Tag Archive | moving on

Haunted

I walked slowly through the ancient, abandoned insane asylum, thoroughly unnerved, skin crawling with chills that had nothing to do with the weather. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

Birds were singing. They hopped in patches of afternoon sunlight filtering in through the broken windows, pecking here and there at blades of grass growing out of cracks in the floor. Lizards darted along the crumbling walls, and butterflies (for heaven’s sake, freaking butterflies) fluttered among flowering vines that crept in from outdoors. The place was vibrant with life reclaiming the ruins.

That’s what was wrong. This place was haunted. At least, it was supposed to be. It belonged to the centuries-old dead,  those who’d been locked away here due to plots and conspiracies by their enemies. The truly insane who died had passed on. The unjustly imprisoned remained, their cold anger banishing all warmth from the moldering halls, their dark memories shrouding the windows from persistent sunlight. I didn’t know why they tolerated me coming here so often; I only knew why I came. This was the only place I could go where the outside world matched how I felt inside since Jonathan and our baby died.

Now the bright cheerfulness pervading the decrepit old building felt alien, glaring, even obscene. A bee buzzed by my cheek and I shrieked and jumped a foot, considerably more startled than when I first felt ghostly fingers touching my hair. I leaned against the wall, calming my furiously pounding heart, but the sun-warmed stone touching my skin freaked me out more than clammy, dripping walls ever did. What was going on here? What the hell was going on?

“Are you alright?”

I whirled towards the sound, fright mingling with relief that there was someone here, someone who might have answers.

“I heard you scream, so I came to see if you were alright.” The voice belonged to a man standing at the end of the hallway. Leather boots, torn jeans, dirty white shirt unbuttoned to partially reveal a solid chest. His eyes were ageless, and extraordinarily beautiful.

“Where are the ghosts?” I asked him, ignoring his concern.

“They left,” he replied. If he was surprised by my question, I couldn’t hear it in his tone.

“They left? Why?”

“I guess I scared them,” he answered, with an almost imperceptible lift at the corner of his mouth. Almost, but not quite.

“You scared them,” I deadpanned, despite the fact that my heartbeat was still in overdrive. “What could scare a ghost?”

“A wizard who could grant them another life.”

In my surprise, only the first part of his reply registered. I looked at him standing ten feet away, completely ordinary except for those remarkable eyes. “A  wizard. Right.” My disbelief couldn’t be more obvious.

At this, he chuckled and shook his head slightly, then started to amble towards me. “So let me get this straight. You believe in ghosts, but not in wizards?”

“I’ve seen ghosts,” I shot back.

He stopped about four feet away, holding out his arms at his sides. “Well, now you’re seeing a wizard, Melissa.”

The strangeness of the day, the drastic changes in my hideout, and the fact that this stranger knew my name choked any reply that I might have made to that.  Fear lodged in my throat so securely that I couldn’t make a sound.

“It just comes with the territory,” he offered gently, never moving from his spot, his watchful eyes marking my shock. “I mean you no harm.”

“Say you really are a wizard,” I said, struggling to swallow my fright just to get answers. “Why would you harm the spirits who were trapped here? And why is everything suddenly so different?”

He looked around at the sun-dappled, vine-tangled hallway. “It’s different because once their influence dissipated, nature started making up for lost time. But I didn’t harm your ghosts, Melissa, nor did I want to. I came here two nights ago because I was injured from a fight with two rivals who ambushed me nearby,” he explained, gesturing to the brown stains on his shirt, which I now realized were dried blood. “I defeated them, and I was able to close my wounds, but I needed a place to regain my strength. So I came here.”

“That doesn’t explain anything,” I interjected, my bravado rising again. “Even if any of it were true in the first place.”

“It’s all true,” he assured me, but instead of offense, I saw a hint of admiration at my determined recovery. “I’m powerful enough to grant a spirit in limbo a second chance at life. I’ve done it before, twice, for very good reasons. No one else can do that, and I guess it made me quite notorious in the supernatural world, so when I came here, the ghosts fled.”

“But why would they do that?” I cried, my heart starting to swell with unbearable desire, with anguished need. “Why would anyone miss a second chance at life?” If it were true, if he could do it, if it were in any way possible…my child, my beautiful child, and Jonathan, just to hold him close once again—

“Melissa,” he interrupted my frantic, half-formed thoughts. His voice was gentle, yet inexorable as rain as he doused my faint, flickering hope, “I can’t bring your family back. They’re no longer in limbo. They’ve moved on.”

