Ghost Train

“He said he knew exactly where to hit me that wouldn’t leave a mark, but would hurt like hell.  Or I could give him all my money.”  That was how Chris described being robbed on his latest crack binge, as he sat dejected and ashamed in my office.  A frequent relapser, Chris had been clean six months when he was suddenly overcome by a craving, laying alone in his room at the Y, on a day off from flipping burgers at a Burger King.  Withdrawing his bank account of $300, he headed to a local party intending to score, was invited into the kitchen to buy, and then mugged by two thugs preying on everyone showing up to buy crack.

Chris was humiliated, not simply by the attempt to smoke, but by being dumb enough to get robbed.  He couldn’t even relapse right.  Instead, a young man who once attended the state university was now a “whopper flopper,” as he referred to himself, and working for a teenager who managed his shift.

Not long after his mugging, Chris stopped coming to treatment.  I figured he gave up, and have no idea what happened to him.  He’s probably dead, but I think about him now and then.

There’s a lot of people like that, ghosts from the past who wander around in my memory.  They might be people who were friends at different times, places, and jobs, or people with whom I shared a transitory type of intimacy.  For pastors and therapists, temporary closeness is part of the job description.  People confide personal things, or allow you into their personal moments, and then disappear.

Jennifer was a teen who lived with a mentally ill mother.  After school, she locked herself in her bedroom, put on headphones, smoked weed, and attempted to escape from her mother’s overly-friendly, rotating boyfriends.  She showed up for counseling when she felt like it, which was a lot better than not showing up at all.

Jen was also struggling.  A time or two she had accepted offers to take a ride for a some money.  She wanted to enlist in the Navy, but was guaranteed to fail the drug test.  We both agreed that a month in rehab would make a clean test more likely.

Two days before Jennifer was supposed to start, police discovered the corpse of a young woman in a vacant lot.  It was Jen.  She died of a heroin overdose and somebody dumped her body.

I still wonder what might have happened if she held out two more days.  I wonder if I could have done something more.  I’ll never know.  But she is part of the cast of characters who inform my daily life and talk to me in countless silent ways.  Once someone is part of your life, they never leave, whether you like it or not.

I have three step-children that I haven’t seen since divorcing their mother, but I think about them often.  One of the memories I prize most is taking my teenaged stepson to a concert by Ministry.  The greatest industrial metal band in history played a local dive.  300 serious fans gathered in a rock and roll beer hall.  It was fantastic.  After two theatrical opening acts, Ministry emerged like ambassadors from hell and played a flawless show, while Kevin and I watched from fifteen feet away.  We left deafened; his father picked him up in the parking lot; it was the last time I saw him.

All three remain with me, enough that I miss their presence.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk through the door; at the same time, I know they won’t.  It’s like that with all the people from my past.  I feel like we can pick up where we left off.

Or maybe not.  As much as I treasure my friends at the car dealership where I worked, my days of bar-hopping to three in the morning are probably gone.  The doctor tells me not to drink more than four ounces:)  They probably have pot bellies, play bad golf, and hang out on Facebook.  But the memories are like a salve, and their own form of satisfaction, when I let myself enjoy them.

If we learn from our past, then our memories are finally a source of wisdom.  The people that inhabit our remembrances contain the same lessons they possessed the first time around.  If you’re like me, repetition is necessary.  When faced with a particular issue or problem, I’ll frequently pull out someone from the past and remember what I wished I knew back then, and proceed accordingly.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve known.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, and I like where I am.  Remembering them from time to time is a form of saying thanks.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “Ghost Train”

  1. Dear Bucky,
    Why do you blog?

    • I like to write. A part of me is a preacher at heart. For both of those, I need some kind of audience; otherwise it seems like talking to myself. I hope people find what I write thought-provoking, informative, or helpful.

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