Dead Wrong

Strangely, he did not become aware he was dead until she looked at him.

She’d passed by him so many times, he’d screamed for hours and she’d never heard a sound . . . but it wasn’t until she finally looked at him—looked right at him, directly toward his face—that he realized he wasn’t there. Maybe it was because of her eyes. They betrayed nothing, not a single glimmer of recognition, that familiar shine that comes when a person connects with another, when their eyes meet and both know it, both have it written on their face, their expression. And while his eyes gleamed, while his expression gave it away that he was looking at her, directly and unquestionably at her, her eyes did not. They stared, glassy and still, almost doll-like—unchanging, unmoved. And he knew then that she didn’t see him, that she couldn’t see him, and suddenly he felt empty and cold.

So he moved through their house the way any ghost would, shuffling around like a stranger. He stared at photos of them from a distance, framed neatly on their walls. Their big smiles hiding a tumultuous relationship, full of fights and tears and ups and downs. They did love each other, though. Or at least, he loved her. Deeply, stupidly, blindly. He wanted to marry her. Would he have, if he’d lived? Probably not—she would’ve said no if he’d asked. And, in fairness, he couldn’t blame her.

He stood in the kitchen, staring at the pictures on their fridge, trying to make sense of who he was now. There was no light to walk toward, no beckoning “other side” he could run off to; no angels or demons, no otherworldly presence there to guide him and explain things. Was this purgatory? Or was this hell, having to stay trapped in this home, watching his girlfriend go on without him? Perhaps the latter.

She came into the kitchen then, stopping in the middle of the room. She looked thoughtful—her brows scrunching together and eyes narrowing. She turned around suddenly and exited, as if she’d forgotten something in the next room. It bothered him that she didn’t seem more upset.

He followed her, into their living room, talking to her even though she couldn’t hear: “For Christ’s sake, Danica, I just died! Can’t you at least muster up a few tears?” It occurred to him then that he wasn’t sure if he had “just died.” He didn’t even know what day it was. He thought their ill-fated late-night drive had happened yesterday, because that’s how it felt, but he didn’t have anything more to go on than a feeling. It could’ve been weeks ago, even months.

He closed his eyes and again thought back on it. He and his girlfriend, Danica, had set off to a local bar late that night. They were only going to have a drink each, but one turned into two, two into three . . . they had no business driving home, but he didn’t want to leave his car there.

“Let’s just grab an Uber,” Danica said, slurring slightly.

“No, no, I can drive. Trust me, I can drive.”

He couldn’t drive. Of course he couldn’t drive.

The last thing he remembered was the road going hazy, fading in and out and back and forth, as if the road were the drunk one and couldn’t keep straight. He had bit down on his bottom lip as he tried to focus. And then . . . then what?

Then nothing.

But he could put the pieces together. The car went off the road. Maybe there was a tree he crashed into, or God forbid, another car. Something. Anyway, he’d died.

This morning, though, he’d woke up as if everything was fine, and gone downstairs and found Danica making coffee. “What happened last night?” he’d asked. “I can’t even remember getting home.” When she didn’t answer, he chuckled. “Silent treatment, huh? What’d I do this time?”

The hours had ticked by. He struggled in vain to get her to hear him. Then she looked, and that look had cemented what he’d been fearing in the back of his mind for quite some time: the irrational, ridiculous notion that he was a dead man—a ghost, no less—and that’s why she couldn’t hear him, or see him, and why he felt so strange. Out of sorts and heavy, like he wasn’t quite himself.

He was sure of it now, irrational though it was. Completely, irritatingly certain.

He wasn’t upset. It wasn’t like he had a lot to live for. He had a girlfriend he adored but who wanted to leave him, parents he was estranged from and no other family to speak of, he’d lost all his friends and had been “between jobs” for almost two years . . . what was left? No one depended on him. No one really needed him. And if he wasn’t living for himself or anyone else, then what was the point?

Not that he was suicidal when he was alive—he wasn’t—but he also wasn’t terribly invested in living. So all he felt was confusion, bafflement at the insanity of it all—nothing more.

“Am I supposed to talk to her?” he asked the ceiling, hoping God or a helpful angel would answer. “Get some closure? Is this my ‘unfinished business’? You know, what I have to take care of before I can move on?”


“Well, if it is,” he continued, even though he was almost sure no one was listening, “I don’t think there’s any point. She can’t hear me.”

He did, though, have a few things he wanted to tell her. Many, many things, in fact. If there was one issue that was bugging him, one problem that made him wish he was still alive, it was that he now had no chance to say what he’d been putting off saying for ages.

She walked back to the kitchen, absently thumbing through a book. He followed suit, figuring he’d tell her even if she couldn’t hear. What did he have to lose?

“I’m really sorry, Danica.” That was the first thing. Though now he was doubly sorry, because not only had he been a shitty, clingy boyfriend who cried constantly about the sad state of his life and asked her continuously if she was cheating on him, he had also gotten drunk and drove them home and killed himself. “I’m sorry for everything. I know I fucked up big time, again and again. You didn’t deserve that, any of that. You’re perfect.” He paused. “And I know you wanted to break up with me. I heard you saying on the phone how you would’ve already done it but you knew I was going to cry and you couldn’t deal with that, with making me cry, and . . . God, I should’ve let you do it. I was using my fucking emotional fragility to get you to stay with me, and that was terrible. Just terrible.”

She exited the kitchen and went back into the living room, sitting down on the couch and continuing to flip through her book. He followed after, standing above her and behind the couch. “I’m letting you go now, Danica. I know, I know: I’m dead, so it doesn’t do you much good, huh? But, uh . . . there it is. In spirit—yes, I said ‘in spirit‘—I’m letting you go, which I should’ve done before. Better late than never, I figure.”