Did I say my hope was faint? Yet when it was finally snuffed, there was a resounding crash, like a burned out house collapsing to the ground, burying me in ashes and burning, excruciating sorrow. It finally caught up with me here in my last escape, and I buckled under its weight, deaf to all else but the keening, animal sound of grief echoing against the walls. Dimly, I realized that it was my own throat making that horrible wailing, that I was finally weeping for what I had lost, releasing the flood of tears and racking sobs that I had kept firmly dammed for so long. I love them, I love them so much. I needed them, but I would never get them back. I would never get my family back, and I just wanted the agony to kill me.

But I didn’t die. After a long while, the tears were drained, and so was the last of my strength. I found myself lying on  the floor, curled up tightly with my back to the wall and my arms wound around my knees. The wizard—I realized that I didn’t know what else to call him—was sitting beside me, leaning against the wall and silently watching twilight fall through the window. That was all I registered before I gave in to the bone-deep exhaustion and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was night time. There was no disorientation, just a returning awareness of grief and tiredness that not even the deepest sleep could ease. I gingerly sat up and took stock of my surroundings. The moon was out and there were some fireflies, but most of the light in the hospital hallway came from the little yellow fireball that my companion was tossing from hand to hand, much like my cousin Ted does with his favorite baseball. He looked at me and smiled, then casually waved a tall glass of water and a neatly wrapped sandwich into existence on the floor beside me. Still too tired to comment on this proof that he really was a wizard, I gratefully reached for the food and ate quietly.

When I was done, I leaned back against the wall beside him and stretched out my legs. “So you really are a wizard,” I remarked, just to break the silence. I winced at the hoarseness of my voice.

“Yep,” was all that he said.

“I still don’t understand why the ghosts ran away from you. I mean, they’re in limbo, so you could have helped them.”

“Can’t you really think of a reason?” he prodded, turning to me with an inscrutable look on his face.

“No,” I replied, genuinely puzzled but also glad for this tiny, momentary distraction from the barbed ache wrapped around my heart, piercing my lungs with every breath.

“Most ghosts don’t really want to live,” he explained. “They’ve gotten used to where they are. They haven’t accepted their deaths enough to move on, even after centuries. But life, with all its uncertainties, also terrifies them. Even being confronted with the choice to live again, the responsibility of having to say yes or no to that option, upsets them. So when they saw me coming, they fled.”

I was beginning to understand. I’d been a bit of a ghost myself, haunting this hospital, escaping the world. Only it wasn’t my own death that I was rebelling against. “Are they gone forever?”

“No,” he responded, shaking his head. “They’ll come back when I leave. Then all of this,” he gestured to the fireflies flickering among the vines on the opposite wall, “will go back to how it was.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say. The fireflies were really pretty, and I realized that I didn’t want them gone.

He smiled at my tone, a quiet smile, full of compassion. “You won’t be able to come back here, Melissa.”

“Why not?” I asked, but somehow I already sensed the answer.

“You’re no longer like them, not since you started facing your loss today. You’re now entering reality once again, rejoining the land of the living. They won’t let you back in. But you no longer need this place, anyway.”

“Living hurts,” I whispered, my voice cracking and tears, never too far away now, rushing back into my eyes. “It hurts so damned much.”

“I know,” he murmured. Then he released his fireball to float in front of us and slowly, gently reached out to draw me closer. With utmost care he rested my head on his shoulder and put his arm around me, then added, “but not always. It won’t always hurt.”

With that promise, he pressed a kiss on my temple, a simple kindness, a blessing to go with the uncomplicated comfort of his warmth. We sat there inside the ruined old building, the fireball, the moon and the fireflies blurring through my tears, dancing points of light in the darkness of my first night back in the land of the living. This time, I didn’t close my eyes.

*****

This was written for Inspiration Monday, in response to the prompt “now entering reality”. However, it started as a dream that pretty much was like the beginning of this post, where she walks around to find all the ghosts gone, and I woke up wondering, what could frighten the dead? This was a way to answer that question. Sorry it got so long, and thanks for reading!

David

You know what I found this morning, in a long-unopened compartment of my wallet? It was a letter from you, dated several years and a lifetime ago. Tucked into the folds were three balayong blossoms, dry and fragile from being pressed for so long. You loved me then, I remember. You recorded these promises for posterity, so that I can read them over and over again and know what I meant to you. And then you changed your mind.

Dammit, David. How can I still be hurting over this now? People’s hearts get broken every day. People get left behind, and people move on. So why the heck am I here, plenty of time and plenty of adventures later, crying over sheets of paper that no longer hold anything real? It’s not like I spent my days wallowing in heartbreak. Eventually, I stopped missing you or even thinking about you. I loved, I laughed, I engaged. I did things that matter. I grew up a little every day, and I stopped wanting you back. You are no longer a part of my life — most of the time.

