Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “The Living and the Dead”

One of the hardest things is how friends drift away until they’re strangers. Middle school friends become faces in the hall by high school. High school friends walk past you like ghosts after graduation. Friends with whom you once confided your worst, ugliest secrets still live down the road, but you would never dream of visiting them. What they were is gone. Or what you are now is not what you were. I think of this whenever I get ready to fly home—how those you knew and loved wash out of your life like soap down a shower drain.

I’m going home in October for the first time since the virus. Some of my closest friends live there still, but the neighborhood I grew up in is like a ghost story where you feel the specters and shadows of your past everywhere you look.

There. Under that tree, it’s Sonny Hatcher who killed himself right after high school.

Or, up ahead, climbing that chain-link fence is Andy Merko.

On the corner of 30th and El Cajon—Agnes McCanty smoking a cigarette, waiting for the light to change.

Maybe it’s that spot on the boardwalk in Mission Beach and it’s me and Tyler or Joey Carr or Frankie or Maggie or Lil’ Cassidy eating burritos and talking mad shit.

Ghosts of the living and dead stalk wherever you look.

As much as I’d like to, I don’t believe in ghosts.

But I believe in how memory can be like a haunting.

Because you can remember, you feel the spirits of those you once shared space with. You hear them as you pass by the apartment on Broadway in Golden Hill. You think of a living room darkening at dusk and someone you loved setting a record on a turntable to play you their favorite song. You drive by that bar in Normal Heights that’s now a ramen place or you walk past the house on Zanzibar Court where the cops shot the dog. You feel the movement and hear laughter and maybe voices if you remember them well enough.

Sometimes it’s like you see them. Only you don’t. But they could be there. They could be passing by as you pass by.

Spirits of the living, haunting.

The spirits of the dead, reminding you they once lived.

So in October I’m going home.

Back to the living and back to the dead.

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