He stopped, sucking in a big breath. Already he felt like crying. Damn. No wonder he’d put this off—even when she couldn’t hear him, it still hurt to say it.

Distantly, he wondered if he even could cry, in this state he was in. Was that possible, for a ghost? One other thing he didn’t know. Something else he’d have to ask his guide to the other side, if ever they’d show up.

“So, anyway,” he said, clearing his throat, “I just wanted to apologize, mostly. For putting you through hell and all. And also, I love you.” His voice cracked. “I love you so goddamn much. That’s why, you know, I didn’t want you to go. Not that that was fair, but . . . fuck, this is hard. Okay. Well, I love you—loved you, whatever—and I’m sorry, and I mean both those things, and I know you can’t hear me so I’ll stop now.” He let out a long, ragged breath and closed his eyes. It felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders.

There was a knock at the door. He waited, still with his eyes closed, for her to answer. When she didn’t, another knock followed. Then another.

He opened his eyes and glanced over, wondering who it could be. No one ever visited them. He walked to the window and peered out, figuring he was a ghost now, so whoever it was couldn’t see him anyway. It was a neighbor he hardly knew, a woman in her fifties. She knocked again.

As he leaned farther toward the glass to get a better view, she . . . noticed him. Actually, genuinely noticed him. They stared at each other, and in her eyes he could clearly see that she saw him. He could see the glimmer. As if to solidify this, she lifted a hand and gave a little wave, smiling.

His mouth hung open.

He hurried to the door, pulling it open with a quick jerk.

“Hey there, Richie,” she said in an overly sweet, sympathetic tone. “I just wanted to stop by and check in with you. I’m so, so sorry about what happened.”

“Oh, uh, thank you,” he said, trying to figure out what she meant. His confusion was mounting now, the conclusion he’d come to—that he was a dead man and nothing more—melting away.

And if he wasn’t a ghost, if this neighbor could see him . . . then what was he? Only semi-invisible? Could certain people see him and hear him and not others?

“I heard you’ve been having some issues with your memories? That they’re coming and going right now?” She tilted her head to one side, looking to him to confirm the rumor.

“What?” was all he could say.

“Oh, is that not true? Well, it’s just the word on the street. I actually have some experience with this—my husband, God rest his soul, had some memory issues—so I wanted to tell you that and see if you could use any assistance. I know it can be very, very frightening and isolating. Though I heard your condition is only temporary, thankfully.” She gave a bright smile.

“Memory issues,” he repeated. That would explain a few things, perhaps . . . “This is embarrassing, but could you, uh, maybe tell me what happened?”

“You mean the accident?”

He nodded.

“Oh dear. It’s worse than I thought.” She made a face. “Isn’t anyone helping you?”

“Not that I’ve seen. Danica’s been ignoring me all day.”

A sad, pitying look crossed her face. “No, I’m afraid she hasn’t. Richie . . . I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there was a car accident, and Danica . . . she didn’t survive. I’m so sorry.”

There was a silence. It felt like what she had just said had turned to alphabet-soup letters in his brain and he was frantically trying to put them back into words. “What do you mean, she didn’t survive?” His voice was a whisper, shaky and scared.

“Well, what it sounds like, Richie. She didn’t survive. Listen, if there’s absolutely anything I can do, just—”

“That’s impossible,” he interrupted. “She’s sitting on the couch right now!” He turned away from the woman, toward the living room—

—and saw nothing.

The couch was empty. The whole room was empty. Danica was gone.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, she was here, she—you have to believe me, she was here the entire day! I was trying to talk to her, I told her I was sorry, I—”

“Oh Richie,” the woman said, “I think you should call someone.”

“I’m not crazy! She was right here!”

The woman was visibly uncomfortable now. She shifted from one foot to the other. “You know, you may’ve thought that, but it’s probably the memory issues. Or maybe it was a hallucination—it was a brain injury, what you sustained, so that may’ve caused it. I’m really not the one you should speak to about that, though. Do you need help calling your doctor?”

“I don’t need a doctor, she was right there!” He ran a hand through his hair, struggling to reconcile what had happened with what he’d been doing all day, following Danica from room to room, certain that he was the dead one . . . “I have to go,” he said abruptly, unable to keep himself together any longer. He shut the door in the woman’s face before she could respond.

Turning around, he leaned his back against the door and closed his eyes again. His head hurt. Everything hurt. He’d felt heavy but otherwise numb when he first woke up, like he was on meds, but now there was a sharp, distinct pain all over his body. He rolled up the sleeve of his sleep shirt and saw bruises on his arm, touched his head and found it bandaged and shaven. How had he not noticed those things before? Had he simply not wanted to? Of course, he hadn’t looked in the mirror since waking up, too distracted by Danica . . .

And Danica—he’d killed her. The accident, his stupid drunken driving in that stupid fucking car . . . she’d died. It was his fault.

It was his fault.

He closed his eyes as the tears came, letting out his first real sob of the day, knowing with certainty that many more would follow. “I’m so sorry,” he said, over and over and over again. “I’m so sorry, Danica, I’m so sorry . . .”

And when he opened his eyes—after what felt like hours of sobbing on the floor—he turned to where he’d last seen her (and he knew he had), on the couch. He stared at it, as though willing her to return. His eyes blurry from tears, he stared and stared.

It was during that staring contest with the couch that he noticed it, peripherally at first. The book. The book she’d been reading, flipping through and walking back and forth with. The last item he’d seen her holding as she sat on the couch. It was sitting on the coffee table, as if she’d left it there like a memento, a sly way of saying, I was here.

Because she was there.

And perhaps she’d heard everything he said.