But some days just catch me off guard. It could be the little details, like the sight of my own palm, messy with squiggles and lines whenever I write with a ballpoint pen. I can almost hear your exasperated laugh,  almost see you trying to figure out why the ink that should have landed on paper ended up on my hand instead.  Or it could be the big things, David, the wounds received in the process of living.  Somehow, every goodbye is still an echo of yours, every person walking away steps in your footprints until they are out of sight. And suddenly there would be tears flooding my throat all over again. After all this freaking time.

So here I am today, writing on tear-soaked paper, thinking that’s enough. That’s more than enough. I want to love again like I loved you, in spite of risk, in spite of fear. Loving you taught me just how much I could give and how far I can go, and I don’t want to lose that. I want to offer myself again to someone, the right someone. You didn’t stay, David, but someone else will. Someone else deserves this misguided intensity of emotion that I wasted on you, long after you didn’t want it anymore.

I’ve always been the one who remembers. In a way, I’ve come to accept that, the inability to really forget what was once important. The memories will remind me to be careful, but I could stand to let go of the souvenirs. It’s been over for so long. This is the part, I think, where I stop letting it hurt.

Of doppelgangers, accidental meetings, and letting go

It’s insane how much you look like my first love. You walked up to me on the seashore early one morning, and the shock of recognition was followed by a strong sense of disorientation. What are you doing here, Alex? I thought. Here, of all places, in my somewhere else. When you said something (it was about the sunrise, I think, but I was still too unsettled to remember), I realized that you weren’t him, just someone who looked remarkably similar. Several days of running into each other, and sort of becoming friends, haven’t dulled the resemblance. You even move like him, for goodness’ sake.

You made me surprise myself, you know. There was a time, long ago, when any reminder of him would have hurt, or felt bittersweet. Not anymore. I take pleasure in your smile, that wonderfully familiar grin that automatically makes me want to smile back, and it takes me back to the laughter that made me fall in love. There’s a feeling of being in two places when I’m with you: one in which I’m enjoying your company, and another where I’m wandering in the past. None of this is painful, just odd and funny and surprisingly easy. Twice, I almost called you by his name, just luckily catching myself in time. It’s a double world I’m living in, and meeting you has taken me there.

This isn’t really about you, I’m sorry. I don’t truly know who you are beneath your likeness to another man. There isn’t enough time to find out, because you’re leaving the island soon. We’re both transients here, you and I, and it’s a funny twist of fate that brought us together that day under the sunrise.

I think it’s okay, that we won’t really get to know each other. Perhaps our meeting is a gift, one that I needed more than I realized. You showed me that I have what it takes to move on. I have a problem with that, you see, with moving on. I linger at the spot of every important goodbye, watching the person walk away until the final glimpse is gone, hoping for one last backwards glance. I’m never the first to turn away; I’m always the one who’s haunted. Meeting you, enjoying the ease of looking into eyes that take me back to a different time, have reminded me that even if it takes longer than most, I do move on. Maybe I never forget, but I can eventually remember without pain. And that gives me hope.

When you go, I won’t ever see you again. You’ll be one of those significant strangers, the ones who stay just a little while but leave a lasting imprint. In this case, I think you’ll take away something, too, the fear that I have a heart that doesn’t heal. It’s enough. It’s more than I thought a stranger can give, but that’s what you did, even if you didn’t know it. Thank you. I won’t ever get to say this out loud, but thank you.

Before and After

I used to know the exact moment you walked into a room. I would feel you there, and I’d turn, and a sense of peacefulness would grow inside me, immediately, without exception. I could be hurting or afraid; it didn’t matter. Your presence meant that no matter what was wrong, there was still something right.

Now it’s all too easy to pretend you’re not there. To see a photograph and look at everyone but you. The longer I could look away, the more it meant that the obsession was over.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

 

(This is a response to the 100 words challenge in Velvet Verbosity. The word for the week was “within”.)

Leftover hurt

This morning, I saw Facebook pictures of this girl on a night out with my friends.  I was surprised to find myself tearing up, surprised that even now, the sight of her with them still felt like a punch to the gut. She and I had a history, if having someone you loved and trusted go behind your back and turn all your friends against you can be called a history. It left me completely isolated and unable to trust anyone when I desperately needed a support system to deal with bipolar disorder.

But that was more than a year ago. I had already forgiven her, even without her asking. I had forgiven the people who, for months, had listened to her talking against me without telling me anything. I even started spending time with them again, getting back some of the closeness that had been lost. Some friendships never completely recovered, but a few precious ones became stronger than before.

