Where Ghosts Come From
Fiction by Christian Hanz Lozada
The family knows Dad hated mahu, gays. After 20 years here, an American wife and kids, he still acted fresh off the boat to the core, haunted by a wife who hurt his machismo. But he hurt his masculine image when he changed from engineering to nursing, added a Freddie Mercury mustache and loved shirts so tight his nipples stared at you. Even I questioned his sexuality. But what in any of this explains a vibrant hate capable of turning the living into ghosts?
Uncle Tico was one of the ghosts. He was nice to my brother, Doran, and me. Because he had done well in America, he kept a pocket full of Zippo lighters and gave them to us at reunions. All we could do with them was light Dad’s cigarettes or sell them to the smokers at school, but for an evening, that silver square was the American dream. Tico told us that when he was a kid, he and Dad would dream about the tricks they could do with that lighter. They wanted to flick it across their thighs: once to open the cover, twice for flame. They wanted fire to spring up with a snap of their fingers.
In the hands of an expert, the Zippo was magical. But only at a distance. You see, only the kids with money could buy them from the GIs in the Philippines. Tico and Dad were too busy working in the coconut fields for Zippo magic. He said, “We needed the money to feed our siblings so they could get fat like you.” He’d pat my belly. “Only rich kids can have little bits of wonder.”
Tico’s change to ghosthood was sudden. As the men were gathered around the barbecue, throwing insults at each other in Vasayan—so we didn’t know what was said—Dad shoved the grill. It fell over, lava rocks spilling and the propane tank stretching the hose to breaking. While the smart uncles ran for the fence, Dad ripped off his shirt and shouted, “You’re the fucking fag.”
Some uncles struggled to hold him back while Dad burned his slippered feet trying to kick rocks at Tico, who stood at a safe distance, smiling, before eventually walking away. Afterward, Dad calmed and sulked.
When we were leaving, Tico approached Dad. “Junior, I’m sorry.” He held his arms out for a hug.
Dad stared, emotionless. “If you talk again, I will fucking kill you.”
On the way home, Dad said we could talk to Tico, but he would not. In other words, “I will kick the shit out of you every time you say ‘Tico.’”
Uncle Tico became a ghost not long before he died.
We didn’t go to his funeral.
Dad kept grudges to the grave.
He was comfortable with death. As a nurse, he worked Intensive Care. He went out of his way to work with patients near dying. Cancer, no problem; he’d catch vomit with a towel when you threw up from chemotherapy and explain expected side effects. Stroke? He’d clean bedpans and talk about therapy’s benefits. He even kept a handful of hand exercisers, the ones that chronic masturbators use to increase intimacy.
In the 1980s, he was in demand because he was willing to work with AIDS patients. In a profession filled with Filipinos, caring for someone suffering from “God’s Punishment” was equal to Father Damien tending lepers. He said there was nothing to fear if you were smart enough to wear gloves.
The nurses that worked with him said he was helpful with coworkers and tender with patients. The doctors said he would do extra research to better care.
Once, just once, he tried to explain the ghosts. He tried to say he’d lost too much to AIDS. He told Doran and I, when we were old enough to know about sex and sexuality, old enough to know that our actions, no matter the intent, could make us who we didn’t want to be, that Uncles Tico and Joe were dead because of their choices. I remember when he said it. The lights in the house were off. He was home early from the nightshift, sitting between our beds.
“Dad?” Doran asked. “Are you okay?”
“I miss them,” Dad said. “They were brothers.”
“Your uncles.” In the hallway’s dim light, I could see a smile touch his lips. “Tico got me his older brother’s examination books. His brother was a good engineer.”
Doran asked, “Weren’t you a good engineer?”
“Nah. I cheated for my degree.” He started crying.
“Are you okay?” Doran repeated.
“You didn’t know Joe. He was funny.”
“What was funny about him?” I asked.
“Stupid,” Doran said to me.
“One time, we stole the mayor’s limo and smashed it against the gate around Magellan’s Cross.” Dad started laughing. “We could have died.”
“From the car crash?”
“From the mayor’s armed drivers!”
I asked, “What happened to Uncle Joe?”
“He and Tico would go clubbing,” Dad said. “They never invited me.”
“Were they—” Doran asked.
“And they never got caught,” he said. “They were untouchable, and when I was with them, I felt untouchable, too.”
“What’s wrong?” Doran touched Dad’s shoulder.
“I don’t.” Dad brushed Doran’s hand aside. “I didn’t.”
“Don’t what? Didn’t what?”
Dad threw a bag at Doran. “Take your clothes. Take your car. Finish school. I’ll pay.”
“What’s this about?”
Doran lowered his head, turned on the light, and started to fill the bag with clothes.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Stay out of it,” Doran said.
“Out of what?”
“Sleep,” Dad said.
“Why do you have to leave?”
“I get it.”
Doran shook his head. “I’m mahu.”
He nodded at Dad.
“It’s Doran,” I said.
“Who?” Dad asked.
“See? I’m already a ghost.”
I followed Doran to the front door and stood by as he backed out of the driveway, into the street, and headed to the place ghosts live.
Christian Hanz Lozada spends his never-ending Southern Californian commute thinking of new poems, stories, novels, and solutions to other people’s problems. His fiction has been published in Spot Literary Magazine. His poetry can be seen in Spot Literary Magazine, Conceit, and Amulet. He is the cowriter of Pictures of America: Hawaiians in Los Angeles.He is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing and is currently teaching all over creation.