SONJA VITOW: 13 Reasons I Believe in Ghosts

1. Because I live in New England and it is always drafty here, even in summer, even indoors, especially at night. These houses so often have both basements and attics, so much cold air entering and escaping.

2. I find photos of my friend Steph where I shouldn’t and always at the right time: in the trunk of my car after a break up; in an old folder containing tax documents; the only item out of place in my locked apartment after I’ve been gone all day.

3. Because sometimes there is no rational explanation.

4. In Ecuador, a group of students calls me late at night from a house across the village. Stalks of corn tower over both sides of the road, which is marked by their long, jagged shadows. The woman who owns the house lets me in. The calendar on her wall is three years passed. “They say there’s a ghost,” she says, “the girl doesn’t have a fever,” and she shrugs her hands towards me, offering me the problem. She leads me through a room littered with bright plastic toys, back to the bedroom where my students are awake. I think it’s good my students haven’t woken up her children with their ghost.

5. They exist in nearly every culture. Some fear them and some worship them, some do both. Skeptics argue we are all looking for belief that death is not the final word, that our loved ones still hang around us, caring about our broken hearts and burnt toasts. I say: of course they are still here: where would they go?

6. A photo of Steph out of place on a shelf after an open house, a day of strangers trudging through my home, leaving doors unlocked, closets open, my dead friend waiting to sit with me when I come home to the vacated space.

7. Because I need to.

8. Once I was home alone in the sense that I was home but also that I was alone, in the sense that I wanted to sleep with a knife but also that I wanted to wake up with a knife. Instead, I left the lights on and worked at falling asleep. In the middle of the night, my purse fell off the table where it had been squarely placed. A breezeless room, a heavy bag, I got up and wrapped a serrated knife in a dishtowel and spent the rest of the night with it tucked in by my head. “It was your father, of course.” My mother said the next day, “I’m sure he didn’t mean to frighten you.” I unwrapped the knife and slid it back in its cradle.

9. In the bedroom in Ecuador, the girls are white-eyed and frantic with a new panic. They aren’t afraid of ghosts back in the US. One girl saw a woman in the corner by the ceiling, long black gown, long black hair, just floating. I picture someone who’s held their breath and jumped into a pond with all their clothes. The girl had bought a necklace that day at the market. “I think they’re connected,” she reports, “It was choking me.” None of them can sleep. “Don’t try to tell us ghosts aren’t real,” they say, “We know what we saw. We threw the necklace deep into the cornfield.”

10. Because I live in New England and I recently bought a used Oujia board at a thrift store, and if that’s not just the most haunted sentence you’ve ever heard. A friend gasped when she saw it, told me she was sure this was how I would die. My sister begged me to get rid of it, said it was dangerous, even older than the one she’d had in college that had warned her about an unfaithful man. It’s too worn-down to use, with a glider than won’t glide, but stumbles clumsily between YES and NO and doesn’t even produce a satisfying letter scramble for me to interpret. I keep it anyway.

11. Because I want to.

12. My father died and the man I had just married was angry about the timing. “Do you think he can see us now?” I asked, “You know, like the things we do?” But the man laughed a little angrily because he didn’t think I was serious.

I wanted touch in a way that might have been OK for a father to see, or even do, like a hug around the shoulders for comfort or my head on his chest. When this failed, I went for other kinds of touch, thought this might make the man less angry, followed him into the shower. About two minutes in, a shampoo bottle fell from a shelf with no apparent provocation and hit my head.

“Well he didn’t like that much,” laughed the man I had married, dripping.

13. What I tell my students: I don’t know if ghosts are real or not, but if they are real, they’re real all the time, and they’ve never hurt us before. The girls consider this and fall asleep. I make my way out, weaving between plastic tricycles and half-blinking dolls on the floor. The mother and I make eye contact, smile, shake our heads. The next day, the students tell me there were no children at the house.


Sonja Vitow teaches French, Spanish, and Creative Writing at a small middle/high school in Boston, Massachusetts, where she is also a student in a middle school ukulele class. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from Emerson College, and is co-editor of literary magazine The Knicknackery. When she is not teaching or writing, she can be found personifying her miniature schnauzer and attempting to learn how to embroider.


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