I don't believe in ghosts like you see in old black and white movies. I have no truck with the howling guy in the sheet, or the translucent 12-year-old girl in a frilly dress who plays a piano in the attic at midnight. And Marley's ghost, or Banquo's, dragging the chains of past sins for all time, well, they mean nothing to me.
That said, my sister's ghost visits me from time-to-time. I'm thinking about my sister, Nancy, as I do, because today is her birthday. She would have been 58 today.
Instead, she died in a motorcycle crash on Mother's Day in 2007--right outside my office, on 12th Avenue and 52nd Street. A drunk ran across the road against the light. She swerved to avoid him and, in swerving, her bike flipped and crushed her to death. The cops who came to my apartment said she died almost instantaneously and didn't suffer.
Nancy's ghost comes to visit, probably once a month. After a childhood of being raised by Joan Crawford's meaner, crazier sister, I've built a pretty decent life for myself. Most of that is due to having chosen a wife of unsurpassed niceness and patience. Some is due to the 40 years of psychotherapy I have put myself through. Some, a little, is due to my own perseverance and will.
Nancy visits me when I'm sitting by a pool in Costa Rica. Or walking on the beach and throwing a duck decoy for Whiskey, my golden retriever. Nancy visits me when I'm down at Katz's and having my twice-annual pastrami sandwich on rye.
She usually takes my hand from my pocket or from my side and gives it a squeeze, and then says something like what you'd expect, 'George, I love you.' 'I love you, too, Nan. I wish you were here. I wish you could be with me.'
She looks at me then with her deep-set and doleful eyes, and says, 'I am here with you.'
Then like a fist when you open up your hand, she's off again. Playing her amazing guitar licks in her band up in heaven, or riding her Ducati on some twisting road in Italy.
Happy birthday, Nancy.
Come visit me soon.