Memoirs of the Living Impaired
By Douglas James Troxell
(Recap: In Part I, our narrator dies unexpectedly and shuns the afterlife to stick around and look after his wife and young son, Jason. His presence, however, leaves his wife, Laura, unsettled and angry. He decides to keep his distance to give Laura and Jason a chance to move on with their lives while he suffers through the monotony of the afterlife.)
I tried my hardest to keep my distance after Laura's meltdown. Obviously I couldn’t leave, but I found I could lengthen my “fade outs” as I came to know them if I concentrated hard enough. The trick was to become one with the nothingness. This was easier as the image of my body faded more and more until I nearly disappeared altogether. I’d clear my head of all thoughts and emotions. Emotions especially needed to be silenced. I’d fade out for a week, then two, then a month.
Slowly, I weaned myself off my family. I stopped listening to their conversations and spent more time in the basement to avoid being near them. They rarely visited the recesses of the house so it became my private oasis. I still held an unhealthy hatred for the workout bench, as if somehow it had orchestrated my death as some sort of evil scheme. I spent my time developing an entire comedy routine revolving around being dead…you know, just in case I was ever invited to play a comedy club in Hell. Most of it centered on how society discriminates against the living impaired and how I wanted to be the Martin Luther King Jr. of dead people. I don’t want to sound vain, but I developed a killer ten minutes that would really knock ‘em dead (See what I did there?).
Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week…and the week after that and the week after that and pretty much the rest of my afterlife.
The only way I could judge how long I had faded was through Jason. He was four, then five, then in kindergarten in what seemed like a matter of days. He was my one salvation. Like a faithful dog, I’d wait for him to come home so I could hear about his day. I figured I wouldn’t be invited to parent/teacher conferences so Jason’s excited rants were all I had. He loved school early on. I guess most kids do. Then he didn’t seem so excited anymore. He got quiet. He stopped talking to me at night, but I’d still visit with him. Every now and then he’d smile and I’d convince myself the smile was for me, that somehow he could hear me. That he was remembering. That I wouldn’t be forgotten.
Laura I avoided as much as possible. She grew visibly agitated when I was in the room. The hairs on the back of her neck would stand on end, and she often took out her frustration on Jason. She’d snap at him for minor annoyances or punish him for some perceived infraction of her rules. She threw his dinner out three nights in a row after he complained about what they were eating until he learned not to say anything at all. Dinners were often store brand and microwavable. I had no idea how she was making ends meet. Maybe she wasn’t. I tried not to think about it because there was nothing I could do to change it, and the guilt kept me cemented to the house for days.
Time moved on without me. Laura started leaving the house a few nights a week. A teenager named Candace would come over and watch Jason. I always made it a point to be present on those nights. Candace was this bubbly 17-year-old airhead who was as bright as a bag of nickels. I remember a few years before my death she opened up a lemonade stand in front of her house…in November. She treated Jason well enough but as soon as the kid was in bed her boyfriend would show up. I think his name was Deavon or D-Von or something dumb like that. They’d watch movies and he’d feel her up and leave quarter-sized hickies on her neck. If nothing else the two teens were good for a change of scenery and some mild entertainment.
One time she walked him down to the basement and told him “This is where IT happened.”
He closed his eyes and nodded. “Yes, yes. There’s definitely a presence down here.”
Of course, the dumb shit was right. I tried moaning and rattling some weights around to add to the effect but the idiot just kept nodding with his hand pressed against the wall before he finally smacked Candace on the ass and the two of them returned upstairs.
Another time they had sex right there in the living room. Threw their clothes onto the floor and went at it on our $1200 sofa with Jason right down the hall. Now before you judge me too harshly, allow me to point out that I’m dead. In no way did I find what these two underage children were doing on my sofa arousing. When you’re dead, you’re beyond that. I can’t even begin to describe how much more time one has to think when one is not constantly thinking about getting laid. No, the underage shenanigans were pure entertainment. Nothing is more entertaining than watching two people who have no idea what they’re doing try to have sex. It’s like watching two chimps try to work a microwave. She kept making these awful chittering noises and he kept spouting lines he must have heard in some cheesy porno. No condom or pull-out plan whatsoever. The little pissant just shouted, "Oh shit!" as he pulled his dick out and jizzed all over the sofa.
That happened two or three more times before Laura flipped the sofa cushion, found the stain, and lost Candace’s phone number. I was glad, too. As entertaining as the whole ordeal was, it was also quite painful. I hated how perfect they looked. Their stupid perfect bodies and their stupid youth. Wasted on such genetic abominations. They had their whole lives head of them. And I had none.
