Ghost Writer: Socially Distant

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A former nurse details her journey on the Healing Road, finding a new direction in life after working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghost Writer: Socially Distant

I believe in what I see

I believe in what I hear

I believe that what I’m feeling

Changes how the world appears

Totem, 1996

My consciousness had drifted between the physical and metaphysical world for most of the night, broken by fits of screaming in terror. Black demons would grab my neck and squeeze so tight without abandon leaving me gasping for air. No ventilator, no nebulizer, no BiPAP to save my SpO2. I’d wake up in sweats, take a look around to remember where I was, and drift back to the metaphysical world hoping the thirteenth time would be sans evil demon people. Thousands of miles away yet those demons trail behind my motorbike like bright red, white, and blue balloons. Ones only I could see unless they decided to uncloak themselves from invisibility so others could too. Living ghosts.

It was an early summer morning; a briskness permeated the air though the golden sun creeping up the horizon meant the heat would return with haste. After brushing my teeth, stumbling over an empty bottle of merlot and nearly faceplanting into the T.V. stand, I got dressed and began to pack up my belongings. The motel served a small continental breakfast in the lobby, which was a far too gracious term since it was barely larger than the closet we’d store our nonexistent PPE.

Itineraries no longer existed in this phase of my life. Where the road curved is where I went. No goal or aim in particular, it was a constant race to keep those balloons from catching up to me, or even worse, breaking the fourth wall for everyone else. I’d rather not have a repeat of yesterday morning’s incident.

An empty cigarette pack lay on the office desk next to the full ashtray and low-ball glass with a hint of whiskey still left at the bottom. Seeing the mess of bottles and disorganized items scattered about the motel room began to stir the sea of my ever-shortening temper. Waves of anxiety and overwhelming stress bubbled up to the surface, but were quickly quelled with calm breath exercises. It was a technique I had picked up from a YouTube video in an attempt to deal with the emotional baggage. Our paltry employee assistance program only paid for a few sessions with a therapist. None of the ones listed in the program were providing services as most were either booked or closed up shop altogether. I had no choice but take matters into my own hands and run.

After locking my room and setting my bags on the floor, I saw a middle-aged man standing across the outdoor corridor staring into the parking lot. He also had his bags on the ground, puffs of smoke bellowed from his lungs. Deep contemplation on his next move, no doubt.

“Hey sir, mind if I bummed a cigarette?” I asked showing my empty pack before discarding in the trash. Seeing me he fumbled around his leather jacket then his leather biking pants in search of something.

“I’m sorry, just trying to find a mask.”

“Don’t worry, this is a N95 so you’re good.” I replied.

He smiled an apology and opened his pack of cigarettes. “Mind if they’re Canadian?”

“At this point I’ll take any other country than here. Much appreciated.”

One flash of my Zippo lighter and a warm inhale got the nicotine flowing starting the first process of waking up before going to grab the coffee in the lobby that could best be described as absolute sludge. At least it was strong sludge not that weak ass dilute shit.

“Is that your bike?” I asked pointing. The man looked and nodded.

“BMW R1100GS. Is that yours?”

“Neutron Light Cycle.”

“Looks wild, fully electric or hybrid?” He walked over and undressed each corner and crevice with his eyes.

“Fully electric. It’s got a special battery pack in there, 200-250 miles on a charge depending on how crazy I want to ride.”

He commented on how unusual the riding stance was, to which I agreed.

“It forces me to keep my ass in shape, because that’s what anyone behind me will see!” I laughed. The man walked back over to where he was, continuing his smoke back up against the wall.

When I exhaled the hypocritical smoke from my lungs damaged by far more than carcinogens, it would take the shape of the various ghosts staring back at me, mocking me for my failures.

“They stick around don’t they?” the man asked still gazing forward to the parking lot. Sunlight danced between the rustling leaves as another cool morning breeze blew by.

“I’m a nurse, or at least was. Worked in New York during the various surges, waves, peaks, whatever the fuck the media or politicians would call it.” Sunshowers. “So many I couldn’t save…”

His gaze turned toward me for a brief moment and I could see his acceptance of grief, an understanding of the pain.

“We all have our demons. It’s a balance between our speed to forge ahead and their unrelenting desire to catch up to us. Most of mine are back in Quebec, but even en route to Mexico, traversing the most barren of landscapes, they find a way to hone in on my signal.”

“Normally I’d introduce myself, but my brain has decided to adopt a fake name. I’m Brittney, and you are?”

“John Ellwood Taylor, also a fake name.” the man grinned. We exchanged an air handshake with the all too familiar elbow bump.

“Thanks for your help yesterday.” I took another long drag and enjoyed it with my eyes closed. Embarrassment and anger colored the darkness behind my eyelids. Thoughts turned to the previous morning in the lobby when images came on the morning news. FaceTiming with relatives as their loved ones died, having to reuse masks for days on end, the bruises on my face, garbage bags, body bags, getting sick myself, dealing with all the long-term physical issues, the mental anguish from losing my best friend and colleague, the many colleagues who fell and remain fallen, and dear God the noise, that incessant beeping noise all hit me larger than any surge/wave/peak could. My hands buried my face wondering when the pain would stop and before I know it, this man grabs a chair, steps up and finds the power button on the little flat screen turning it off. He helped me up, gave a pat on the shoulder, and walked away. Not all heroes wear capes, or scrubs for that matter.

“My advice as someone who’s faced what they like to call ‘unimaginable loss’, avoid the holidays; vaccine or no vaccine.” John put out his cigarette and picked up his bags to load on the back of his bike. “I’ve been sending postcards and letters to a small set of trusted friends. It’s old fashioned, but it weeds out the ones who wouldn’t have been worth your time anyway. At least that’s what my friend Brutus tells me. The Healing Road isn’t easy, but there are ways to make it easier for ourselves.”

The bike fired up in an instant, leathers tightened, and helmet buckled, the Ghost Rider was ready to scorch the wide-open roads. His parting words I’d later find out were song lyrics:

Though we know that time has wings—

We’re the ones who have to fly

I put out my loaned cigarette, packed my bags, unplugged the charger and fired up the beast. Adrenaline flowed so freely as the instant torque burned rubber marks adding to the many scars the road proudly displays. There was and will always be a deeper meaning to life than jobs whose expectations you will never meet. Humanity encompasses more than bosses who view you as an expendable commodity, ultimately replaceable. Whatever baggage stuck with me will be left behind in the various places I go with the goal of returning home, wherever that may be, fresh and ready to begin and enjoy life once again.

Submitted: November 26, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Justin George. All rights reserved.

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