I’m writing this letter in my best attempt to exorcise you.
The thing is, I’m experiencing the absolute highlight of my life right now. You can guess what it is: the thing you and I most wanted for ourselves and each other, that each of us dreamed of from childhood. It’s finally happening for me, after a lifetime of ink, sweat, and tears. I’m over the moon–floating–buzzing–practically shimmering with joy, celebrating every tiny milestone…and aware, too, at every milestone, that you are not here celebrating with me.
In my heart, I still think you should be here for this moment. You, of all people, should be cheering the loudest–as I would have cheered, deafeningly and obnoxiously, for you. But that version of you is not real, Ghost.
And yet I miss you. Even though you may have never been real, you were real to me for 16 formative years: the entirety of my 20s, the dawn of my 30s. The day I realized you did not exist–may never have existed–was heartbreaking. Stepping away from you, even if it was for my own health and sanity, was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
Let me try to explain your haunting with another story: When I was about 9 years old, my hamster died. What I remember most about that first grim loss is having this unnerving feeling like I’d gotten it wrong; I kept worrying my hamster wasn’t stiff as a board in his cardboard box, but merely unconscious, and if I buried him he would wake up terrified and die of suffocation. I kept checking, over and over again, to be sure he was really dead. It just didn’t seem right. And still, as an adult, when animals and people die–though I like to think of myself as having a pretty good handle on death and grief–there is a degree of wrongness about the whole thing. It feels incorrect to my brain that a being is alive one minute and dead the next. There’s something about death, about significant loss, that causes glitches in the brain.
That is what it’s like with you, Ghost. I keep thinking, surely you are still there: the same kind and big-hearted person who helped me believe I could achieve my dreams. The same person who taught me about emotional vulnerability when you (often and vociferously) declared your plutonic love for me. The same person who literally walked me through some of the hardest decisions of my life. Surely, all those good things that made me look up to you–me, who never looks up to anyone–that made me think you held the world in your hands, that made me consider you my sister…they must still be there. Right?
But that is grief for you. The stage of “denial” is more than just a moment of disbelief; it is weeks, months, years of reprogramming the bereaved mind to associate the deceased with reality instead of fantasy. In my case, this has been made harder by the fact that I’ve been mostly unable to share my grief with anyone who has not witnessed, firsthand, why I walked away from the living version of you. I’m not reconciling you, Ghost, with someone who is actually dead*, which would have given me ritualized and community support while dealing with your loss. I’m reconciling you with someone who is still alive. Someone who hurt, and manipulated, and took advantage of the people who cared about you. Someone who lied constantly (even more than I knew), and broke her own tearful promises, and annihilated the cautiously delineated boundaries of others. Someone who, when you take away the pretty, effusive words, generally treats people as disposable and interchangeable.
That is the reason I’m writing you this letter. I must remember the true, living version of you, in order to finally lay the fictional version of you to rest. And you are fictional, Ghost.
It is not an easy thing to do: to admit to myself that I was fooled by the same charms as everyone else, or to realize I had been wrong all the years I defended the terrible ways you treated me when my family members took umbrage against you on my behalf. It is not easy to realize that the charade of our friendship only lasted as long as it did because I had absolutely no boundaries, and only a superficial degree of self-respect. It is not easy to lay to rest a person I held in such high regard that I had taken your friendship as evidence of my own worthiness to be loved.
But I am tired of being haunted. I am ready to let you go.
I don’t know if merely saying it will work. I suppose it’s possible you will haunt me at every milestone you should have been present for, just as your absence was already haunting me before our friendship truly ended. I suppose it’s possible, Ghost, that you could haunt me forever. Because who could possibly replace the fantasy you made yourself out to be–a fantasy I believed in, wholeheartedly, for so long?
Regardless of what is to come, I believe in the power of words, and especially the power of saying a thing out loud. Secrets hold power, too, but sometimes putting a thing outside yourself to be witnessed is the kind of power necessary to make a change.
So I am saying this, out loud: No matter if you stay or go, I have decided I will not let your ghost darken any more big moments for me. I will no longer be haunted by you. I am choosing to focus only on the good that has come from losing you (and there is plenty of that to consider). I am choosing to let go of this final, delusional thread that ties me to you.
Still. I like to think that, maybe, in another world, on another timeline, the spectral version of you in my heart is real, and vibrant, and just as alive as I’d always imagined. That in some universe, we really are the soul-bound sisters I truly thought we were. I hope they’re celebrating my milestone together there. I hope they’re both happy, healed, and thriving.
And I hope the real version of you will be, too, someday.
Always (at the very least in some parallel dimension),
*Nor is that what I wish had happened.
Reader, I can’t say I apologize for the lack of detail in this post (it is more for me than for you, if I am honest), but I will say by way of explanation that I felt too many details would not be fair to the absent party.
If something in this ultimate vaguepost resonated with you, you might like to read more about ambiguous loss. I highly recommend learning more about it, since you or someone you know has almost certainly experienced this kind of grief and the pain and confusion that comes with it.
In the meantime, some witchery!