But on the bright side, those encounters were the closest I ever came to a threesome.
The calendar changed as quickly as the weather. Jason was seven, eight, nine, ten. He stopped smiling when I told him jokes in his sleep. He played lots of video games and read trashy horror novels. He and Laura spoke less and less. Things seemed worse the longer I stuck around so I tried to fade-out as long as possible. My form had completely vanished by this point. I prayed I would revive from a long spell to find the Light waiting for me, welcoming me home. I was ready to move on. My family didn’t want me around anymore. They didn’t need me. That was the worst part. The fact that not only did they not need me anymore but I was hurting them by staying. But the Light did not come so I continued to dwell trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Then one day there was some guy in the house. Tall guy with a scruffy beard wearing a camo baseball cap and a flannel shirt. He was eating pancakes in the seat where I used to sit. And Laura was making the pancakes—and humming the way she used to hum on Saturday mornings when we’d sleep in late. Jason wasn’t smiling, though. And he sure as hell wasn’t eating any pancakes.
The guy wasn’t always there, but he was there a lot. So I made it a point to be around more often, too. Keep an eye on things. His name was Nick. Ha! Too easy. Nick the Dick. Couldn’t life even attempt to give me a challenge? He was divorced, ran a landscaping company, and liked watching UFC. He was a New England Patriots fan (the worst!). He read survivalist magazines and liked all kinds of outdoorsy shit and patting my wife on her ass when the kid wasn’t looking. His jokes were stupid and not at all as clever as mine, but Laura still laughed anyway. Probably out of general courtesy and all. He told Jason jokes, too, but Jason never laughed at any of them. The guy was never rough with the kid or openly mean to him, but it was clear he only tolerated Jason as part of the deal of weaseling his way into my wife’s pants. I was glad Jason hated him. I’m not ashamed to admit that. It would have killed me all over again if the kid liked the guy.
A few months after Nick showed up on the scene Laura let Jason stay over at a friend’s house for the night, something she had never done before. She was always overprotective of Jason, but it got out of control after my death. She never let the kid do anything. But then he was gone. That night Nick showed up at the house wearing funky cologne and carrying a cheap bottle of wine. It was clear what was about to happen. I didn’t watch. Couldn’t. But I didn’t stay in the basement like I could have either. I sat in Jason’s room and stared at his empty bed. I heard everything. She made the same soft moans (like she had just eaten a piece of really good chocolate) and the same sighs (like an air vent had just blown wind up her skirt) as she had with me. I knew exactly when she had come because she broke out into uncontrollable giggles and told him to hurry up and finish—just like she had with me. I hated her in that moment. I felt betrayed. I hated that it was happening and I hated that she enjoyed it. Who cares how long it had been? I was still there.
And then all of a sudden—I wasn’t. I was somewhere else and someone was crying in the dark. A light clicked on. It was a child’s room, a child I had never seen before. Then I recognized the cry. Jason lay on the floor sobbing loudly.
“I want my Mom!” Jason cried out. “I want my Mom!”
The other kid’s parents sauntered into the room looking half-dead themselves (Still better than going full-on dead).
The father asked Jason what the problem was. Jason buried his face into his pillow.
“I want my Mom,” he kept repeating over and over again.
He didn’t stop crying until Laura came to pick him up. She didn’t look tired, but she did look super pissed. They left. Then I did too. I was back at the house. Nick was still there. Laura was ripping into Jason, telling him to “grow up” and “be a man,” but Nick told her to go cool off and he’d take care of it. I knew what that meant. Nick would finally be revealed as the bastard he truly was. But it wasn’t Nick who exploded; it was Jason. He unleashed a tirade on Nick that would have made Hitler blush. He told him he hated him and wanted nothing to do with him and ended it with my favorite line: “You’re not my Father!”
I waited for the backhand to fly or the fist to find its target, but, instead, Nick tussled the kid’s hair.
“Never said I was. Just thought you might want a break from your mom’s bullshit after a rough night.”
Then he left. It was a good move—a smart move.
I learned two things that night. The first was that Nick wasn’t the evil wife-stealing bastard I wanted him to be. The second was a much bigger revelation. That was the night I realized I wasn’t tied to the house; I was tied to Jason.
I stayed away again after that. It was too painful to watch my replacement take my wife, my house, my life. I faded, I drifted back, I faded again. Years passed. Somewhere in there Laura and Nick got married. There was some talk of moving, but Jason flipped out when it was brought up so Nick moved in. He hung up his clothes on my side of the closet. He slept on my side of the bed. He slept with my wife. Laura seemed more relaxed after the marriage. Her stress levels were way down. I tried to justify the whole thing by convincing myself Laura only married him for financial stability, but it was clearly more than that. He made her happy. She was happy because she could finally forget about me.
