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Though she dates other men and even accepts their engagement rings, my mother remains romantically fixated, albeit mostly from a distance, on my father. Her gaze is so firmly held by this absent, invisible man, that as a child I think I see him in my grandparents' house. Having looked carefully at those tiny images in a dark suit, I see a specter of a similar man, usually at dusk, standing among the living-room's shadows, or slipping down the hall to the bedrooms.

"What does he look like?" asks a friend of the family, a woman afflicted with fits of clairvoyance, and whose eyeglasses swing out on a necklace of blue glass beads when she bends down to talk to me. "Tell me," she says, compelled by my grandmother's report that I've seen a ghost in our house.

"He doesn't have a face," I whisper.

"Guardian angel!" she cries.

"In a suit?" says my grandmother. "Surely angels don't wear suits."

The ghost frightens me. He doesn't speak or gesture. He never follows when I run from the dark rooms in which I think I see him. But he provokes me in his silence, the way he seems, without eyes, to stare. I grow afraid of the dark, and at bedtime I require night-lights, Ovaltine, my grandfather's singing over and over the talismanic "K-K-K-Katie," and a magic row of eleven stuffed bears set along the wall by my bed. Still, I wake screaming.

Perhaps my father really is there in spirit: standing in our house, waiting, pacing among tables and chairs in the living room we never use. For me he is. As his second wife will tell me years later, she takes as her husband a man who is not entirely present to her, who is always looking back over his shoulder at my mother and at me.

"When I married your father," she will say, "I knew he would always be in love with her. I knew that your mother was a part of him, inseparable from the person I fell in love with."

FROM: Shattering the Secrecy of Incest: Mackenzie Phillips' Follow-Up
Published on October 15, 2009

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