My Mother’s Ghost Follows Me

Nonfiction / Josie Kochendorfer


:: My Mother’s Ghost Follows Me ::

I saw my dead moth­er at Safe­way. I saw her ash blonde hair and dark roots pulled back into a low pony and I was fif­teen again. A woman with a cart asked if I was okay. I had dropped my red bas­ket my face was wet and I could hear my breath­ing out­side of my body. I looked around for my friends but I was alone, feet stuck, tun­nel vision. The only thing in focus was my moth­er who was now look­ing at me down the aisle, frozen piz­za in hand. She stood still, soak­ing wet, moss in her hair, rocks in her pock­ets. They had found her body a week ago and I began see­ing her in every mid­dle-aged blonde woman who crossed my path. That morn­ing I bought a plane tick­et to Ari­zona, where I would gath­er her things and dri­ve her car back to my col­lege cam­pus. I was kneel­ing on the floor. A stranger put their hand on my back. I heard again, Are you okay? but I couldn’t stop cry­ing and I was breath­ing too quick to get words out. 


This car is too small and it reeks of cig­a­rettes even with the air on it’s blast­ing Camel Lights out of the vents I remem­ber my moth­er flick­ing cher­ry in the cup hold­er I’m sev­en again try­ing to read books by the light of the street­lamps every­thing in here is dead and stale if I slit open the cloth uphol­stery it would ooze black tobac­co tar or maybe coag­u­lat­ed blood the way it thick­ens after the heart dies I can see the cars behind me in my mir­rors get­ting clos­er I can hear them honk­ing their horns telling me to go faster but I just got my license five years late and I’ve nev­er dri­ven on a road like this turns one after the next the edge right to my side one bump and I could fall off roll down bounce off the rocks into the water below and it would be my body they find next water­logged and swollen iden­ti­fy me by my tat­toos our death cer­tifi­cates would match cause of death: blunt force trau­ma 

We had been estranged for five years, after her vio­lent ner­vous break­down. In the years between sep­a­rat­ing and her death, I imag­ined what it would be like to see her again. We would sit on a park bench. She would say I’ve missed you, I’m all bet­ter now, please come home. She would hug me and she would apol­o­gize for hurt­ing me and I would apol­o­gize for leav­ing her. And when we were done hug­ging she would ask why I nev­er wrote, tell me how much I hurt her, tell me I was a brat and a bitch, that I hadn’t changed at all since the last time she called me those names she would press her long nails into my cheeks and tell me how I’ve grown how I look just like her how I’ll become her if I’m not care­ful and what a shame that would be. She would press tighter and tell me I’m noth­ing with­out her she’s noth­ing with­out me we deserve each other. 

Every night, I dream of dying in water. 

I’m dri­ving a car that gets hit and spins off a bridge. 

I’m hik­ing and fall down a cliff. 

I’m swim­ming in the ocean and get swept away. 

I’m swim­ming with mer­maids until I real­ize I don’t have gills. 

I leave my sink run­ning and my house fills with water while I sleep. 

I didn’t start dream­ing about drown­ing until after it hap­pened, after my mind began mak­ing up images, try­ing to fill in the gaps, attempt­ing to cre­ate mem­o­ries from a moment that wasn’t mine. When I wake, I jolt, for­get for a moment that I’m not dead. But her death has weaved itself into me, and every night, I die the way she did. Some nights we’re togeth­er again. She holds me, breathes into my ear, whis­pers: Do you under­stand me yet? Do you feel how much I hurt?



From the writer


:: Account ::

When I first start­ed writ­ing non­fic­tion, I was told my writ­ing was too vis­cer­al and dra­mat­ic, that I hadn’t had enough dis­tance from my trau­ma to effec­tive­ly write about it yet. Over the years, I have learned how to reflect on past trau­mas with a clear­er mind. As well as becom­ing a more expe­ri­enced writer, I’ve also done quite a bit of heal­ing and pro­cess­ing in ther­a­py and on my own. I under­stand the strength dou­ble per­spec­tive and reflec­tion gives to a piece. How­ev­er, I think there is mer­it in the raw­ness that comes from writ­ing inside the trau­ma. There is a peri­od with trau­ma where it is often impos­si­ble to make mean­ing of an event for a while and sit­ting with it, not being able to do any­thing but remem­ber it, feels suf­fo­cat­ing. This col­lec­tion of events is meant to show how trau­ma, or at least my per­son­al trau­mas, man­i­fest­ed in that peri­od of time: after the trau­ma before I was ready to process them. I want­ed to cre­ate an expe­ri­ence for the read­er to under­stand what it is like inside the mind of some­one still work­ing through their trau­mas, who has not yet got­ten to the stage of reflec­tion and mean­ing mak­ing. I am inter­est­ed in the way we use form to match our con­tent, and how we can manip­u­late craft like struc­ture, syn­tax and gram­mar to par­al­lel an emo­tion­al or phys­i­o­log­i­cal response to rep­re­sent what it was like to live through events such as a flash­back, pan­ic attack, or depres­sion. Addi­tion­al­ly, I want­ed to hon­or the space I believe most writ­ers live in at some point—where they have expe­ri­enced some­thing but have not yet got­ten to a place with­in them­selves to go any deep­er than sim­ply remembering.

Josie Kochen­dor­fer is an MFA can­di­date at The Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty, where she is the Online Edi­tor for The Jour­nal.