Transparency – Natalie Cullen

Hey. So, I’m a ghost, and I have been for a few months now. Being in my state, you experience things that you couldn’t imagine as a living human. You go through the motions. At first you’re understandably in mourning of your life. Then you slip into a depressive state, followed by a glorious revelation of the fact you’re a ghost. You’re indestructible, and your powers are limitless. Once this novelty has passed you start to find ways to utilize your state for some kind of benefit, whether your own or for the greater good. By around month four I had begun following people—people whom I’d never met before, whose lifestyles were as diametrically opposed to my own as possible. I wanted to learn more about the world, and to see it through many different eyes.

When you follow people and they have no comprehension of your existence, you can get to know them very intimately. Today I was walking down the street and I saw an old lady. I say old, she can’t have been more than sixty, but she’s significantly older than me, to the point where following her lifestyle would give me a very different experience for the day. I watched as she kissed her husband goodbye on the doorstep, and then followed her down the street as she walked to work. This lady, despite being nearly sixty odd, was incredibly fit for her age – I struggled to keep up with her. We arrived at this daycare center in Midtown where she was greeted by her colleagues and several young children screaming “Joyce!” and running up to hug her. That was sweet. I spent the morning watching her play with the children, coloring with them, pretending to be a dinosaur as they ran away from her, helping them to eat and go to the bathroom, and teaching them how to spell their names. It’s quite amazing seeing how much these ladies do with the children they take care of, and at this lady’s age I assume she’s past retirement and is doing this because she enjoys it so much.

As the day wore on and the children gradually left with their parents, eventually Joyce and the other ladies closed up and left. I continued to follow Joyce as she walked home; she took a different route, stopping off at a coffee house. She walked in and placed her order, and as she stood waiting to receive it a man of a similar age walked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder, saying , “Joyce?” with great surprise. She turned around and immediately her face dropped, turning pale as a ghost. After a second she had managed to perk herself up and smile.

 “Tommy!” she exclaimed as she hugged him tightly. It looked as though she’d never let go if she had the choice.

 “Wow. Uh, nobody’s called me that in a very long time,” he said.

The two of them talked for nearly an hour. It was quite intense. They spent the first forty minutes discussing their children, and their jobs. Then, from what I could gather, Tommy, who now goes by Tom, revealed that he and his wife, Lisa, had split up in recent years. They’d been together for thirty six years. Joyce seemed incredibly shocked when she heard this, and didn’t have very much to say about it. Soon after this she told him that she needed to be home to cook dinner for her husband. She stood up abruptly to leave when Tom grabbed her arm. He said that he had loved seeing her again and that they should arrange to see each other soon. Joyce nodded her head and then fled the coffee house.

She walked home so slowly, as though each step took a monumental amount of effort. Her face was sunken. She looked broken. I wanted to hug this woman. Eventually she made it home, noticing when she walked through the front door that her husband was asleep in his armchair. She scurried away to the bedroom, took her purse off, and dropped onto the edge of her bed, tears pouring down her face before she even hit the mattress. After a couple of minutes she stood up and reached for an old shoe box in her closet. She pulled it down and searched in it until she found a picture. On the back it was marked “Tommy, Lisa and I, 1978”. It was a picture of Tommy with his arm around a blonde woman, the both of them smiling at the camera, and his other arm around Joyce, who was staring up at him in awe. She began to cry again.

When I saw this picture and Joyce’s reaction to it my knees buckled. I did not know this woman at all. I saw her on the street this morning and decided to see what life in her shoes would be like. I’d been following her for a total of about eleven hours and it appeared I already knew the most intimate details of her biggest heartache – and she wasn’t even aware of my presence.

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