Top five places where we have been most comfortable (a.k.a. invisible):
- Alaska in the summer. Gotta love that midnight sun.
- High up in the Swiss Alps. It can get so foggy you don’t see your own feet. On family vacation when I was 10, both of us cried out when I nearly walked right into a bull.
- Puerto Vallarta. A short trip, but a good one, in my junior year of college. Absolutely no “sightings” during the day, and we had our own room at night.
- Clubs. Strobe lights are the golden ticket here. Everyone thinks their eyes are playing tricks. And most people are on Molly these days, anyway.
- Psych wards. OK, so I’ve never been to a real psych ward, because I’m not crazy (really!) and because I would never torture insane people this way, but it WOULD be a really good place for us to hide. Duh, the patients would blame themselves and think they were hallucinating. Even the nurses and doctors! That could be really funny.
It’s not easy, living with a ghost over your left shoulder. I remember what it was like before, just vaguely, because I was really young—five—when Boudica popped up behind me in the mirror of my parents’ bathroom. I remember a feeling like a pull from my belly toward the world, and maybe a feeling behind that, like an afterthought—an emptiness. But since then I haven’t had occasion to approach the world freely; do you know how hard it is to get on a plane when your baggage is a ghost? How many times have I tried to pull Boudica off my shoulder and into a backpack, or to stuff her into a hat. She laughs at these attempts.
“Oy led the Iceni against the Romans,” she withers. “Oy cannot be minimized into an Orioles cap.” She learned the term “minimize” from our therapist.
Boudica has a huge ego because she is one of the only women from ancient Brittania to be remembered for her military prowess. In college, she made me take a class in which she was the subject of two lectures. Ghosts are tough to spot under the ferocious light of a lecture hall, but after a movie showing at the end of the semester several people approached me to compliment the “insane” hologram I’d rigged up. One engineering major stalked away when I couldn’t tell him how to do it. “I’m sorry!” I called after him. “I’d tell you how if I could, I promise!”
I’m always apologizing for Boudica’s presence, especially to my boyfriends. All of them, even the ones who’ve claimed to be feminists, have been threatened by her. I get it. I was at first, too, because I thought she was here to judge me. I feel really lucky, actually, because Boudica’s told me stories about the moralizing ghost who forced a hen-pecked Charles Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. Even though she’s seen a lot of shit, Boudica hardly ever gives advice. I mean, sometimes if we’re alone in the car and Chris Brown comes on the radio she says, “Change it.” And she’ll mime to me—thumbs up to stopping for fro-yo, raised eyebrows to a pair of $100 overalls at Urban Outfitters. She smiles when I buy SmartWater because she’s 100% Team Jen. You’d think centuries of life experience would make someone less grudging, but no. Loyalty is a double-edged sword.
Fond of her dignity, Boudica’s never explicitly told me not to hang out with someone, a friend or a guy I like, but when I’m with someone she believes is dangerous I can feel her pressing closely as a cloak. She must think I can feel it, but it’s totally transparent (haha). Today, this only happens occasionally. But when I was younger my judge of character wasn’t as good–or maybe, you know what? It was always pretty good, I just didn’t care. I was drawn to dangerous people and she was always on my back. I don’t drink anymore, because drinking used to be the only thing that lightened this pressure. I would drink and drink and she would seem to dissolve. I started waking up with bad headaches and her armor digging into my shoulders. Back with a vengeance. Sometimes, she wouldn’t talk to me all day and I knew we must have argued, but I couldn’t remember why. Guess I’m just as prideful as she is, because I never asked. Maybe I said my worst thoughts out loud: You’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’d be normal if it wasn’t for you. Everyone else is free, and I’m not.
But how do I know that? How do I know that other people are more free? And even if they are, would they really see it that way?
I’m starting to think…My freedom isn’t tied to convincing the world that she’s not there, or finding us the most inconspicuous place. Forget how it looks. She arrived 20 years ago and the reality is, it looks like she’s staying. And I can’t live every day like I’m in someone else’s life.