Jason seemed to tolerate the guy—at best. Maybe that was partly my fault. I still spoke to him at night when he was sleeping. I’d bust on Nick for having never seen Ghostbusters or how he pronounced “milk” as “melk” and sometimes Jason would smile in his sleep like he used to when he was little. Jason was my only link to my old life. He was all I had left.
I have to give Nick credit, though. He tried with Jason. He was an outdoors nut so he took Jason out hiking and camping. First with Laura (who hated being outside) and then without. They’d hike the trails on the mountains or go rock climbing or fish. Jason complained all the time, but I could tell he enjoyed it. He never felt comfortable with Nick, though. I knew because I tagged along on most of those trips (whether I wanted to or not). I started to understand my link with Jason more and more. When Jason felt alone or scared or angry I’d end up wherever he was—whether I was faded out or not. And as he hit puberty those instances seemed to happen more and more often. I hated tagging along on their pseudo-father/son outings because Nick was the complete opposite of me. The things they did were things Jason never would have experienced with me. It was selfish of me to hold it against Nick, but I did. He was doing his best with a kid that wasn’t his and who openly hated him.
I got used to being pulled here and there depending on Jason’s moods. It became part of the routine. I stopped praying for the Light to come. I accepted that I had missed my opportunity. The Light would not be back. Laura and Jason would die and I’d still be stuck meandering through my afterlife like a lost puppy in the woods.
While I remained stagnant, Jason got strong. All the hiking and rock climbing made him hard like he was made of granite. He started working out in the basement on the same workout bench where I died. He lifted more weight than he should have. He worked out angry. He’d crank the volume of our old boom box and do suicide runs in the basement. Suicides! Laura would come down and yell at him to turn his music down, but he never did. I thought maybe he was training for something, but he wasn’t involved in any sports as far as I could tell. The kid needed an outlet for his anger, and his body served the purpose just right.
Things only got worse when they told him about the baby. Why wouldn’t he be pissed? The kid was a teenager. Why would he want a new baby brother or sister? I knew the reason for Laura wanting a child with Nick. It was to replace me—kill me for good. Jason was a mirror reflecting my image at Laura every single day, and she hated him for it. The new baby would be hers and Nick’s and I would have nothing to do with it.
There were screaming matches and slammed doors every night. Nick did his best to play peacekeeper, but one night Jason took a swing at Laura and all hell broke loose. I wouldn’t have blamed Nick for smacking the kid, but he kept his cool. Got them separated. Jason punched a hole in the wall and locked himself in his room the rest of the night.
Nothing changed after Laura lost the baby six weeks in. The damage had been done. Jason knew the score. Laura and Nick bought him a television and entertainment system as some sort of a peace offering for his 15th birthday. They stashed it in the basement so Jason and I started spending a lot more time together. He set up his video games down there and he’d stare at the screen for hours, cursing at his imaginary enemies and throwing the controller when he “died” (which is kind of a racist term to us dead people).
He stopped going camping with Nick. He’d go out to the woods alone (or so he thought) and hike or rock climb or just sprint through the trees as fast as he could. Had I not been a ghost there was no way I could have kept up with him. He seemed happiest out there by himself. It was the closest I felt to him when everything was quiet except for the birds and the breeze. He’d stare at nothing and smile and I imagined he could feel that I was there with him.
The basement set-up wasn’t half-bad until Jason’s new friends started coming over. There were usually three of them: Tray, Matty D, and Trigger. Had I been alive I wouldn’t have even let them step foot in the house. Loud and rude and dumber than a surfer who moves to Nebraska. They’d all play video games in the basement plowing through bags of chips. They’d curse and tell racist jokes and talk about girls in a way that would make a dead guy blush. I hated those little bastards and I hated how they changed Jason. Soon he was cursing and joking like the rest of them. And if he wasn’t cursing and joking with them in the basement he was doing it on his phone. The thing that bothered me the most was that he wore his stupidity with such pride. Loud and proud. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re an idiot, at least try to keep it to yourself. Jason did not share that opinion.
I kept waiting for Laura or Nick to step in, but they never did. They were too nervous about upsetting the kid after the whole baby incident. Laura wanted nothing to do with him, and Nick didn’t want to overstep his boundaries. Jason began to drift away, and they let him. Trigger was the first person Jason got high with. Now don’t get me wrong, I smoked up in my day at parties and concerts, but this was hardcore “getting stoned in my parents’ basement” stoner stuff. It became a daily ritual while Laura and Nick were still at work, but there was no way they couldn’t smell the stuff. Hell, I was dead and I was catching a buzz!
