Things haunt you differently than you think they will.
Sometimes I have this mental image of some large field or room full to single people trying to find each other. They walk around until they find someone they want to stand next to. But they’re not alone. Everyone is trailed by a line of ghosts. The ghosts are those we’ve dated, those we’ve liked, those we’ve hurt and who have hurt us. Ghosts of all the people we’ve loved before, chaperoning our new relationships.
How do the ghosts line up? Is it in chronological order, a timeline of who we are in the form of those we let close to us? Your first boyfriend always right behind you, reminding you that you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him?
Is it in reverse chronological order? With your most recent love standing behind you, casting his shadow on the way you feel about every interaction with the person you’ve found yourself standing next to?
What’s the most fascinating to me is when they line up in order of importance. With the one who haunts you to the greatest degree always right there like a devil on your shoulder.
It’s often surprising to turn and see who is standing there first. How did he cut in line in front of these others who have more right to be here? He smiles shyly and waves. Your boyfriends in positions 2 and 3 roll their eyes like, “What’s this guy doing here?”
You sometimes forget the trail of ghosts is there, of course. But often I realize who is first in line by the way I see flashes of his face in the faces of so many others. I swipe right on anyone on dating apps who has the specter of his face in theirs. That must mean something, for them to have a little bit of him in them.
It’s also strange to crane your neck and see who’s at the back of the line. They’re dim, and they’re trailing behind, like they almost forgot to line up. I squint to make out their faces. Oh! Him! I never think of him!
And—it’s so crazy—once I start to think of those cabooses, I remember that they were some of the worst. They said the things that were the most unintentionally harmful. They made the silliest choices. Why aren’t they at the front, mocking me?
In the middle of the pack, some of them have become chummy. They’re friends now. You like that, but mostly you ignore them.
It doesn’t make sense. But at least as the time drags on, I don’t have to stand there alone.