>I just got off the phone with my brother. I haven’t talked with him in two years. A lot can happen in two years. He’s happily married; he has three adopted children, one biological child, and another child on the way. But he’s also haunted by his past. He’s the black sheep of the family, or so he feels. He’s preoccupied with a past that includes deplorable treatment at the hands of our father, chemical depression, and an assortment of other physical maladies. He hasn’t lived a great life. When he cut off communication two years ago, I concluded that his past, of which I am a part, must be so traumatic that a clean break was the necessary move for a new lease on life. As cheesy as that sounds, our conversation confirmed as much. But something was missing on my end. Closure. While he wanted a clean break, at least temporarily, he didn’t give any of us a chance to ask questions and feel informed about his decision.
One week ago, I sent my brother a letter and let him know that I wanted closure, or at least I wanted to know what prompted him to cut ties. My wife and I had always been good to him. We named him Godfather to one of our sons; we welcomed him into our home when he emotionally broke down. I wrote that I would call in one week to talk. I didn’t want this to be a surprise. He needed an opportunity to think through what he wanted to say, if anything. The first number I called was disconnected. The second number I called had no recording, so I didn’t know whether it was his phone or not. I thought better of leaving a message. The third number I called was his wife’s cell phone. My decision to leave a message was made hastily. Closure was what I needed; that’s what I told her. Not more than three minutes later, he returned my call. “Are you surprised that I called back?” Honestly, I was beginning to think I would never hear from him again.
Herbie, the protagonist in Rich Wallace’s Restless A Ghost’s Story, felt that way when his brother, Frank, died of cancer ten years ago. He felt like he would never have the opportunity to talk to him, to tell him that he missed him. On a run through the cemetery one night, Herbie began to sense a presence, as though he was being followed. But every time he turned around, he saw nothing. However, Eamon, a distant relative Herbie knew nothing about was attempting to make contact, to bridge the gap between the present and the past. Frank was also trying to make contact. Herbie had to be ready. Something told Eamon and Frank that he was. Maybe I was just as ready to hear from my brother.
Rich Wallace’s book is indeed a ghost’s story. You have to look at the title closely, though. It doesn’t say ghost story. It says ghost’s story, as in the story is being told from a ghost’s perspective, not about a ghost. Frank narrates poignantly about one brother’s attempt to make contact with his living brother, who happens to be the same age when he died of cancer. Herbie also wants contact, he just doesn’t know how to let it happen. So he runs through the cemetery whenever possible, hoping to feel his brother’s presence. As you might guess, he does. But Herbie also learns a lot more.
I learned a lot more after talking with my brother. Unlike Herbie, I could call him. Truthfully, it felt like my brother had been dead these last two years. It wasn’t a good feeling. Herbie and I shared the same feeling. I guess you can figure out what I thought about as I read. I felt my brother’s pull. I continually tell my students to relate what they read to themselves, no matter how difficult it might be. This was not an easy connection to make. But it’s what I thought about as I read. Students need to learn that the connections they make to literature are usually neither easy nor clear. Reading helps to tour the soul, to dig in untouched emotional areas. That’s what good literature does.
Herbie, Frank, and Rich Wallace taught me that no matter what we read, we always have a connection. I don’t know how this reconciliation with my brother will go. Reconciliation might not even be the right word. Maybe it’s a reintroduction. All I know is that reading Rich Wallace’s Restless facilitated my thinking about a part of my past that was left undone, just like Herbie’s.