Shadow

My English grandmother had a few supernatural experiences happen to her when she was younger, all of which my grandfather basically considered hogwash. He was nice to her about it! But like, “Ena, you did not see a hand pop out of a grave. That did not happen.” (She swears it did, and my granny was an incredibly practical woman that had a very hard life. She lost her mother when she was 7, she had to hide under tables from bombs during the war, she had a terrible stepmother, she was abused by her new stepbrothers, etc. I guess you could argue she had a lot of trauma that made scary things seem more real, but you know. I believe her.)

In the 1970s, when my mom was about 15 or 16, my granny went to her best friend’s house for drinks and games. Again, supernatural things had already happened to her and she wholeheartedly believed all of them. So when she ran home that night — literally ran — and burst through the front door all sweaty and weepy, my mom and granddad were totally freaked out. They managed to calm Granny down, and she told them that her friend Mary had brought out a Ouija board, and they had all played with it for a while. Nothing had happened, until suddenly the board piece started responding to questions asked by the group. My granny was basically vibrating with fear when she relayed this to my mom and granddad, but she was able to tell them that they had come in contact with a spirit through the board. “He was 8 years old, and his name was John. He died in a fire,” she said. Apparently when they learned this through the board, my granny jumped up and ran out. She refused to ever touch a Ouija board again, and would leave parties as soon as they were pulled out. (I assume these were very popular in the ‘70s, she had to leave a lot of parties apparently.)

The story of John was just forgotten family lore for a long time. When I was born, my mom had been in America for 7 years, and it had been 12 or 13 since that incident. No one had ever really spoken of it again except for the “Remember that time you said you talked to a ghost” jokes my granddad would bring up.

But when I was a toddler in the late ‘80s, my mom felt like I had some kind of spiritual connection like my granny did. Several things happened that creeped my mom out: I would often talk to corners in my room and carry on such deep conversations that I wouldn’t notice my mom walking in behind him, I would tell people, “Oh, you have green all around you” like I could read auras, and one night, while crying in my crib, I suddenly stopped and next thing my parents knew, I was crawling down the hall towards them. I was too small to climb out of my crib, and the crying stopped instantly and then I appeared — my mom swears someone picked me up out of the crib and set me down to crawl to her.

And then there was Shadow.

From the time I was about 18 months old, I had this imaginary best friend named Shadow. He went literally *everywhere* with us. To the grocery store, to the library, to England to visit my grandparents — everywhere. And it wasn’t like I’d say, “Come on, Shadow, we’re going to Walmart!” It was like, I would suddenly look up from the grocery cart and wave. “Who are you waving at?” my mom would ask. “Oh, Shadow’s right there,” I’d say, pointing to the end of the aisle.

In England, I played outside in my Auntie Frances’s garden, and suddenly dropped the toy in my hand to look up at the second story window and wave. My mom clocked it, and mentioned it to my granny. Granny didn’t like it. “Who are you waving to?” she asked me. I turned my head slowly. “Shadow. He says ‘hi,’ Granny.”

It was fairly creepy, I guess. But Shadow was Shadow, and I was never afraid of him or scared of him or anything. He was just always *there* and my mom grew to think of him as like some kind of guardian angel.

And then when I was 5, I was playing outside in the front yard while my mom and granny sat on the front porch. My grandparents were visiting from England, and I remember acting something out in the grass before I stopped, turned around, and waved.

“Was that Shadow?” they asked. I turned back to them. “Yep!”

I can still see my mom holding her coffee cup and saying, “Hey, why do you call him Shadow anyway?” This has to be one of my earliest memories — I can still *feel* how the weather felt that day. It was hot and the sun was so, so bright, and I remember making eye contact with my mom and saying, “Because that’s all I can see of him.”

And I can still see my granny’s face blanche. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, he’s all shadowy looking. Because his real name is John. He’s 8 and he died in a fire. That’s why he’s all shadowy.”