Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Sep 26, 2022

Pani 2022

I stood back and watched my daughter kneel at her mother's grave at the Hawaiian Memorial Cemetery.

This made five years since her passing, and it never gets easy for Jerry. No one expects their mother to die of a massive heart attack at just forty-eight years old, but that's life. I'm careful to keep that bit of philosophy to myself. I can't ever share that with Jerry because it will piss her off. Me and Jerry's mom, I mean, Jerry's mom and I went through a nasty divorce, so to say that there's no love lost is an understatement. I'm sad for Jerry because I can see the loss that she is suffering, but I can't feel it. I've got too much hate for her mother, and it's still festering. I wish that time could cauterize all wounds because that could make things a lot easier for me too. Then maybe me and Jerry, I mean, Jerry and I could come to some common understanding or something. Perhaps we can start living. Jerry never needed to use the vases on either side of her mother's plaque; she always placed the flowers just below the name so her mother would know they were there. That's what she thought in her mind anyway, but for Jerry, I always held my tongue and kept my sarcasm to myself.

"The living suffers, not the dead; they're gone already." Jerry came over and hugged me, then she looked up at me and asked, "Are you gonna at least say hello this time?"

"It's still hard for me," I answered. Being in the same room with Katherine when she was alive was a gargantuan effort. The only words she'd ever spoken to me were, "So I didn't get my child support?" God knows I'd lay the world at Jerry's feet, but sometimes she asks for the impossible.

"I brought some extra flowers," Jerry held my hand now and looked at me with those eyes.

"Maybe I could do the flowers," she always gives me that look when she wants her way. "I'm not ready to say anything."

She held her hand out, and I gave her the keys; watching her walk back to the car was like a replay of watching her grab her birthday presents from the trunk of our old Road Runner when she was eight years old. She squealed with surprise when she saw her pink Barbie jeep, but now there was no big surprise. She's going to the car to get the flowers she picked from my backyard. I don't even know what kind of flowers they are, to tell you the truth, I hope they're not poisonous. Considering my acidic disdain for Katherine, poisonous flowers would be very appropriate.

"What are those flowers again?"

"Carnations, Papa, you don't even know your flowers?" She gave me a look of genuine shock because I'm a botanist, so of course, I should know these things, right? "You have yellow, red, green, and blue growing in your backyard, and you couldn't tell?"

"They're not native, so how could I tell?" Good save on my part; I didn't look like an idiot. Or maybe I am an idiot, and Jerry just loves me despite that fact because I'm her father.

"C'mon," she chided me and pulled on my shirt as she led me toward her mother's plaque which was only a few feet away. A place like this is not where I want to end up after my time has come, not with a bunch of strangers for eternity. It's the same as being left in a care home by your family after they've given up on you, except in this circumstance, they only come to bring you flowers and weep at your feet out of guilt.

"Jerry, when my time comes, I wanna be at home, don't leave me in a place like this, okay?" She didn't say anything for a second because she was too busy making sure I wouldn't come up with some excuse to not see Katherine. "I've got that all taken care of, Papa, don't worry. I'm gonna mix you in with all the pepper shakers so that when guests come over, they can have a bit of you on their steak," The sense of humor on this girl, I don't know where she gets it from. We were standing at the foot of Katherine's plaque before I knew it. I mean, I practically ran her over. It was a simple, standardized bronze plaque with her maiden name, "Katherine Johnson," and her date of birth and death.

"She's on the other side now, Papa; she's different. I read that after a person dies, all the things that bothered them go away because they see that stuff like that doesn't matter anymore." But, of course, Jerry was innocent; I don't know if she really believed in what she was saying or just repeating information. Was I going to burst her bubble and tell her that after you die, you're still the same person you were before you died and that nothing has changed? No, not now, maybe when she's older, but not now. "I didn't know that baby girl; that's interesting."

She kneels on the grass, gently places the carnations around her mother's plaque, and puts her hands on it. I don't have to see her face to know that she is crying.…..fuck we were so selfish, only thinking about ourselves and how much we wanted to hurt each other. We never thought about this little girl who had to absorb all that psychic fallout.

She brings herself to stand next to me and quietly says, "Okay, Papa, it's your turn."

