The first thing you learn as a ghost is how the stairs creak. Not just which stairs creak, but the notes and melodies they play. Initially, you notice what the order means, whether someone is rising or descending. Then you start to recognize feet as they pass, how they pause, and where they hesitate. You learn the sounds you can make and how to make no sound altogether. Sometimes, you learn to mimic people, and sometimes you learn to sound like no one.
From there, you notice the symphony the house sings and how each person living there harmonizes. You learn the notes and tones of their existence, to read their minds in the sounds of their passage, and you learn how the house sighs and breathes so thoroughly that any new noise stands out like a crescendo in an otherwise soft tune. You learn to watch the conductor for signs of what is to come and how to fill in where you think you are needed. And then where you know others need you.
Only after all that do you learn that you’re a ghost.
You might call yourself something else, you might try to deny it, but some part of you recognizes the reality of your situation. What else could explain the life you live, after all? You fit in wherever you’re needed, you play the role required any time someone else falls short. What else could do that but a thing without substance or form? Like a scentless gas expanding or contracting to fill whatever is provided, you only take up space when under extreme pressure. A noble gas, if you’re lucky. A fundamental element. One of the building blocks of the universe. But not all gases are noble, and sometimes you wonder if maybe you’re something horrible instead.
Eventually, though, you decide you’re a ghost. No gas or vapor or cloud, but a being tangential to the world everyone else inhabits. Able to effect some change: small things that make the people around you take note, but never enough to make them really notice you. Nothing that shows them the complexity or fullness of your being because it took everything you had just to write a message in the fog on a bathroom mirror that vanished as soon as someone opened the bathroom door and you’re left wondering if they noticed at all.
One day, you move on.
It is slow. Stories of seances and exorcisms deny the complexity of the world. Few breaks are clean. Or quick. Most are lingering. Sometimes returning, sometimes staying entirely out of sight and mind, you are always moving on, step by step, until you suddenly realize you’ve left. And as you move, unfettered by anything but ghosts of your own, you start to wonder if you were always a ghost or if someone else made you into one. You come to realize how important that distinction is, how much it has the ability to change your life, because while you can undo a curse, you can’t undo the circumstances of your birth.
You never really know.
You deal with the ghosts that haunt you, hopefully never returning to the places you used to haunt and the ghost you used to be. Or never staying long, when you do return. But the doubt and the questions will always be there, since you’ve been a ghost for as long as you can remember, always haunting something, always looked through. Even when you’ve made your peace with whatever you are, a trace will always linger. A ghost of a ghost that stays in the closet, sheet folded, picture still, until you look for it and find the signs that remain of what once was.
In the end, you might cease to haunt the life you once knew, but it will always haunt you.