Seeing Ghosts

18 Oct

The previous piece I posted here was in the form of a little ghost story. In the last week, I’ve been visited by ghosts of my own. Here’s the apparition that inspired the story.

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Increasingly, over the last couple of centuries or so, media technology has been freezing the past in a state of cryogenic suspension. Firstly, the dead were preserved in daguerreotypes, the faces of those gone for two hundred years floating before us on silver-plated copper sheet. Then the long departed could be seen to move on celluloid, their voices heard on reel-to-reel. And now social media brings the past flooding back to us.

People use Facebook for a variety of reasons. There are those who use it to organise their social lives. Some use it in campaigns of relentless self-promotion for their bands or latest books. Others use it to post inane would-be philosophical comments. I posted a couple myself. Surprisingly, they didn’t ‘go viral’…

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For me, moving around a lot as I have, Facebook provides a way of keeping in touch with people from different aspects of my past. I’m friends with a number of people with whom I went to school. And this week, Facebook provided me with a couple of shocks. First of all, there was sad news of a death. Rob was only a few years older than me and went out with my sister for a while. He was a big character and very funny. His death came quite suddenly and I know that he’s going to be greatly missed.

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There are also people who use Facebook rather like a journal. My friend Angela is just such a person. She posts photos from around the town in which we grew up and where she still lives, charting elements of her day-to-day existence. From time to time, Angela also posts old photos from her considerable archive. She posted one such photo this week. And then came the second shock. Staring out of the photograph was the first girl with whom I was in love. I haven’t seen her since we were seventeen. That’s decades ago. We’d fallen out in a big way the year before. It’s a very odd feeling. The expression is overused, but it is like seeing a ghost. In all probability, she’s alive and well somewhere. I hope so. But to me she had become as insubstantial as a ghost, haunting the periphery of fading memory. And there was her image, conjured up on the internet.

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RIP, Robert Stapleton. He was a fine fellow. My thoughts are with his family. And if by the power of internet synchronicity, the first woman that I fell in love with happens to see this post, I hope that life has worked out well for her.

All text © PSR 2015. Images © PSR and Angela Smith.

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2 Responses to “Seeing Ghosts”

  1. Mari Biella October 19, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Very moving, Paul – and I’m so sorry about your friend. I’ve been haunted by a few internet ghosts myself, some funny, some sad. They’ve almost all taken me by surprise in some way. Oddly enough, I recently encountered an old boyfriend of mine – not quite my first love, but an early love. I found it a strangely uncomfortable experience; he appeared to have changed a lot, certainly compared to how I remembered him. I found myself wondering just how accurate my memories of him actually were.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves October 19, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

      Hi Mari and thanks for your comments. The past is strange thing. We leave it behind but the people and places there go on morphing, out of our view. And then via the magic of the internet, they surprise us by surfacing again in the present.

      I expect with your early love it’s both things – we all change and memory’s copy of the past is imperfect.

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