(I wrote this in November and kept changing my mind about posting it. But the truth is this is more me than probably any other post I will or would write, and I want this space to be documentation of who I really am and what was really going on at this time in our lives. Also, if people don't want to read it they don't have to. Which is totally obvious, but sometimes I forget that.)
There is nothing sadder than thinking you see someone you know across the room and realizing it can’t be them (it can’t be them) because they are dead. This time of year brings ghosts into our lives that for the rest of the year stay silent. I’m not talking about real ghosts, but the people in our lives that we lost and the way they still exist for us, somewhere in our brain or our hearts, maybe a little of both.
I am thirty years old and my heart is filled to the brim with ghosts.
Yesterday I was walking through the grocery store and thought I saw an old co-worker. Not the kind of old co-worker that you see and that you hope you don’t see you because you didn’t have that much to talk about when you saw each other everyday, so you dread the awkward conversation of two people who no longer have even geography in common. No, I’m talking about the coworker that made me laugh, that kept me sane. The one who tried to give me sage advice because, at ten years my senior, he looked at me as a little sister or daughter, depending on the day. The one (of only two) I invited to my wedding. But I didn’t see him because he is lost to me, ever since I got a phone call from his number years after we worked together. When I picked it up and greeted the caller with “Hey stranger!” and it was just that. His sweet wife who I didn’t know at all, calling to tell me that he would be someone I thought I would see in the grocery store, years later, but would not.
Last night as I was trying to go to sleep I kept thinking about my Noni’s date cookies. They were the most un-kid friendly cookie ever invented. Something your Noni from Italy would make instead of your Grandma from California. Yet every time I would spend the night at her house there would be a frozen roll of those cookies waiting to be thawed out, sliced, and baked just for me. I laid there, last night, thinking I would do just about anything to see her veiny, weathered fingers slicing her knife through that hard frozen roll of cookie dough. But she is gone as well, and with her, the smells of her kitchen and the feeling of her small, bony body underneath my own as we rocked in her pink easy chair. There is something different about the way you see people that you didn’t get to have around into adulthood, innocence and selfishness blurring the edges of your memories. All they can be is what they were to you because it is almost impossible for a child to see past that. How tragic that such a long life has been whittled down to cookies and rocking chairs in my mind. A woman who lived through more war years than not, more hard times than good, that spoke a language I did not understand into her kitchen phone to people that were and still are a mystery to me.
My dad died when I was nineteen. I write that sentence easily, the easiest seven words I could ever type, because I live that sentence. Every big moment in my life, every sad day, every time my boy does something to make someone else laugh, there is the marked and tangible absence of him. He is a myth I will tell my children someday, a part of myself that those closest to me will never know. A person that I don’t even really know, another victim of a life oversimplified by those who remember him. I don’t even have the mundane details of daily life to keep him tethered to reality for me, having not lived with him since I was a baby. All I have is the stories people tell me of him and the memories I try to hold onto like paper floating away in the wind.
The first boy I ever loved died when I was twenty, before I was old enough to realize what real love felt like, and that what I felt for him was not it. The first time I saw him we were fifteen and he was walking past me in the hallway of my high school and it was like I was living in a Taylor Swift song, everything was in slow motion. Years later I would feel like I knew him better than anyone in the world, and even more years later I would realize I didn’t know him at all, and that maybe no one really knew him. He was the kind of person that was born to be a legend, someone that had a way of existing for each person that loved him exactly how they saw him in their mind. I am not happy he is gone because I know there are people whose lives go on with the marked absence of him. But I am glad that the person he exists as in my mind can never be ruined by the imperfection of a flawed reality.
The ghosts that we know remind us of who we are, our truest selves, because they are a part of that person. They aren’t just stories we tell or people we knew, they are wrapped up in who we are for having known them. That is how lost loved ones go on existing.