“Can you not go so fast?” Damien, my best friend, asked me as we sped along the highway at sixty-five miles per hour to his parents’ house.
He struggled to stay in his seat at this speed. “The speed limit is sixty-five miles per hour--so I’m gonna go sixty-five miles per hour,” I said.
“Why are you so concerned with following the law now? Didn’t you commit murder three days ago?”
I glared at his translucent ghost body. Big mistake. The moment I took my eyes off the road I accidentally started swerving and almost hit a Honda. Gripping the wheel until my knuckles turned white, I moved back into my lane while muttering a handful of apologies. “It wasn’t murder, per say. It was manslaughter. An unlawful act, if you wanna get specific.”
“Because that makes it so much better,” Damien mumbled. “I’m sorry, okay?” I said. “I didn’t mean to hit you with my car. Let’s just hurry and make amends with everyone important in your life like the physic said so we can get you to the afterlife.”
Damien tried to relax, but he couldn’t with the car moving since he couldn’t actually sit in the car. Every time he tried to touch something in the living world, he passed right through. Instead of sitting, he sped along next to me within the car. It was a battle to stay at the same speed. And the instant he fell behind, he slipped through the seat and got a ghost face full of carseat.
“Look,” I said, sensing his discomfort. “There’s nothing you can do now but accept your death, make amends, and travel to the afterlife.”
He slouched. “I guess.”
I flipped on the right blinkers and peeled off the highway towards his parents’ house in the middle of the woods. “And look, here’s your first amends-making stop, now.”
I rang the doorbell three times total while waiting while Damien flew in circles above me. The first time to get their attention (duh). The second time because I couldn’t believe their doorbell was an owl call. And the third time because I was an impatient bitch.
But so was my best friend.
“Should I just go in and see if they’re even home?” He asked.
The lock turned from the other side. “I guess not,” I muttered as the door swung open in my face.
An eldery couple wearing matching, red, embroidered, silk pajamas stared up at me, not seeing Damien hovering behind me. That’s another thing about him, apparently I was the only one who could see or talk to him. Which meant I also had to deliver all the bad news.
I awkwardly waved, then put my hand down. “Ah, hello, I’m Gwen.”
The older man slowly blinked. So I just blindly continued. “And I’m the best friend of your deceased son.”
“We don’t have a deceased son,” the woman said.
I laughed nervously. “Haha. You do now.”
See, this is why I never became a doctor. I have no idea how to deliver bad news.
“Damien… is dead?” The woman asked.
I rocked on my heels. “Unfortunately, yes.”
Big, salty tears welled in her eyes. “Oh Damien!’ She wept for her son and buried her head in the old man’s chest. “My sweet baby, boy. My only child. I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” she sobbed.
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Ah, that’s actually why I’m here. To help you say goodbye and make amends for what happened while he was still alive.”
“Say goodbye?” She sniffled. “What do you mean?”
“I...um… I can see and communicate with Damien’s ghost.” I gestured to the air while Damien hovered. “He’s right here, actually.”
The old man squinted at me. “Mary, I wouldn’t believe her. This sounds like pure poppycock. She must be one of those door to door salesmen.”
Confusion punched me in the face.
I just-- What? Who tells you your child is dead, then sells you things??? What, pray tell, would I even be selling???
It took me a solid minute to collect my thoughts after that line. “Um, no?”
Damien tried to shake my shoulder, forgetting his hand would go right through. He grumbled, then told me, “Ask them about August 15th, six years ago.”
“Ah, so, Damien just told me to ask you about August 15th? The one from six years ago?”
The old man’s eyes widened and Mary covered her mouth with her hand. “How do you know that date?” The old man demanded.
“Damien just told me, I swear!”
Mary shook her husband’s arm, “That’s the day, Max. That’s the day my baby boy left.”
Awe, so their names are Mary and Max. That’s cute.
Wait a minute, I’m getting off the topic of death here.
I glanced at Damien for some explanation. He sighed. “Six years ago, about a week after I turned eighteen, I packed up and left without saying a word,” That habit hasn’t changed at all, I thought, “to my mom or Max.” He sneered.
Damn, I knew he hated his stepfather, but the way he said his name was something else. Damien usually saved this level of anger for soggy burger buns.
Mary, of course, didn’t know Damien was whispering the answers to his life questions in my ear, so she explained. “Six years ago, when I married Max, Damien didn’t really… approve of our relationship. He thought I was trying to replace his father. About a week after our wedding, he left, leaving a note saying he didn’t want anything to do with Max… or me if I chose to stay with me.” The tears started coming again. “You have to understand, I love my son. I always will. But Max… he makes me so happy. He helped me through Damien’s father’s death. I love him.”
