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The following story was told to me by a nineteen year old man in his dorm room at College on a Saturday afternoon in March. He is from Monroe, New Jersey, and lives with his two parents, his younger brother, his dog Cougar, and his cat affectionately known as Hellspawn. His father works as a contractor, a security guard, and a fire extinguisher inspector, and his mother works at a local garden center.
The story was told to him by the main subject, his gym teacher. His teacher told the story to his health class one day as a firsthand account, although he never specified when it occurred. This is the version told to me:
Alright. So I was telling you about that gym teacher I had who was a substitute teacher, and he always claimed that he… would get in the “zone” and be able to, like, see ghosts and stuff and communicate with them. He was at a Wawa one time, and he stepped outside and there was an old man out there, and he was like, “Excuse me, sir. . . I just need your help for a second.” He was like, “Yea, sure… whatta ya need?” And the old man was like, “Could you go into this store… and ya see that lady over there?” She’s like an elderly lady. “So could you like go over there and tell her that I love her?” And then he told him his name, ya know, whatever it was, and my gym teacher was like, “Yea, sure.”… So he went in there, and… he went up to the lady and he was like, “Hey, I had a message from John,” whatever the hell his name was, “And he wanted me to tell you that he loves you.” And she told him that John had been dead for a couple of years… He described what he looked like to her, and she was like, “Yea, that’s definitely John, and he’d definitely do something like that.” Umm, yea. So, I mean, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but, he told stories like that all the time.
When asked, the storyteller elaborated that the old man was no longer outside the Wawa when his gym teacher went back outside. The teller had slight pauses in several places in his story, most notably before explaining that his gym teacher could see ghosts and after the elderly woman confirming it was her late husband.
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"Ghost Sightings in Monroe, New Jersey." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Feb 2020
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As in all urban legends, this story has an underlying meaning and moral. Whether or not it actually happened is irrelevant to the message it conveys. The moral is to say “I love you” to the people you care about whenever you can because you never know when you won’t be able to say it anymore, either because they die or you do. Although the ghost and his widow are specifically elderly, the story reflects a societal fear of dying before one’s time. Our world today is plagued by premature deaths, whether through disease or accidents or violence, that claim the lives of our loved ones well before we are ready to say goodbye. The elderly woman’s remark, “That’s definitely John, and he’d definitely do something like that,” shows a lack of surprise on her part. This could reflect that other people have given her similar messages before (as is common in “Vanishing Hitchhiker” stories, Brunvand, 25), although there is no evidence for such a claim in this version. Another explanation for her lack of surprise is an expectation to see signs of her deceased husband. After a loved one is lost, the mourners will often see signs of that person everywhere they go and in everything they do. The elderly woman in this story has not gotten over her husband’s death and is not surprised to hear an “I love you” from him long after he is gone.
The ghost story I acquired shares several characteristics with other urban legends, especially “The Vanishing Hitchhiker,” but it is still very unique in many of its elements and its moral.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.