The Ghost

Twenty years ago tomorrow, on October 10th, I killed someone. A woman. A mother. The time was a little after ten pm. It was a Saturday night. It was a stretch of unlit, rural highway. She was walking in the middle of the three lane road in a black cocktail dress, drunk and disoriented. I was pulling onto the highway and didn’t see her until too late. Because it has been asked before, no, I was not drunk. I was sober, on my way to pick up a friend.

It’s been twenty years. But I feel like it was yesterday. I remember her body coming through my windshield, the blood and shock and horror. Standing in the middle of that dark highway, her body rumpled because I had hit her, accident or not. I remember screaming and screaming, something unreal and guttural and raw and scared and all the hatred for myself ripping through my chest, clawing and chewing and scrambling and tearing its way out of me.

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think of that night. Of what I did. The only saving grace for not completely hating myself these past twenty years is that it truly was an accident. That night plays over in my head often and there are mornings I wake up to her body crashing through my windshield for the thousandth time.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. Or that I’m living on borrowed time because I should have died that night. If I saw her sooner, if I swerved harder, if I waited a few minutes before leaving or left a few minutes earlier. If I just stayed home or went to sleep or didn’t have a car. So many what-ifs. Each and every scenario has played out in my head. I cursed God and pleaded with Him. I think I hated Him for a bit. There’s not much love nowadays.

I wanted to take my life those first months after she died. I think I cried rivers those weeks afterward but the specifics of the weeks and months that followed remain blurry. It’s a stark contrast to the crispness of the actual night. I wanted to swallow the sobs, never to breathe again. I wanted the replay to stop in my head. Each time I closed my eyes, I saw her again, on the road and no matter what I did I couldn’t stop the same event from unfolding. My death would have been welcomed.

Like I said, I don’t remember the months after it. The things I do remember are my mother and father being there, taking care of what needed to be taken care of, keeping me together. I remember my mother crying and me crying and feeling as if I had let my parents down, that I was no longer their child, like there was nothing I could ever do to make up for what I had done. They didn’t make me feel this way; they have done nothing but love me. But, my internal hatred often outshines and weighs heavier than anyone else’s love or concern.

Even writing this now, I still feel the shame. I still feel like I haven’t made up for it. I still cry and this—what, anniversary? This isn’t an anniversary; aren’t anniversaries supposed to be memories of better times? Aren’t anniversaries celebrations? God, this one, this October 10th twenty years later after that night, just hit me hard. It started last night, the low, hot shame ending in crying to sleep. I think I need to get properly soused and ball up my fists and cry and scream and hate myself for a bit longer.

Her daughters sent me a letter, maybe a year after her death, telling me they didn’t blame me. I was angry at that letter at the time; I think I had to feel the anger to keep down the feelings of shame and regret and hatred of my own self. But now, now…oh lord, now it is something I can hold onto in my dark days and through the dark thoughts. It is a life raft in these dark, shark-infested waters.

People have always told me I am a good person and that I am kind and nice and empathetic. And I always tell them they don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not. How can someone that has taken a life be anything but a monster? I think a lot of the reason why I have this bear inside me, wanting to run from friends and family, is because I don’t deserve any of it. I’m not worthy of such kindness or love because I took that from another family. I caused a type of pain that can’t ever be forgiven; I most certainly haven’t forgiven myself.

Most days, that night is a thought that occurs in the most unexpected and benign ways. I acknowledge the memory, pause for a moment, and get back to life. I realize that what happened was an accident; it was a matter of wrong place at wrong time. I tamp down the shame and guilt because I can’t operate on such loathing on a daily basis. But now, this one, it is rough. Each October 10, and the days surrounding it, are hard. I try to keep it light outwardly. But, twenty years. Twenty years I took from her daughters. Twenty years from her husband. Twenty years from her. She never got to grow old.

There is no forgiveness for that. None.