Damien gave a dry ha! behind me. I swear, I’d elbow him in the gut if I could. “Damien, do you have something you’d like to say about that?”
Mary looked absently in the air, trying to find her son. “Yeah, I do.”
“He said, ‘Yeah, I do’.” I explained.
“How could you choose Max?”
“‘How could you choose Max?’.”
“How could you choose him over me?”
“‘How could you choose him over--wait what?” I stopped mid sentence and stared up at Damien. “Are you being serious right now? She ‘chose’ him? She didn’t choose Max over you, you chose you over Max. You left without telling her. You chose.”
Damien clammed up.
“What is your problem with this guy anyway?” I asked.
“He’s not my dad!” Damien defended.
“So what? Just because your mom was widowed she can never marry again? She's never allowed to find love again? Let me ask you something, when you finally move onto the afterlight, do you want me to never make another friend again? To be miserable and alone forever?”
“Of course not! We’re friends. I want you to be happy.”
“So why is it any different for your mom? Don’t you want her to be happy?”
Damien bit his bottom lip. A tiny bit of regret and guilt shone in his eyes. “Can you tell her, ‘I’m sorry?’”
I turned back to Mary who still looked puzzled over our argument. “Damien saids, ‘I’m sorry’.”
“I’m sorry I never gave Max a chance.”
“I’m sorry I never gave Max a chance.’” I continued.
“That I tore this family apart before we had a chance to truly become one.”
“‘That I tore this family apart before we had a chance to truly become one.’”
“Can you ever forgive me?”
“‘Can you ever forgive me?’”
Mary wrapped me in a hug and Max double layered it. “Of course I can, honey.”
After a bunch of more tears, Damien and I eventually made it back to my still-blood-stained car. I made a mental note to get a new one.
“So,” I said, “feel any different? Like about-to-move-onto-the-after-life different?”
Damien flexed his hands while staring at them. “Nope. Not at all.”
I slouched back in my seat and groaned. “Alright, who’s next?”
“Ex-girlfriend, actually. We broke up last week.”
I jammed the key into the ignition. This one’s gonna hurt.
We rolled up to Samantha and Damien’s old apartment building to see Samantha waiting by the curb with a mountain of boxes and a bored expression on her face.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but me and Samantha get along pretty good. We grab mimosas every Saturday together. (I don’t actually like mimosas, but I found out she did on her Facebook, so I told her I did. So now, mimosas time!) She’s a really chill and calm person. So, I figured, I can break the news to her in a more casual way. No awkward pauses like last time.
I pulled up next to her while she was intensely staring at her phone screen. Probably trying to call whoever is supposed to pick her up. “Hey, Samantha? Your ex-boyfriend is dead now and I’m here to help him make amends with you.”
She dropped her phone and it cracked on the pavement. “What?”
“Yeah, he’s a ghost now and sitting in the passenger’s seat.”
“No way,” she said.
“Tell her you know about her foot fetish,” Damien said.
“I know about your--wait really?”
Damien nodded. “I know about your foot fetish,” I told her.
“Ohmygod, Damien? He’s actually--”
“Dead, I know,” I said.
“An asshole for telling you that,” she finished. “It was super personal.”
“So what do you want with me?” Samantha asked.
I did a little bit of jazz hands. “To make amends. Haha.”
“A physic told us to. She said: you cannot move until the truth is revealed and healed.” I explained. “We went to one after he became a ghost to figure out what to do.”
“Well, there’s nothing to make amends about. It’s over. Damien made that very clear when he dumped me.”
I furrowed my brow. “He dumped you?”
“Yeah. He said he’s moving across the country for a new job offer so we couldn’t see each other anymore.”
“You’re moving??” I feigned ignorance like I hadn’t been snooping a couple of days ago and found out. “And you didn’t tell me you’re moving?
“I was waiting for the right time,” he said.
Well, the plane ticket I found was set for a week from now, so…
“Ah well,” Samantha said, “I kinda had a feeling it was gonna end soon anyway. If he wasn’t gonna end it soon, I was. That’s why I’m moving out of our old apartment. The lease is up and there’s too many bad memories.”
Damien clapped his hands. “Welp, guess everything is tied up here. Let’s go.”
“If it was, you’d already have moved on to the afterlife,” I said. “Is there anything you want to tell, Samantha?”
She looked up at the passenger seat with her big, blue eyes. “Is there?”
With a sigh, Damien said, “Maybe that I’m sorry things didn’t turn out better for us.”
“He said: ‘I’m sorry things didn’t turn out better for us.’” I repeated. Out of curiosity, I asked, “What happened between you guys?”
