Archives For The Ghost

The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell.  There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about.  At first, neither did I.

I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him.  That was July 4th, 1999.  With each blow I asked God to forgive him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.

I knew his story.  He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him.  He told me about the pigeon coop.  How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather.  Dick is what he called him.  I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him.  Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust  – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons.  Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training.  These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me.  There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world.  Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.

The Ghost grew up in The Bronx.  In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings.  He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons.  He spoke about it with such pride.  He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down.  He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds.  One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him.  He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens.  He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum.  The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick.  He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills.  The instincts of a child are powerful.

So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather.  Of course he told his mother immediately.  She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies.   Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying.  Lying and trying to ruin her happiness.  Again.  She’d blamed him for everything since he was three.  He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one.  It had always felt that way, at least.  The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.

She blamed him for everything.  You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself.  Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart.  Irish twins, everyone called them.  Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles.  He couldn’t reach the  second handle but he turned the one closest to him.  The one with the letter “H” on it.  He’s seen his mommy do this many times.  She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to.  The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze.  He watched the bubbles grow a bit.  He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.

Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room.  The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”  and ran out of the room.  The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub.  He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off.  He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub.  In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen.  She was cooking dinner.  Irish stew.  Mickey’s favorite.  The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment.  The Ghost was getting hungry.  He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door.  Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming.  A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before.  The Ghost froze.  He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running.  He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom.  His mother was screaming “Why did you do this?  Why him?  This is all your fault!”  She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms.  Mickey was screaming and crying.  His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair.  It all happened so fast.  All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck.  He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store.  He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  It scared him.  That wasn’t Mickey?  What was wrong with him?  I was looking for Popeye.  What happened?  Mommy, what did I do?

Mickey never healed completely.  They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence.  Eventually he married and had children of his own.  He grew up hating his brother.  Resenting what he had done to him.  He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement.  So did their mother.  By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen.  No one to help.  No one who believed him.

It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.

When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time.  It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude.  Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.

It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body.  There came a time when I could no longer take his blows.  I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit.  For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave.  I had no choice because he beat me out of our home.  The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence.  The love was gone long before that night.  I don’t know what made me stay.  If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.

So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a legitimate blog post here.  Over a year, in fact.  And, it’s been quite a year, indeed.  I survived my fourteenth year of teaching, after a year away and having dipped my feet into the world of art gallery sales, traveled to Costa Rica, drove cross-country on a whim and fulfilled my dream of flying a plane – not just in a plane but actually logging my first legitimate hour of flight towards my pilot’s license.  Those who know me intimately will know that flying is a dream I buried many years ago.  Back to the days of The Ghost I call husband. Long before I knew The Ghost, I read Beryl Markham’s West With The Night and wanted to one day fly a plane.  I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart and the accomplishments she made as an aviator – and having the wanderlust myself, travel was always on my mind.  Taking the yoke and flying myself was something I knew I had to do and always hovered in the back of my mind.  So, one day, while I was living with The Ghost, I drove up to Republic Airport and signed myself up for flight classes, leaving my 50% deposit of $600 for flight school.  I was to start the following weekend, sue to my work schedule.  When I came home, excited to share my news, The Ghost did not share my enthusiasm.  His face turned sour and he said to get my money back because there was no way he would allow it.  For some reason, which I still don’t understand, I listened to him.  We weren’t even married and I listened to him.  I went back the next morning and got my money back, cancelled my classes and drove back to The Ghost.

I was a tender twenty five years of age when I crushed my own dreams of flight.  I can’t really blame The Ghost.  After all, I didn’t put up a fight, I just listened to him.  Perhaps some part of me knew, very deep down, that it wasn’t the right time.  Perhaps I was afraid to fulfill a dream.  Perhaps I wanted someone to tame my wild ambition.  I don’t know what the reasons were at the time, but I complied.  I do remember being very disappointed in myself for listening to him, but if I am completely honest with myself, I must say that I probably did not want to be allowed to fly.  When I finally did leave, a time I’ve written about here), I remember feeling that I was given a second chance at life.  He wanted to kill me that night, that’s the account Aidan relayed to me.  He told me The Ghost had a plan to kill me my tying my feet to cinder blocks and throwing me off our boat.  He wanted me dead.  Dead. He was high enough, and strong enough to do it.   When he was beating me that last night I’d ever see him, with every punch he’d thrown at my head, my face, my stomach, I knew that if I survived that night, my life would finally begin.  That I could live again.

As I’ve accounted here, I was in a fog for a long time after that night.  Not just for a few hours or days, but really for a few years.  It wasn’t until the divorce was final, some four years later that I felt some sense of relief.  Release.  Even then, I felt the eerie sensation that I would always need to look over my shoulder as long as I lived in New York because there was always the chance that he would find me and finish what he started.  Though I forgave him the minute I left the house, I knew I would never sleep a full night peacefully as long as I lived in New York.  And I didn’t.

The Ghost visited me every night as I put my head down on the pillow.  I could see his face next to mine in the bed or feel the curve of his body behind me as I drifted off to sleep.  A sensation which jolted me awake and refused to let me find peace in slumber.  I worked.  Made new friends.  Found moments of  joy with the children I worked with but my heart pounded a few beats too fast when I returned home and had to face the darkness.  Though we were physically parted, The Ghost had entered my mind and taken up residence there.

The divorce was finalized and I set my sights on living in Europe.  I got a teaching job in Italy and moved.  Movers came to my mother’s house and took my things. I got on a plane.  The next chapter was beginning.  I don’t think I ever told anyone this, but even after I got to Italy, I would look out the window of my apartment, onto the streets of the small town outside of Milan, on the tram, bus, or at the street markets expecting to see The Ghost.  He couldn’t make his way up to Putnam County, New York and I expected to see him on the streets of Opera, in the Commune di Milano?  Completely irrational, but totally true.  No, it didn’t take too long for to feel safe again, but because I could not change my name back to my maiden name before leaving the country (it would have complicated my paperwork upon entry to Italy), I kept The Ghost’s name.  It became a part of me.  It’s how I was known professionally, and by kids.  Upon leaving him, I recreated a new identity around this name, shedding any old identity and leaving it far behind in the damp, small town where I left him on Long Island.  Like a butterfly I spread my wings and became a re-entered the world.  Beautiful and alive.

I found love in Italy and for a short time, The Ghost was out of my mind.  He hovered close, but for the most part I was able to enjoy a new romance that was pure, and good and wonderful.  With Andrea, I learned what kindness and gentleness from a man could be like.  He was humble and vulnerable in ways The Ghost never knew.  He struggled with sharing that which ultimately ended our union.  After that, I knew his role in my life was to teach me men can be good and kind and that I could be loved.

Through the years, and moves, and jobs and lovers,  I have reinvented myself.  I’ve only recently come to realize that through my reinventions I have been searching for my most authentic true self.  I have been on a journey to discover my purpose in this world.  Why have I been though what  I have, why I lived where I have, why the people who have left marks on my heart and furthered me along my path have come, gone or stayed.

I’ve come to realize, that flying a plane became the ultimate metaphor for taking control of my life.  When I grabbed the yoke this summer, I took back my life.

So, The Ghost I call Husband gave me my name.  I have been through so many changes that my name is now very much mine and has a completely new meaning to me.  It defines me, tells about where I’ve been and now truly is my identity more than ever.  And here I write, inventing Maria McCabe.