Dom does not offer them the sacrament, nor does Suze kneel. Suze's voice is sure as she repeats her vows, Father Dom's less so as he intones that what God has put together today, let no man tear asunder. The ring slides on Suze's finger by itself, she kisses air and laughs. She signs her name on the marriage certificate, Susannah deSilva. I know from our conversations that this is the only day Suze will wear the ring on her finger, and the only time she will call herself deSilva. She may be married in the eyes of God, but to the rest of California, she's the same old Suze.
Say Friend and Enter
I always knock when I go over to Suze's house. I have a key, I've always had a key, but I always knock first. No one else in the family understands- "what's the point?" they ask me. She lives alone, has always lived alone. I'm the only one who knows that she's married. The ring is on a chain, hidden beneath her shirt. When I was younger, and filled with the angst it seems all teenagers must endure, I was sad for my sister, sad at the half-life she endures for Jesse. Now I understand that the Suze's half-life is happier than many people's full life. Jesse will never leave her. For what else has he been haunting our world for so long, if not to love Suze when she's alive and love her even more after she's gone? Standing outside the door, I wait for Suze to let me in. No need to interrupt anything.
Til Suze's death thirty-seven years later, I was the only member of the family who knew Suze was married. Mom found the wedding license when we were going through Suze's place. Her voice shook when she asked me what this was. Not for the first time, I wish Suze had not been unique in her family, that there had been anybody else who could see the dead. I could have done with Suze appearing then to explain herself. Carefully, I take Mom's hand and try to explain, but I fear I'm no good at it. After all, what was Jesse to me but a ghost?