Jodi Frank

Ghost Stories

My 10-year-old daughter is sensitive,
just like her mother. I shrug
and try to make the best of it.
A nightmare? Here’s a dream catcher.
It has hung by her bed for years and she still
believes it can purify her dreams.
A scary movie?
Oh honey, it’s all pretend.
It’s not real, not really … anyway.

I did talk straight with her one time,
told her about the night terrors,
and the dreams, and the relentless fear
of the dark I had as a child.

I told her about the vampires
lying in wait under the bed
and the man in the window.
The monster in the closet.

I did not tell her about the recurring
dreams of drowning in a lake
or the people with hoods over their
heads who came looking for me while
I hid under the kitchen table, or all the other
creatures and cartoon characters
out to get me, time and time again.

Then, again, I shrugged it off.
Just like you, I said. But I made I through,
and had it rougher than you, but I’m still
alive, I’m not so afraid of the dark anymore.

She didn’t point out that I still sleep
with a nightlight on, even with
my husband by my side, and that I have
a hard time sleeping in slanted attic rooms,
the walls just seem to close in on me.

The evening after spending the night
at her friend’s house last week,
she lamented about a movie
she was “forced” to watch, a movie
she has viewed a dozen times
on her own television: teenage girls
around a campfire share a ghost story.
A man’s head is cut off
and he becomes a headless ghost.

I listened intently to her as she, sobbing
quietly, told me her complaint.
I always skip that part at home, she said.

I nodded, reassuring her: it’s not real.
You’re a big girl now, go to bed.

I did not mention the image that flashed
through the channels of my mind as she spoke,
the beheading of James Foley, a journalist,
that took place in a far-away desert a week earlier
and my immediate reaction upon reading the story,
holding my neck, gagging on my breakfast –

The night of her movie complaint,
after my “it’s-not-real” response,
my daughter asked her dad to sit with her
in her room, until she fell asleep,
as one of us often does when she says
she is too afraid to sleep alone.

I, alone in my room, went to bed,
and the image appeared –
the beheading – and others followed:
naked bodies and the gnashing teeth of dogs
at Guantanamo Bay, burning bodies that hung
off the bridge in Fallujah, a woman
who was stoned to death in Afghanistan,
Daniel Pearl, the writer whose head was sliced off
a decade earlier in Pakistan.
The bodies of two Indian school girls hanging from a tree,
the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut—
my daughter, 8 at the time, was only a year or two older than the
children shot at close range by a young madman.

I know all this is real – in my generation, this is real –
just as I know that all violence in all the stories
that were ever told in every language, in every genre, is real,
in one form or another. And as I sunk my skull into
my pillow, the demons came, with the endless dark chatter,
and suddenly I wished I was not alone.