Tamara Turner/ TMD

Ghosts are real. Maybe not in the ways you’ve heard, but I assure you, they’re very real. I’ve seen ghosts nearly everywhere in my hometown all my life — in every corner of my house, in every school I’ve attended, in every nook and cranny of my neighborhood. Every so often, I take it upon myself to collect these ghosts from their spots — not with a positron pack or vacuums or exorcist tools, per se, but to simply visit them and ask them to come along with me. It’s not so hard when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have. You just have to know the exact right thing to say.

Throughout my time in Ann Arbor, I’ve spotted three such ghosts. In my hometown, I have my car, which makes it easier to get to every haunted spot, but it isn’t here. I do have a bike. It’s no ECTO-1, but it’d have to do. I slipped on my New Balances and jogged down the apartment stairs while plotting my round trip on Google Maps. This method of ghost hunting might seem mundane, but trust me when I say these are the best tools for the job. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for a while. As the sun sets, I set out too. 

The ride didn’t take much exertion. I rolled down Plymouth Road, conserving my momentum for the changes in slope and switching to the bike lane when I could. The bridge over the Huron River was another small challenge in elevation, but nothing would stand between me and my ghosts that night. Navigating through Kerrytown until I reached the border of downtown Ann Arbor, I saw my first spot. The mostly white, slightly color-sprinkled tiles of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum shone in the distance. I kept biking. I was looking past, checking the windows on the brick backing of the building. It was after hours, so there shouldn’t be anyone in there except my target. A wispy motion caught my eye as I braked hard, gazing at what I found.

This one was just a kid, barely older than a toddler. Neatly combed, straight hair fell across his forehead as he stood still, staring at me in his tiny overalls. He looked like he was on the edge of crying as his eyes darted, taking in his surroundings and me. I also looked around, debating whether I cared enough to be seen in public talking to air. Placing my hand on the glass, I prepared myself to speak, practicing the words in my head very carefully as to get this right.

“Hey, everything’s going to be alright — I think you’re ready to go home. Could you come with me?”

Slowly but surely, the kid’s quivering lip steadied. His eyes focused on me and then wrinkled as he broke out into a wide, toothy smile. He phased through the closed window and into me. I felt the small weight of the spirit settle onto mine and figured it was light enough to keep biking. Moving towards State Street and taking a right to continue towards campus, I felt the inevitability of what this ghost would have progressed toward if he had continued. That smile would lessen over the years as he found fewer things to grin about, his teeth disappearing into a flat curved line. My next stop was the Law Quad.

In the very center was what looked to be a teenager. Dressed in a simple T-shirt and shorts, his short hair stood in shock, with the very ends curling off. His mouth was closed firm, but his eyes revealed that he was keeping his jaw from dropping. Rotating and taking in the sights of the surrounding buildings, he didn’t see me until I was right in front of him. No longer caring what the students relaxing in the grassy fields saw, I said my piece, point-blank.

“When you work for it, you’ll belong here — but you’ll learn to value the time you’re not working, as well. I can prove it if you come with me.”

Lowering his eyes to meet mine, he gave me a nervous half-smile and joined me as well. Feeling the two souls meet each other on my own, I figured I had just enough stamina to return home. My apartment was where the third ghost was, but I figured I should gather these two first. I caught the TheRide bus back to my apartment, locked my bike, took the elevator and walked back into my home.

Sitting on the couch was the last ghost. Their hair fell in shaggy curls that I could tell still weren’t long enough to tie up. I couldn’t make out their face as they leaned over on the couch with their head in their hands. Oddly enough, they were completely still. No sobs shaking their shoulders, just still hands gripping their face. I could only tell that this was someone that had lived by the memory of breaths ever-so-slightly shifting their body. Taking a second to swallow, I gently sat down next to them. I picked my words carefully — knowing what I had to say would be much more intricate than the other two ghosts —- to be the exact right thing. 

“I know it’s quiet. It’s completely silent in what’s supposed to be your home, and it will stay that way if you want, for the first time in your life. And I know a part of you loves this quiet, and a part of you hates that you love it. You hate that you’re so glad to be away for a bit, and you love that you finally get to be. I’m here to tell you that you’ll come to miss the noise. Then, you’ll go home and miss the quiet. You’re allowed to miss both. You’re allowed to love and hate this.”

They slowly removed their head from their hands and sat up to meet my eyes. I smiled, looking at my ghostly reflection from over a year ago. Slowly, they broke out into a smile, one they’ve been practicing to be as big as they feel, toothily affirming their journey. I took their hand, and we went to my bedroom, where I released the other two ghosts. They all stared at each other in recognition and looked all over my bedroom, filled with every trinket, poster and picture to affirm my identity. The kid looked around in awe, gasping in delight at the children’s novels I keep on my bookshelf and my Spider-Man posters. The teenager looked out the window, out towards the campus and the city, his smile slowly becoming whole. The oldest took in every part of the room they had first seen bare. The three began to wind down, and then they all faced me before rejoining my soul, restoring it.

Ghosts are real. Before in-person classes started, I’d been in Ann Arbor at three points in my life: moving in during the summer before, my campus tour and a visit to the Hands-On Museum I’d forgotten about. They’re all places where I made the decision to become a different person three different times: the young adult who had to leave behind their past immaturity to live alone and establish his identity, the teenager who knew where he needed to go to college and had to leave behind his past childishness and the kid who went to a children’s museum with his family but was never remembered by his older selves, only recognized. My soul split as I forced these different versions out of me. I see ghosts nearly everywhere in my hometown, in every place I’ve become a different person. Every so often, I take it upon myself to collect these ghosts from these spots, driving around to the places I used to haunt to restore my soul, to move forward with every version of myself. It used to be so difficult to return to them, but I’ve been doing it for a long time. You just have to know the exact right thing to say — what I wish someone would have told me at those times.

MiC Columnist Saarthak Johri can be reached at sjohri@umich.edu.