“We wanted different things in life. I’m twenty-eight. I have a stable job. I wanted kids. So, when I started talking about adoption or marriage… things kind of got bumpy from there. We fought more. Not like small disagreements, but shouting matches our neighbors complained about. I think we both knew things weren’t gonna last much longer, deep down.” She brushed a lock of her hair behind her hair. “Neither of us wanted to admit it, though.”
Damien sighed. “Pretty much.”
Without anything to add, we all sat in the silence. Just waiting for Samantha’s ride.
Then, Samantha piped up, “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” she repeated. “Sure, our relationship had its ups and downs. Good and bad memories. But, I never regretted having it. Sometimes, people grew apart. It’s okay to end things when it does. It just means we weren’t right for each other. But one day, we’ll find someone who is.” She paused. “Or I will at least. You’re still dead.”
“So, is that it? Amends made?” Damien asked.
“He said: is that it? Amends made?” I repeated.
“Always quick to the point.” Samantha laughed. “Yeah, it is. So long, Damien.”
He smiled. “So long, Samantha.”
It felt too awkward to sit in the silence again, so I drove away. There wasn’t anyone else on Damien’s amends list, so I kept driving until I made it back home. We ended up sitting in the driveway, trying to figure out what to do.
“Travelling to the afterlife yet?” I asked.
“Nope.” Damien groaned. “I just don’t get it. I made amends with everyone important in my life.”
“Maybe not everyone…” I mumbled.
”What did you say?”
Damien's voice picked up a panicked tone. “What if I’m just stuck here? What if I hurt someone randomly without realizing it and I can’t make amends with them because I don’t know who they are?”
I bit my lip. “You know, maybe it’s not that bad. You can stay here with me like old times.”
“‘Not that bad’? ‘Like old times’? How could this ever be like old times, Gwen? I can’t touch anything. I can’t eat anything. I can’t drink anything. I can’t do ANYTHING.” He reflexively went to lean back in his seat, but passed right through it. At this point, Damien didn’t even try to correct his position. He just hovered there, mid-chair. Accepting it. “This is hell. Literal hell.”
A knot grew in my stomach. The physic’s words rang in my head: you can not move on until the truth is revealed and healed.
At the time, Damien automatically assumed it meant about amending old relationships that weren’t healed or properly dealt with--just like that trope of ghosts having ‘unfinished business’ in movies. I guess this was something of the sort.
Except it wasn’t with Mary, Max, or Samantha. It was with me.
The truth revealed…
I balled my fists. Like the truth about moving he had conveniently kept from me? I would have never have found out if I hadn’t on my own. I felt a familiar anger boiling in my blood. Damien wasn’t the only one with a short temper.
I took a deep breath. No, I couldn’t let my next words be taken out of hatred. Not on an issue like this.
“Damien, I have something to tell you.”
He turned in my direction, but couldn’t see me through the car. “What is it?”
It was a mistake, I wanted to say.
I mean, it definitely was one, but in a way that I regretted doing it. Not that I had purposefully done it.
I think that might be the worst part about it.
“When I told you I accidentally stepped on the gas when I meant to brake--that was a lie.”
His eyes widened and he sat straight up. “wHAT? You tried to kill me?!”
“Stop yelling at me! I've been trying to help you so we can make amends this whole time. I've already admitted it was a mistake. I was… blinded by anger. I had found out you were leaving and--”
“Tried to kill me?!”
“Not kill you, just hit you.”
“Which still led to my death!”
“How could you leave me?!”
“How could you kILL ME?!” Damien held his head in his hands. “This is exactly why I had to leave.”
I crossed my arms and pursed my lip. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Damien ignored my snappy comment. “How did you even find out I was leaving? Oh right, you were being nosy and snooping again. God, you are so controlling, you know? You butt into everything and invade every part of my life.”
“I so do not. Name one time.”
“How about when you basically stalked my girlfriend until you could befriend her. Does she even know about that?”
I stayed silent.
“I’m leaving because I need space from you. I need my own life away from you.”
“You know, I’m not the only one with problems,” I said.
“Oh?” He sneered. “Enlighten me.”
“You assume everyone else is wrong and you’re right. You’re impatient and arrogant. You want things your way and fast. And when you can’t, you leave. Just like you did with your parents. With Samantha. With me.”
“If I’m so terrible, why were you so mad I was leaving? Why did you want me to stay?”
“I don’t anymore,” I snapped.
We both stopped, letting the truth sink in.
I wiped the tears of fury from my eyes and looked away. “So, is that it?” I asked.
“I think so.”
We had grown apart. Just like Samantha said.
Or maybe we were never right for each other to begin with.
Before we could lash out any more, Damien started to dissolve in the air. “Hey, hey, hey now,’ he said. “What’s happening?”
“I think--I think you’re moving on to the afterlife.”
In the end, we didn’t make amends. We didn’t forgive each other. But we don’t have to reveal the truth and start healing.