Some people do not believe in ghosts, but here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ghosts are everywhere. They can be seen frozen at gas stations, roaming the streets of downtown, dying over and over in the oldest neighborhoods, clinging from the city buses and even cooking re-fried dead animals in pricey restaurants. Ghosts are everywhere in this city of the dead, and I have met one. She suffers the same death day after day. First, she is exploited for a minimum wage at T.G.I. Friday’s, where she burns her fingers without breaks for hours at a time while dipping shrimp in burning oil. She is ensured to work only enough hours as to not receive benefits, even if that means kicking her out after a one-hour, on-call shift. She is transparent to the managers, who cannot seem to notice the air moving as she walks among them.
Ghosts like her have died poor, so she doesn’t have a car. Instead of driving home from work to rest in peace, she walks three miles in the snow at one in the morning, much later than the latest bus. She comes home and eats her first meal of the day, but without chewing it, since the permanent smell of grease that forever stinks in her clothes has a way of fumigating flavors. And there, at this shared home that steals over half of her paycheck, at this place sixty miles away from her own daughter, she rests. Not peacefully, not gracefully, but agitated in worry. She dies there. She dies for five to six hours until the alarming sounds of the latest drug-related arrest right next door revives her so she can suffer in purgatory one more day.
This time, it is Sunday. The Rapid buses only run every hour or two, so she must perform a desperate search for change in her room two hours earlier than usual to get to work. She waits at the bus stop for twenty minutes, even in sub-arctic winds, just to ride a bus that takes her in the opposite direction of where she needs to go. Maybe she only needed to wait five minutes, but a bus that carries only ghosts could care less about getting dead people on time to their graves. This is her punishment for working too hard. The bus arrives at the central station, where she must wait half an hour for the next bus. This one, which is also late, will drive her back to her side of town and will leave her half a mile from work. She walks to work. She burns her hands in boiling oil, receives her absolute minimum payment and walks home again because hey, it’s Sunday, so the buses stopped running at five. She gets home almost empty handed since she was only allowed to work two hours today. And now, now she wonders, she worries, about how ten dollars will feed her for a week and take her to see her daughter, who is sixty miles away. So, she cries. She cries herself to death.
It is on a Thursday night that she finds out she is pregnant. But the father wants no ghostly child; the father wants no more bastard children of his own. He wants to dump it while it is still an unborn kidney bean. He wants to bury it in the past, assuring no one will ever know this little bastard ghost ever existed. She refuses. She refuses to give up the one thing that is now giving her life. She refuses to give up what remains of her soul. She would rather battle all the blood-thirsty daemons of this purgatory than to sink, without hope to reemerge, into the fires of Hell. But Hell is closer than she thinks. Her social worker, who has been charged with helping zombies succeed, has not gotten back to her in several months. She must now hunt the streets in search of her social worker. She must now roam the streets in bitter desperation, hoping to at least get a paper form that will assist her newly developed housing needs.
Two weeks later, and just a mere five weeks into her pregnancy, she finds herself at the verge of Hell. Her tooth breaks. She is in pain. She is in an indescribable amount of pain. However, she has to work the next morning so she cannot take care of it just yet. She goes to work, and then calls the emergency services of Cherry Street Health Center. But they can’t hear her. They can’t hear her pain. They can’t acknowledge her existence. They are unwilling to listen to the whining sounds of a ghost. She has to wait until Monday morning to get the help she needs. She has to wait three days to rest in peace. That night, she comes home and she cries — no, not cries, screams — and says she is in excruciating pain. Excruciating, wow, now that’s a big word, she thinks. But the truth is, excruciating is the only word that can accurately describe the suffering of her lost soul. She takes only enough pain killers to prevent upsetting her baby, her kidney bean, but not enough to actually stop the pain. She cries. She cries in desperation. She cries with excruciation. But this time, she cannot cry herself to death. She can only cry, and scream for compassion, and toss and turn, and feel the sharp pain killing her from tooth to brain. And now she knows; she knows she is in Hell! She must endure the agony of burning up and being shot on the face, over and over again, not only through this night, but through the next night, and the next, until the Westside Health Center opens on freaking Monday.
She is tired of crying. She is tired of crying out for existence among the living dead. However, her most pressing priority is to get this aching tooth taken out of her and her child. She leaves home early, but her bus is once again late. Her bus is running almost twenty minutes late. She gets to the clinic before the sun even comes out, but she is three minutes too late. She walks into the Westside Health Center, where her spiritual presence is just that: spiritual, ghostly and nonexistent. The people there cannot see her face. The people there cannot feel her pain. The people there are less human and less alive than the ghosts like her. She is three minutes too late, so she cannot be seen. There is no one before her, and there is no one after her. She is, in fact, the only patient there. Yet, she cannot be seen, because she is three fracking minutes too late. She is desperate. She asks for a prescription for antibiotics, or at least pain killers, to help her through the day. She asks only to remain in this world one more day, until she can come back the next morning to get the root of her misery pulled out. But both she and her baby, both are denied; both are denied the right to exist. Both are denied health care. Both are booted out into the coldness of the morning and into the most dangerous street of this dead city. To the clinic, she is dead. She is a ghost. She does not exist and has no right to exist.
The very next morning, she arrives twenty minutes early. That is a whole five minutes before the doors even open. She comes in, but the people there do not seem to notice the cold air that slips through the door. They see no one and hear no voice. She speaks — albeit she screams inside — for a third time now. But it’s Tuesday. They can only see one patient today, and even though she is the first one there, she may have to wait until five in the afternoon and may not even be seen at all. In other words, she can wait there all day, but she will probably be seen right through, deserving only of a ghost. To these people, she is dead. She and her baby are ghosts. They cannot see her. They have denied her for the third time the very care they are funded to provide. A charitable organization my butt! The moment they say no to a pregnant woman, they moment they say no to her and her unborn baby three times and boot them out into the streets, they are by definition not charitable anymore. They are now less holy than a grave. To them, this poor pregnant woman maybe just another ghost, but to those like her, she is a very real person, a very real person carrying a baby in her womb. She is a very real pregnant woman who now stands in the street with an infection on her face and not a place to go. She is a ghost. She is a ghost among thousands of ghosts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city of the living dead.