Thank You, Next: A Ghost Story

Hi! This story is maybe boring! But it’s spinning around in my head, and I need to give it a place to go and that’s why our blog is named Everything & Nothings. 😉

We were only 15. I remember the day we met, but I don’t actually remember meeting you. In the chaos of a high school forensics meet, there we were, in the center of the storm, eye to eye, as if to say “hey, there you are. I’ve been expecting you”.

Officially, not my type: I was into skater boys and edgy, art weirdos. Here’s you all prepped out, heavy eyebrows, Christian Slater voice, and a smoldering confidence that would easily land you the part of “Cute Guy at Peach Pit” on 90210. We wrapped up in each other on a cafeteria table, and stuck together during the awards ceremony. We exchanged numbers.

To be clear, we very much weren’t dating. We went to different high schools and lived in different worlds. We talked on the phone, and we made out (a lot) in your parents’ basement, in your car, in between and around dating other people. You were Blane, I was Andie. We hung out, but we never really went on dates. We didn’t go to school dances or parties; there isn’t a single picture of us together. There was no big romance, no broken hearts, no love letters, and I can’t say for sure if there was really even a true friendship by proper definition: neither of us seemed to be in it for anything more than the little thrill of being with someone who didn’t make sense in our normal timelines, and that was ok. It was exciting. We understood the game. We lived in a pocket universe, floating in and out of each other’s lives like snow. You’d drive me home through the Lake Michigan fog, way past curfew.

You were a year older than me, and left for college my senior year. By this point, we had kept in touch but had abandoned the pocket, retreating to the normalcy of Real Relationships. I ended up going to the same college (unrelated to you being there- basically I wanted to go to a fancy out of state art school, and my mom said “how about UW Oshkosh?” and I was like….. fine.) but we didn’t really hang out ever. I visited you once before I was there, on a day where I was checking out the school, and once when I lived there, but I remember you being kind of a dick? I think you were full into college frat-bro mode, and I was way too busy being goth, so it was fine. We just skipped it.

Years later, I was planning a wedding. I had been with this guy, and it was fine, but we didn’t love each other. At least I didn’t love him, but I didn’t know that yet. We were caught up in checking off boxes, working down the list of things to do by the time we turned 25. I don’t know why, but you showed up in my emails. Hey, it’s been forever- what’s up? I didn’t quite pay attention to the fact that you were in an unhappy marriage. I mean, I heard you, but also, I knew you first, right? We’d send long emails, and it was like I woke up from a trance. You hadn’t been here in years, but you were the only one who could actually see me. I needed this tether: someone who knew the old me, who flashed forward in time to find a shell of the person I once was, asking me questions my close friends couldn’t, like, “are you actually happy? Is this really what you want?”

You saved me from the quicksand. I was in over my head. Took a wrong turn for a long time. When suddenly, a hand, outstretched, reminded me of the me I used to be. We chipped away at the old layers of paint until my old face was restored.

It didn’t matter that you were married; we didn’t love each other. There was no future here. Just skin and sweat and secrets pressed up against my kitchen wall.

I met my future husband later that fall. You and I, we still talked pretty regularly- you were trying to save your marriage, and I was gushing about this new guy. At first, you did the thing a friend should do when your friend, who just got out of a five year dead end and needs to eat/pray/love for a while, starts falling hard for a new guy. You reminded me that this was probably a rebound, to not go too fast or go all in right away. And for a while, yeah, you were right. But then it started to feel weird. Controlling. It was almost as if you were trying to keep me in this place where I was vulnerable. Misery loves company, you know. I started to pull away. You had gone from a trusty tether to the devil on my shoulder.

I was with my friends, getting ready to go out to the club where MB was DJing that night. We were giggling and pre-gaming and having a great time. I noticed my phone buzz, looked down, and saw it was you calling. I thought about answering, then hit “decline”. And just like that, I ghosted you forever.

My life, without you, is amazing. I have a partner who challenges me, supports me, loves me, makes me laugh every day, and is fucking hot in a suit. My career is fulfilling, and I have friends who inspire me, and push my edges, and let me dance and live through every day.

Over a year ago, maybe a year and a half, I noticed some missed calls on my phone from an unknown number. Then a text came through: “hey, I’m trying to track down my friend Jess from high school. Is this you?”

I knew immediately, but asked anyway. “Who is this?”

It was you, of course, and I threw my phone down to the couch. I didn’t want this. I didn’t invite this. It had been over 16 years of silence, and I had been perfectly fine without you. What. Do. You. Want.

Out of curiosity and nostalgia, I texted you back, for weeks, but I kept you at arm’s length. I didn’t need a disruption in my life. Was this a long-shot booty call gone wrong, and now we have to have a weird, awkward friendship??

I am not here for this.

But then, a few weeks ago, I had a thought: maybe I was the one being a dick this time. Maybe you had reached out to me because you were in the quicksand and needed a hand. I sent a text. Next thing I knew, we were planning to get together for a drink within 24 hours.

I was twisted up for an entire day. WHAT. IF. Have we ever been in a room together and not made out?? Do we have some kind of crazy chemistry that supersedes rational thought? No. Stop. I love my life, and nothing is worth sacrificing that for, even for a second. It will be fine. I turned up Childish Gambino, remembered who I am, and rolled into the bar. Shooing away the host with a “hi, I’m meeting someone”, I recognized you immediately across the room.

Think about your good friends, the ones who have been around seemingly forever. If time is a river, as Steve Winwood suggests, slowly carving out stone into canyons, we watch our friends evolve and change and become polished in certain ways and cracked in others, but constantly; changing, imperceptibly, before our eyes. When you skip ahead 18 years, it’s like a flash flood that gives way to a landslide. The landscape has suddenly changed. It’s still a bit familiar and you remember what it used to look like (maybe?), but it’s startlingly different, and you can’t quite picture how it was, or what’s missing, exactly.

You’re just…. a guy. Not the devil at all, as it turns out. And you know what? It was nice to see you. It was easy to catch up. You showed me pictures of your kids. I showed you pictures of my cats. You still have that voice, but I can’t help but feel like something is off. Your spark is gone. You used to be larger than life, and now life seems to have swallowed you.

Don’t think I didn’t notice that you tried to get me alone: “should we go for a walk?” “want to go people-watch at my hotel?” Darts thrown wide. As we started to say our goodbyes, a huge summer storm opened up. We waited under the overhang for a break in the rain, you had a cigarette, and we realized our cars were each about 30 feet away in opposite directions. You tried to offer to… pick me up? Take me to my car? In your car? I laughed. We shared a long hug, and I ran out into the rain.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t know how to be your friend. I feel like something hasn’t been said, that maybe you’re holding out. Why did you show up after a lifetime of years? Why are we still here, expecting each other? Are you a time traveler, checking in on me? I can’t deny that by seeing you, you’ve held up the mirror; I see that my life is exactly how I want it to be right now.

But still…. I want to help? I want to try. Let me be your friend. Let me send you a joke on a Thursday, or listen to you complain about traffic, or have you bounce ideas off me. Tell me your secrets, because it doesn’t matter what I think of them. We haven’t known each other for a long time, and yet we’ve been here this whole time. Now, maybe, we can finally be real.

3 thoughts on “Thank You, Next: A Ghost Story

  1. Pingback: Lyn’s Favorite Songs of 2019–and Albums–so far! | Everything and Nothings

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