I’ve been listening to Ella Henderson’s “Ghost” on repeat.
I keep going to the river to pray
‘Cause I need something that can wash all the pain
And at most I’m sleeping all these demons away
But your ghost, the ghost of you
It keeps me awake
Throughout the day for at least two weeks, I find myself singing about going to the river to pray. The line is oddly evocative and nostalgic. I understand that need for prayer. I get that desire for all the pain to disappear into the current of the river never to trouble you again. (I was almost baptized in a river, but that’s a story for a different day.)
There’s a desperation in the song claws at me, but I feel compelled to listen. And listen and listen. Give up the ghost, she croons, give up the ghost. She pleads, Stop the haunting, baby. Her words feel too truthful. They resonate too much. She’s haunted, and damn, so are the rest of us. At least, I am.
I’ve thought a lot about haunting. I’ve tackled haunting from a theoretical perspective as a scholar interested in monsters and, tangentially, ghosts, their ephemeral partners. I adore the work of Avery Gordon and return often because of her careful attention to how absences seethe and harm. How the absence of ghosts makes them present. How ghosts become the signifiers of loss, trauma, and erasure. I read about ghosts with detached observation. Yet, the more I analyzed theories of ghosts and haunting, the more the question became personal and unavoidable. We all live with ghosts. We don’t always confront them. What began as scholarly questions about haunting transformed into an essay about a particular ghost of my younger life. I couldn’t theorize ghosts with confronting one of my own. (more…)