I step forward slightly and bend at the hip while placing the humble bouquet at the edge of the plaque. There's a moment when I can feel Jerry's eyes on me, so I have to make sure that she hears me, "Hey Katherine," my daughter's energy changes, and there's no impending disappointment this year like there was in previous years. So she stays as long as she wants, and I just hang back and let her be. Then, after a while, we're on the road and heading back to town, the radio is on, but it's quiet between Jerry and me.

Our in-between lunch and dinner meal is quiet, too; there's small talk but nothing profound. When we get home, Jerry heads to her room and falls asleep for the rest of the night. I just putter around the kitchen and make myself a load of sandwiches and some tea. I plop myself down on my recliner in front of the TV and let it watch me more than I watch it. I don't know when I finally dozed off, but I was suddenly wide awake after I felt Jerry tugging on my feet, except it wasn't Jerry. It was Katherine. I jumped out of my recliner and spilled tea and sandwiches everywhere; I'm pretty sure I screamed something inaudible too.

"What the holy fuck?!" I gasped as I wiped mayonnaise and cheese off my shirt and pants.

"She's going through a tough time Dominick; she needs you to just be there. She may seem like she's got it together, but she's hurting. You both need to help each other."

Katherine was gone like she was never there, to begin with. I'm not gonna lie; that experience shook me the fuck up, I mean really bad, but even before I could comprehend the full scope of what had just happened, I heard Jerry cry out my name from her room.

"Papa...! Papa.…!" I rushed down the hallway and saw Jerry sitting on her bed in tears, her face was red, and her shoulders were shaking. I sat beside her and cleared her hair away from her face. "What's the matter, hun? Are you okay? Why are you crying?"

"Mommy was here.….she was here, Papa, she was right here!" My beautiful Jerry fell into my arms, and we both cried and let out all the pain.

"I know, sweetheart, I know," I rocked her in my arms for an eternity as she cried herself to sleep.

I was crying out of anger and frustration over the love that Jerry still felt for a woman that I despised. I also cried because it killed me to see what Jerry was going through, and I didn't know how to take her pain away. I was also scared; could it be that Jerry and I saw Katherine's ghost simultaneously?

I lay my daughter back down and put her blanket over her before leaving the room, but Katherine was again standing at the door. I freaked out for the second time, and I'm pretty sure Katherine enjoyed it.

"Kat, what the fuck! You tryna' haunt me now because ruining my life when you were alive wasn't enough?!"

"It was never about us, Dominic, it was supposed to be about Jerry, but we were selfish; I know I was. Everything I did was selfish because I felt robbed of my happiness by being tied down with a family, so I took it out on you." What the hell was I hearing? This had to be a hallucination because the Katherine I knew would never apologize even when it was obvious that she was wrong.

"So? What am I supposed to say to that?" It was a sincere question; nothing nice ever came out of her mouth when we were married, so how was I supposed to react?

"You don't have to say anything, Dominic. Just be there for her because she needs you..... you'll both heal from it," This time she slowly faded out until there wasn't a trace of anything that she was ever there. I sat on the floor for the rest of the night and watched Jerry sleep and thought of all the ways I could help her, but Katherine's suggestion seemed to be the most logical one. I just had to be there for her when she needed me.


It didn't happen overnight, but Jerry did heal eventually, and so did I. For every significant milestone in her life, I made it a point to take Jerry to Katherine's grave so she could tell her mother about it. Boyfriend, Proms, both Junior and Senior. College acceptance, sorority acceptance, her college graduation, and her travels to India, Africa, and Montreal. Most important was her wedding and introducing her husband to Katherine. In a couple of years, Katherine would get to meet her three grandchildren, Makoa, Nalani, and Timoti. A few years later, I would sit in a high beach chair just behind Jerry while she kneeled on the grass and cried her eyes out on her mother's plaque due to her divorce. It would turn out that Jerry's divorce was a blessing in disguise because she threw herself back into college and got her P.h.d. She met a charming man not too long after, and he loved Jerry's children like they were his own; that sure made me happy. Katherine must have been pleased too when Jerry brought him by to see her. The great thing about this tradition of visiting Katherine is that her children and grandchildren kept the visits going even after Jerry passed away. Of course, I don't have to worry about anyone coming to visit me because my ashes are sitting high on a nicely decorated shelf in the living room of the house that Jerry passed down to her kids. It took a while, but it was a great way to heal and gain some closure in the process.

Credit: Gestalt Law Of Closure

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