A Plummeting Ghost

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I once read that, if you ever find yourself falling to your death, you should say “My Lord and my God!” It’s faster than the Jesus prayer or an act of contrition; it says what you need to say before meeting your Maker.

I always wondered at the logic behind that statement. Shouldn’t we live a life of conversion at every moment, so we weren’t dependent on a last-minute repentance in case of emergencies? Wouldn’t Jesus understand, if I started an act of contrition and couldn’t finish it before I died? Wouldn’t He hear the whole act I intended to make, contained in my choice to make it in the first place? Wouldn’t a soul who died in the act of a sincere repentance find herself before the Throne, with Mercy Himself granting clemency before she’d even finished?

Still, it’s a prayer I mutter often, just in case. My Lord and my God. My Lord and my God. My Lord and my God. 

I’ve always feared falling to my death. I’ve suffered from nightmares about it for as long as I can remember– falling off a building or a cliff, of the side of a highway overpass, rushing faster and faster to that inevitable sudden stop, praying it wouldn’t hurt too much and knowing that it would, praying “my Lord and my God,” begging to black out before I landed and knowing that I wouldn’t– then waking up just before impact with my stomach in my mouth, heart racing.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to shriek in horror if any of us leaned on a window pane or screen; she would pull us away and describe what would happen if we fell out of the second story. I took it to heart. I’m still afraid of second-story windows. I could just imagine what it was like to fall, flailing, reaching out for help and catching nothing, trying to stammer “My Lord and my God” before my skull hit the pavement and broke.

My little brother did not take it to heart. He wasn’t afraid of heights at all. He climbed on everything, to see how it felt to jump off. When my father took us to the park, he’d climb to the very top of that old-fashioned 80s play structure, a behemoth of undressed logs made slippery by contact with a thousand clamoring children’s hands and feet. Then he’d jump, smiling all the way down, sending the mulch flying when he landed on his feet. He always landed on his feet.

I never landed on my feet, because I never jumped. I never jumped because I hardly ever climbed. I remember climbing to the top of the play structure twice in my entire childhood. As soon as I got to the top, the vertigo would set in. The whole rickety wooden edifice felt as though it was reeling, as if it would buck me off of its back like a live animal.  I could just imagine falling, flailing, trying to scream a prayer before my head struck the ground. Both times, I sobbed with my eyes closed at the top of the playground structure, until my father came to rescue me.

My Lord and my God. 

When I first came to this town, I lived in the dormitory called Trinity East.  It wasn’t on campus; it was several miles away, on the campus of the local hospital where the nursing school had been. Several outpatient doctors’ offices, the hospice and the mental ward for the local hospital were in a building adjacent to our dorm. My room was on the fifth floor, or the third– it was three floors off the ground on one side of the hill and five floors up on the other. The window overlooked the parking garage, the top of which was flush with the parking lot at the ground floor of my dorm; the garage was built into the edge of a steep ravine. I can’t calculate how far the bottom of that ravine was from my window. It wasn’t possible to open the window far enough to tumble out; it also wasn’t possible that I’d somehow fall diagonally and plummet to the bottom of the ravine. But somehow, I could imagine it– vividly, as if it were happening to me. I was a child again, fearful of looking out of windows and crying at the top of the playground structure.

My Lord and my God.  

They used to say that hospital was haunted. Nobody who lived in the dorm knew who was haunting it or what the ghost looked like when he appeared–only that there was a ghost, and that the ghost had been sighted or heard on the unoccupied floors of the dorm at night. This ghost was always referred to by the male pronoun, but nobody seemed to know who he was, how he’d died, or how rumors of the haunting had started. He was just there, a fixture, as surely present as the showers leaked, the paint peeled off the cinder block walls, and the heating ducts blew cold air.

It wasn’t until eleven years later that I heard the story behind the haunting.

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