The other night my son three-year-old son Noah was afraid to go to sleep. Earlier that evening we’d watched Mickey and the Beanstalk and Noah was worried that a giant was going to come and eat him.
“Do you understand the difference between real and pretend?” I’d asked Noah, as I leaned over his tense little body, which was snuggled up under bright blue sheets. Noah creased his brow like a little adult and shook his head. “Pretend stuff is in movies and stories, but tit can’t actually happen.” I stroked his forehead. “Things like giants and talking mice are pretend. They can be fun to think about, but they’re not real. There’s no such thing as giants, so I promise you, you’re safe.”
Which of course, was a lie. Not the part about the giants, but about being safe? If I was honest I’d tell Noah that there are all sorts of dangers out there, and we never know when something terrible could happen. But he’s too young to learn such a lesson, and anyway, he’ll eventually figure that out on his own.
We all do. One memory that stands out for me is when Ronald Reagan was shot. I was ten years old. I came home from school and settled down in front of the television, but my cartoons were interrupted by a breaking news bulletin.
I didn’t understand. Why would somebody shoot the president? Why would he kill his press secretary? That was what the newscaster had said, that James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was dead. He wasn’t, but now, over thirty years later, Brady’s 8/4/14 death has been ruled a homicide.
John Hinckley Jr. most likely won’t be charged.
Over thirty years ago, the jury decided he was insane. He’d done it to get the attention of Jodie Foster, after all, and I guess that didn’t work out too well for him. It didn’t work out too well for James Brady either, because he suffered from the effects of the shooting for the rest of his life.
And in those thirty years plus years, and despite Brady’s efforts to advocate for gun control, our tolerance towards gun violence has only widened. I hate to say it, but compared to the shootings of recent years, John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt is pretty tame. But James Brady believed that we should do something about our hypothetical fears, fears which had been proven real to him.
And sometimes, even the fears we can’t explain, control us. So we have to make a change, which is what happened to my brother-in-law, Jack.
“I’m moving,” he told me. “I’m cutting my losses, selling my condo, and getting the hell out.”
He actually had many reasons for wanting to move, despite the fact that he’d been in his condo for little over a year, but his urgency had to do with one thing and one thing only.
His bathroom ghost.
“It had gone away for a while,” he told me, as we prepared his mom’s birthday dinner. Everyone else was safely out of ear shot, so he could confide in me without worry that others would overhear and call him crazy.
“But it came back?” I asked, as I poured vinaigrette onto the kale salad. By “it” I meant the mysterious white powdery substance that seemed to magically accumulate in large clumps on his sink and mirror, the puddles of water on the floor (when no water had been running) and the eerie sound of footsteps when no one was around.
“Yeah, ever since I called that plumber, and he told me it was just hard water deposits, it all somehow stopped.”
“But that doesn’t explain the footsteps,” I tell him.
“I know.” Jack sighed as he stirred the sauce for the pasta, and his face flushed from the heat of the stove.
I looked over my shoulder, checking to make sure that no family member, most especially Monty, was nearby. There’s no way he’d turn down the opportunity to mock his little brother about this. “What happened?” I asked in a low voice.
Jack kept his voice low too. “I came home late, after a busy night at the restaurant. I was so tired that when I got out of my car, I tripped and banged up my knee. I limped all the way up to my condo, and when I got inside I stumbled toward the bathroom and used the sink to wash off my knee before I even turned on the lights. But when I happened to look up into the mirror, I saw this dark figure standing behind me.”
I shivered at the thought. “Was anyone actually there?”
“Of course not!” He turned off the stove and placed the sauce pan onto a hot pad. “I was alone. So I told myself I’d imagined it, and then I finished cleaning my knee, took some Advil, and went to bed.”
“But,” he continued, “the next morning I got up, and for the first time in months, there was the same powdery white stuff all over my bathroom.” Jack forcefully waved his wooden spoon at me. “And I’m sorry, but there’s no way it’s hard water deposits. Hard water does not accumulate into little clumps overnight.”
“So that’s it? You’re moving?”
“Are you telling me I shouldn’t move? That I should “deal” with something that I don’t understand, with something that scares me? I can move, Lucy, so I’m going to. Maybe my fear seems silly and irrational, but it’s real to me, and I’m not going to put up with it any longer.”
“Hey, I get it. I wouldn’t want to a spooky bathroom either.”
He squinted. “Are you making fun of me?”
I sighed. “No. I’m being serious. There are already too many things in this world to be afraid of. Your bathroom shouldn’t be one of them. So if you can do something about it, you ought to.”
I only wish that more fears, both real and pretend, could be so easily abated.
Attention! The Next Breath, which is the followup story to The Holdout is coming soon, but you can read these books in either order. Read on for the book description, and view the cover and book trailer!
I kiss him, choosing love over honesty, which is a choice nobody should ever have to make…
Robin loves sweet, responsible Nick, with his penchant for Beethoven and Ben Folds Five. But she also still loves her college boyfriend Jed, an irreverent playwright plagued with cystic fibrosis. Now Robin is struggling to reveal her secrets and confront her past, as she finally performs in the play that Jed wrote for her, eleven years ago. Will Robin have the strength to keep her promise and stay true to her heart?
Alternating between present-day scenes, college flashbacks, and segments from Jed’s play, this tear-jerking yet uplifting tale illustrates how life is finite but love is infinite, and the road to recovery begins with the next breath.
The Next Breath