So why did it still hurt?

I searched myself for any desire for revenge, a longing perhaps to see her as isolated as I had been. It honestly wasn’t there. In a twisted way, I understood that what she did was justified to her, and that she had suffered as well. It was never her betrayal that did the most damage anyway, it was the passive response to it of people whom I trusted to have my back. But even those relationships have been slowly repaired.

Gradually, it dawned on me why the wound never completely healed. It was never acknowledged. After the debacle, I withdrew from everybody involved to struggle with my depression on my own. Some made efforts to reach out, but I felt too wary and vulnerable, too exhausted and battered, to respond. It was a long while before I got back in touch, and by that time everyone, including myself, just wanted things to be normal. The incident was glossed over, forgotten, never spoken of again. I could only really talk about it to one person, but to everyone else, it might as well never have happened.

I thought all I needed to do so that I could move on was to forgive. But there’s still some leftover hurt beneath the surface, an aching need for someone to say, “Yes, this happened. It was traumatic, and it hurt you — you’re allowed to be hurt. I’m hurting for you, too.” With life going on as usual, it seemed like the pain didn’t matter, that it wasn’t of any consequence to anyone, even to myself. I buried it under my desire to go back to the way things were, but this morning it reminded me that I still didn’t have closure. It reminded me that forgiveness is one thing, but healing takes not only time, but an acknowledgement that the wound is real in the first place.

Still haunted

It is such a simple thing, an embrace. The first memory you gave me, and the last one I’ll forget.

I’ve been discarding all the things I miss about you, one by one, like plastic pearls from a broken necklace. No matter how beautiful they seem, I now know exactly what they’re worth, and I have to let them go. There was one that looked so perfect I thought it was real — the image of you looking up at me from the water as I hesitated, just about to jump. Trust me, you said. I will never let you get hurt. So I jumped, and you were there, and I started to think that maybe you always will be. Now that memory lies in the dust with the rest, all the other promises and gestures and smiles that turned out to be less than real in the end.

But the memory of your embrace remains. The first one, when I started to realize that you might become more important than all the others, was that afternoon on the couch, when you held me in your arms and sang me to sleep, running your fingers softly through my hair over and over again. I could feel your strength and all of your breathtaking gentleness, and the tenderness of the moment surrounded me like a forest, like a place I might get lost in forever and never want to leave. I felt safe, cherished, and utterly at peace. I felt loved.

But now I no longer feel anything but disillusioned, and I would do anything to forget. So how do I erase the memory of a touch, when it turns out that it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant? How can I stop remembering the way that you held me, now that you have irrevocably let me go?

It is such a simple thing, an embrace. But it is far less simple to forget.

By the sea

I went out with a friend today. We went out and we sat by the ocean, and somehow the conversation turned to the first one who broke my heart. Suddenly, I found myself talking about you again, after long years of thinking of you too much, then trying to forget, and finally succeeding. I surprised myself with all the little things I remembered — the way your laugh always made me feel like laughing, too, the way your eyes lit up with that irresistible smile, the way our friends always introduced us as childhood sweethearts and I’d protest that we weren’t, while you were quite happy to pretend that I’ve had a crush on you since kindergarten. I haven’t thought about all these things for so long, never even noticed the moment when I grew out of the habit of keeping you in mind. But now, with the gates of memory unlocked, I found myself remembering your hands on a guitar, your hands that could coax the sweetest music from any instrument you touched, your hands that used to hold mine. I could almost feel the thrill of it all again — my hero worship, the slow transition from seeing you as my best friend’s big brother to someone I could fall in love with, the stunned wonder when I realized you felt the same. It was my first time, and it was better than all the stories said it would be.

That day, as I sat watching the waves and allowed the memories to flow out of me, as I sat reminiscing about all that we used to mean to each other, I realized that it didn’t hurt anymore. There wasn’t even the slightest tinge of sadness. The what-ifs and the might-have-beens no longer haunted me. I could think about you, and talk about you, without pain. I could look back at all the wonderful little details that made you who you were, and realize that there is someone else who knows you better now, and be happy for you. I could take pride in the decent, honorable man that I knew you to be, and even though it didn’t work out, at least I know it was worth a try. You were one of the good guys. Not the right one, not meant for me, but worthwhile. And it’s okay.

Getting over you, being able to put you firmly in the past and wish you well for the future, being able to talk about you with fondness — it frees me. Though my heart is broken now for another reason, perhaps I can hope that someday, after the healing passage of time, I will sit by the ocean again, and watch the waves,  and laugh.