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Returning to a Ghost

He told me he really missed me and could I come see him for Christmas in that old town where I grew up but no longer recognized.

My heart sank as I knew I had to work and it was our busiest season though I still wanted to see him as I told him New Year’s Eve weekend might be a possibility. I reminded him that that day was the 12-year anniversary of my boyfriend Ruben’s death and the nine-year anniversary of my dad’s; that it was a tough day to get through.

For the first time I didn’t have any travel anxiety as many times as I’ve traveled, which was nice.

I had a dream before I left that I got off the plane and there he was, hugging me tight and not letting go.

I didn’t have any nightmares like I usually do before I make my yearly birthday trip; but then I have nightmares every night and have since I was three.

This He I speak of is one of my former foster fathers who I’ve kept in touch with since the 80s though my foster mom died in 1983.

His name is Terry, too and he remarried in 1988 – a woman named Ann who was three years older than me.

Terry graduated from high school in 1968, having married his high school sweetheart, Peggy.

He grew up in Medford Place and I lived in a house on Harold Street from the time I was a baby till age three, just down the road.

I was two when Terry graduated from high school.

When I lived with he and Peggy I wound up going to their alma mater.

There was only me and one other passenger in the shuttle to the airport because our flights left so early. It was supposed to be bad weather here and there.

I never travel this time of year but Terry was going to be off work the whole month of December before starting a new job.

Just as in my dream he gave me a big hug when he picked me up from the airport and whisked me away for lunch at Ole South Barbecue, one of our family’s haunts and ours and then we went sightseeing so he could show me how much everything had changed.

I hadn’t been there since 2008 for my dad’s funeral and while I thought it was depressing then to see the hangouts of our childhood boarded up and “ghost towned,” it was ten times worse now.

The old Mobil gas station where one of my stepbrothers had worked in 1978 was something else.

The massive forests of trees were now townhouses, the stretches of roads were now four-laned, the old Belmont Hills Shopping Center where we saw “Jaws,” “Logan’s Run,” and numerous other movies were town homes, too.

The Burger King and Turtles Record Store were gone.

AGAPE Smyrna Church of Christ foster care agency that placed me with Terry and Peggy, and before them, The Letchworths, went out of business.

It became too costly to run.

The beloved Dairy Queen on South Cobb Drive was closed and the Peking Gardens Chinese Restaurant was under new ownership.

The food was terrible.

That night Ann, Terry’s wife made dinner in the old kitchen where, at 15, I prepared a Seventeen Magazine recipe of lasagna and served it to my foster mom Peggy and Terry with great care and anxiety.

Now amidst Christmas decorations, Terry and Ann worked on their traditional puzzle and I gave them one I brought for them. I could remember what used to be where in every corner of every room and exactly how everything looked before. Now the fridge beeped if you didn’t push the door in all the way and the dishwasher made a noise repeatedly until you hit a button when it was done. Now the house had an alarm due to a robbery while they were at work and the only evidence that I ever lived there was the original bed frame in my old room and the first flooring which had not been replaced.

I went to the bathroom after unpacking a few things, looked in the mirror and said, “I remember you” to my foster mom who could not stare back at me.

The first night I was there this time I cried a little and talked to my foster mom in spirit, trying to remember her nickname for me until it came to me.

“Kitten.”

I told her she should be here. She assured me she still was in spirit.

In the middle of the night I got up to get a glass of water, looked out over the great view of the big pine trees similar to my family home’s kitchen window and said again, “I remember you.”

I flashed back to watching TV in my room with her when “Luke” and “Laura” got married on “General Hospital,” sitting on the edge of that bed, so excited.

I ran off the school bus, throwing my books down and tearing through the house to see the episode.

We were so excited! I remember when I got in trouble once and Peggy had Terry take the TV out of the room which was easy since it was on a cart with wheels.

I would get ready for church which I hated going to, yet I would watch Terry diligently studying his devotional at the dining room table, which is now a refurbished hospital door.

The morning I got ready to return home after my weekend this time, I saw the same man dutifully poring over his studies and I admired him once again for his faith and dedication.

And I realized that though things had been replaced and upgraded, that nothing had changed in this house.

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