My life is full of the ghosts of lovers past. They ride with me in the car as I drive to meet a friend. They sit on my shoulder as I chat about my sexual explorations of long ago. They leap off of my tongue while talking to my boyfriend, and, horrifyingly, they hover over me when we make love.
I’ve attempted to exorcize these ghosts many times before. When I broke up with James, I swear to god I saw our entire relationship flash before my eyes, an omen of a relational car-crash. Illuminated by ultra-white light, I saw our cuddles in his high-ceiling bedroom, our late night library dates, when his hand would sneak under the table and over my thigh as we read. Then, I was gone and he was too, mostly, minus the occasional dull pain of his absence in my chest. A part of me worried he was still alive, and so I loved him and left him one more time, six months later, just to be sure.
Next was Ethan. I stabbed Ethan’s ghost with a crucifix the weekend we broke up, committed to killing my first true love fully and completely. I mourned him, cried, grieved, and marched onward, refusing to see his tall, lanky shadow tread behind me as I walked.
I killed him so completely that his ghost was compelled to take another form, inhabit an alternate body. The ghost of Ethan Taylor became an 18-year-old girl with large brown eyes and a flat stomach. Her name was Sophia and when my tears had destroyed a picture of the two of them I had found, the wetness morphing their inky bodies into one, I decided to summon her. Reciting incantations of self-loathing, I called her to me. In these moments, she faithfully came. A translucent smile on her face, she would float before me, impeccably dressed.
Nik’s ghost will remain with me forever and I will pray for a sighting. His love was innocent, earnest, kind. His life was the same. He died long after I broke his heart and before then, his ghost had only ever presented as an orb. A tiny, bright light, unexplained by science, or an item that suddenly goes missing in the house causing me to laugh a little to myself. But now, his ghost is real and heavy and around me all the time.
Past ghosts have been malevolent, encouraging me to indulge in the worst parts of myself: the parts that feel bitter, dissatisfied, not enough. Nik’s ghost is different. Nik’s ghost emerges surrounded by light, adorned in roses, acoustic guitar announcing his presence. Nik’s ghost talks to me in a kind, playful whisper saying, “hey now,” when I’m upset, or “have fun today” on my morning drive to work. In fact, Nik’s ghost most often appears within, not without me. Nik’s ghost is a brief possession of my heart that leaves me present and grateful.
To all the ghosts I’ve loved before: you may haunt the rest of my waking hours with reminders of what once was and what could be, but in your presence, I will be unafraid. You, more than anyone should know; forward is the only direction I can go and now is the only moment I have to live.