It didn’t stop there either. They started huffing things and snorting things and popping pills. And there was nothing I could do about it. My little boy changed. He got suspended from school twice that year. Once for drugs and another for fighting. I was horrified to find I didn’t like my own son anymore. I didn’t like who he’d become.
I also resented that he’d robbed me of my sanctuary—as selfish as that sounds. The basement was all I had, and now it was his domain. The miscarriage had taken a toll on Laura and Nick’s relationship. They were always arguing and snapping at each other so the upstairs wasn’t any better. Laura looked miserable again and Nick was hitting the bottle pretty hard. There was no sanctuary in that household.
I wanted out more than ever. I was tired of existing. I wanted to get away from these people. They were all I had and I hated them—all of them. They had moved on, evolved, progressed, and I was still right where I had been when my heart tapped out.
The only outlet I did have was when Jason would go out to the woods to get high on his own or go rock climbing. I could wander off and get some quiet time and pretend I was alive again out for a walk or pretend I was dead and in my own private paradise. Just me. Alone. Sometimes I’d wander back and find Jason crying by himself or punching a tree until his knuckles bled. It was the only hint of how miserable he really was.
I tried to fade out as much as possible, but all the tension in the house kept me firmly anchored to the living world. I’d hide in the laundry room in the basement and stare at the wall and focus on fading out completely, entirely, to submit to eternity and melt into nothingness. But then the spin cycle would start up and that was the end of that.
If Jason’s friends were bad, it was even worse when he started bringing girls over. I thought a young woman might help to balance him (It did wonders for me) but not the kind of skanks he was bringing home. Total trash. And I’m not saying that as an overprotective dead dad, these girls were total garbage straight off the Jerry Springer Show. They only came over when Laura and Nick were out of the house. They’d smoke up or drink and then “do things” on the basement futon. I’d try to leave, but wherever I went I ended up right back with him because the kid was pure hate with those girls. For whatever reason, he hated them. I remember being giddy for a week if a girl—any girl—let me brush up against her breast. Not Jason. He was mean to them—even borderline violent. He’d pick at their flaws, tell them they were disgusting for having some baby fat or compare them to someone he felt had a nicer ass—all this after he was done with them. He’d choke them, slap them around, barked orders like he was Caesar. He never used a condom. When he was tired of them he’d pretend to fall asleep and eventually they’d get the hint and leave. I never saw any of them more than two or three times and then it would be on to the next one. He clearly had “Mommy Issues,” but he was working them out in the worst way possible.
Things were bad in the house by the time senior year rolled around. Jason was a smart kid so his grades were good enough, but he didn’t work very hard for them. He missed a lot of school. There was a sit-down conversation between Laura and Nick and the kid about college. Nick basically told Jason they weren’t going to pay for him to go to college since he was a trainwreck.
“I agree,” I said as if I had some kind of say in the matter.
Jason did not take the news well. The kid had obviously assumed he had a free ride out of that place no matter how he acted. He screamed at Nick. Nick screamed back. Laura screamed at Jason. He called her a cunt. Nick slapped him. Jason returned fire, and he and Nick ended up wrestling on the floor while Laura screamed at both of them. The whole thing happened so fast it was disorienting. And all I could do was watch.
Eventually Nick managed to push Jason off him. Jason ran out into the woods, and I followed, praying he wouldn’t do anything stupid. He ran out into the middle of the woods and just started screaming at the top of his lungs. So I screamed with him. Our voices mingled together in a primal chorus of rage and frustration. He stopped before I did. He had lungs, after all. I placed my hand on his shoulder as he breathed in and out, in and out. If he felt my presence he gave no indication, but I like to think I helped calm him down. Of course then he flipped double middle fingers at no one in particular and screamed “FUCK YOU!!!” so I’m not sure how calm he actually was.
The timing of Laura’s pregnancy could not have been worse. Bad timing seemed to be a disease in our family. Three weeks after the college discussion a plus sign showed up on a pee stick in the bathroom. Laura and Nick lost any leverage they had. They couldn’t keep Jason in the house after that, not with a new baby on the way. They knew it. Jason knew it. I knew it. Jason would leave, the new baby would arrive and he would officially be replaced. And so would I. They could have just kicked him out, but the guilt would have eaten them alive. So college it was for the boy ... and he wouldn't be going alone.
* Part III will appear next month.