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Giving Up the Ghost


Fifteen years ago, in Lafayette, Louisiana, a little boy named James Leininger started having nightmares. Whenever his mother came to comfort him, she would find his body contorted, his arms and legs scrambling for purchase, as if he were struggling to extricate himself from something. The two-year-old repeated the same phrases over and over: “Airplane crash! Plane on fire! Little man can’t get out!”

Over the next few months, the dreams became more detailed. James told his parents that he had been a pilot. He’d been shot down by the Japanese. He’d been the little man who couldn’t get out. His parents asked where his plane had taken off from, and he said a boat called the Natoma. He talked about his friends on the ship: a man named Jack Larsen, along with Walter and Billy and Leon, the last three of whom had been waiting for him in heaven. James named his G.I. Joes after them. His parents asked what his name had been, and he said James, just like it was now.

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is the author of The Empathy Exams (Graywolf) and is currently writing a book about addiction and recovery.

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