At seventeen I lived in a haunted house, but there were no ghosts.
It was the nineties, and the economy had gone to shit. So had my parents’ marriage.
We lived in a mini-mansion in an expensive horsey community in Southern California; from our backyard pool, I could hear the horses whinny down at the equestrian center and listen to the hollow pong of the tennis balls on the courts nearby.
When my mother left, she took with her my two younger siblings, both of the dogs, and almost all the furniture. She left my father to try to sell the place, gutted and hollow. I stayed with him.
One day I moved my stuff out of my bedroom and into the empty formal living room. It didn’t have a door, but it was so big, and I thought it would be cool—funny—to make it my room. I had the entire downstairs to myself. My dad’s bedroom was upstairs, at the end of the hallway. When he was upstairs and I was downstairs, I couldn’t even tell he was home. Most mornings, my dad left a twenty-dollar bill on the kitchen counter, and sometimes that would be all I saw of him for the day—his money.
It echoed, the house.
My best friend Shayna and I rifled through my dad’s pockets and drawers and found his stash, smoked it out back on the swing set. We wandered stoned through the empty rooms, turning cartwheels and talking about how cool it was—the space, the freedom. The weed.
Eventually Shayna would go home to her family for dinner and I would microwave something or decide I didn’t need to eat anyway because it would be good to lose a couple of pounds, to touch back down under one hundred and ten. I would flip through books or turn on the television for company. I would visit my little sister’s and brother’s bedrooms. I’d stare at the indentations in the carpet, where their furniture once had been.
I’d listen for the tinkle of dog tags, for claws against the marble floor in the foyer, for laughter or bickering or anything. That was what haunted me, when I was seventeen—the specter of my loneliness. The weight of absence. And in the vast space of it, I tried to become a ghost, starving the fat from my bones, floating my thoughts away on exhalations of smoke. I dared myself to disappear, too.