*Warning! Adult language.
We are all made up of moments and memories.
This is my love story. Or rather, it’s a ghost story. Or maybe it’s a “Thank you,” and a “Fuck you,” story about loving a ghost. Visceral moments that fade into half-developed memories.
I’m about to write a love story for The New York Times: “Love in the time of Corona.” You know, a nod to the literary giant, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera? Lockdown has just begun, and they’re seeking love stories. I’m in the intimate and shyly delicious throes of the early months of a new relationship, and I mention to him that I’ll write our story. Our love story. He gives his blessing, for we are falling, free-falling, into something real.
A few weeks later, he ghosts me.
The magic dragon. He wrote a children’s story about a dragon who couldn’t breathe fire. Maybe it was a metaphor, but how could I know?
It doesn’t really matter. I still got ghosted.
Do we hold on to the ghosts of the past? Reach out to grasp on to invisible air to make them stay, to make them real? To pin them back into existence, as if they might stay this time.
I think about that glorious movie with Juliet Stephenson and the late, great, magnificent Alan Rickman, “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” He dies and she can’t move on, so consumed by her grief. He comes back to comfort her and moves into her apartment to be with her. I haven’t seen it for a long time, but it’s deeply intimate. She meets someone. A street magician. Realising that she has to make a choice, she finally asks her lover’s ghost to leave; in order to live, she has to let the dead go.
How the fuck can someone ghost another being? To disappear like the fucking ultimate magic trick?
Magic and magicians were spoken of before we’d even met. Imaginary plans placed in boxes of illusion. We decided that we’d infiltrate the magic circle together, find out their secrets. Internet dating. Magic tricks. We joked that he would entertain me on our date with magic. He admitted that he only knew of two so that wouldn’t take up too much time.
I didn’t know that he was fluent in the ultimate and most impressive magic trick of them all: the act and art of disappearing.
This usually thrills the crowds who search for hidden doors and traps on the stage’s ground, scratching their heads. The air suspended with such breathless anticipation. The breath held in and back. The knowing that the trick doesn’t just end there. There’s a joy in the waiting, the time being teased, no rush, the magician knowing that he has the audience rapt and like putty in his hands. The more he holds them in that bated state, the warmer and softer they would get. He couldn’t just pack up at that point. There’d be an outcry! He knows and they know.
And so it happens, with majestic flourishes, the disappeared one reappears, and both the returnee and the magician are triumphant. The audience is satisfied. Everyone can go home now, thrilled, and satiated by the entertainment, and filled with wonder of things that don’t make sense. Everything has a resolution.
Well, on the stage it does.
But what if they don’t come back?
What if they leave midstage, midsentence, and leave you, and it, hanging in the air, unfinished, breath still held in and back?
What if there’s never the exhalation, and you move around your days unable to exhale, taking in more and more even though there’s no space to do so, because you haven’t breathed out, you can’t, you don’t even realise that you’ve been holding your breath? Holding on to moments and conversations and hope and, if you’re a writer, craving to embrace each and every part of your story, pressed against your nonbreathing chest, searching for clues, for understanding, for answers, for resolution.
Waiting for them to, poof, magically come back, out of the secret trapdoor that has your lungs and heart caught in its hinges.
How do you bust a ghost?
One day, like a balloon, you just pop. The air comes out. The grief hits, the shock unravelling like a spool. You let go.
Sometimes people turn into ghosts.
Maybe they were only ghosts to begin with.
Eventually, we have to exhale. To move once again in the land of the living.
We have to exhale. Breathe out. Stop waiting. The act has finished. The magician already in a different town, a different city, wowing new audiences. But you’ve been sat there in your seat, waiting to exhale.
Waiting to exhale.
Maybe it’s a relief when the balloon finally pops and you can breathe again. And all will come tumbling out, all the places you pinned and pressed against what seemed real. They have nothing to stick on to anymore.
Two people are in a relationship and it’s the intimate pieces that are tickled out of us, the places that are shared and offered and given as a gift to the other. The pillow-talking and the laughter. The hand-holding aching with innocence. The secret stories whispered in low light and late at night. The music shared. The ordinary moments of your days. Learning each other, studying faces, enchanted by eyes and lips, and the history slowly revealed. History and mystery. The pieces of our hearts, over time, weaving together something new. A new pattern.
In the space between you. A bonding. Velcroed memories created together, new moments only possible because you are both in them. But when one of you is a ghost, then those pieces no longer hold together. They don’t exist anymore. All that was woven now hangs in threads.
You’re given everything back. All the pieces you gave fall to the floor. You feel a bit silly.
Coward. Fucking coward.
Maybe he’s dead?
The last thing I said to him? It was in a voice message. On a hot day in May. Lay on the grass, feeling the wildness of sun and blue sky and the softness of my bare skin. Desiring him. Missing him. Us. Passion mixed with such longing that it turned into that strange taste of hate. Hating the absence and lusting for his presence. A confessional voice in the slowly eternally stretching void of silence growing now between us. He wasn’t going to hear this now anyway, was he? He’d gone. So I told him how much I wanted to fuck him, and how much I hated him for not being here.
Too much? God knows. He loved my intensity, craved it, he said.
I love my intensity. My woman. My sex and aliveness and full claiming of my desire.
I never heard anything more.
Gone. Poof! Ghost.
I don’t want to finish the story there. I want to finish here. Here where my toes touch the floor. Legs cross. Shoulders hunched now releasing down again. Aliveness moving through my body and my arms. The exhaling. The coming back to life. Heart touched and tender.
When the ship that you were merrily relating in just suddenly evaporates, you begin to drown. Pulled out of the sea and you splutter the water from your lungs. A dramatic exhale. The colour returns. You can move. You can breathe again.
Coming back to life.
It’s raining now. I can hear the wind too. And feel a cool air through the window.
Coming back to life, yes.
They say that you should never fuck with a writer because you’ll end up dead, or you’ll never die, or you will be turned immortal into some nasty semblance of a human being, or made to look and seem simpering and weak, or be brutally murdered after undergoing torrential torture, or be described pithily as having a small dick, condolences for the author, please. They’ll wait.
No. If you fuck with a writer, or even fuck a writer, then you’re doubly in trouble. You see, sometimes it cannot be helped. The only way you have to make any sense about any bloody thing is to write about it, and hope that, as so and so once proclaimed, that it will all make sense in the process of. And if not, well, then you have some literature at the end of it all. Maybe even some to salvage and create savage reports on regarding the death of love or one’s hatred for men because they are all fuckwits.
But though this story does indeed end with a fuck and a desire and a moment of passion infused hatred. It’s not the case that I hate men; I love men. And though one could suggest that this is a writer seeking revenge on the man who wronged her, which is I guess how this story started, the truth is that I loved him. That I still do. And that I don’t desire to cut off his ties or his dick. He doesn’t wear one, and it worked pretty fine, in that order.
He’s still a coward though. Yet I’m no longer interested in what hides up his sleeve, or whether he can pull a rabbit out of his flat cap hat.
No. This is, and was, a love story. A human love story. About two people. And a short-lived, but lovely, romantic relationship where it just so happened one of them turned into a ghost.
This is a love story and it ends with fuck and a ghost. Maybe they all do. One day.
But for now, I am living. The ghost has been exorcised. I am the magic reappearing on the stage.
I’ll take that bow now.