I have a ghost. He lives with me.
He’s about 5’8 and wears John Lennon glasses. His nose is beaky and his hairline receding into a widow’s peak, even at 23. But his face is round and smile is good-natured. He wears a blue flannel shirt with a musky smell that is all male, all his. His name is Jason, but we all called him JT. Still do.
I sense him when I’m driving long distances and my mind is confused. In my empty passenger’s seat, my body feels him looking at me, touching my hand with the slightest air and letting me know that everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t.
But he’s not here anymore. A part of me wonders if I was the one that made sure of that.
When we first met when I was in college, I thought he was cute. He was three years older than me, wore cowboy boots and his silver car was named Bertha. His favorite song was by a one-hit wonder by the name of Lara Fabian, called, “I Will Love Again.” He had an AIM and we would message all the time. He played piano for the kids at the Salvation Army, and was rather gifted. He would buy me drinks at Starbucks and Chinese food at the mall. He would make jokes about Bertha and my car, the Spacey Crowe Mobile, having a baby car together one day.
Nights in the parking lot outside of our college Hillel, he would hold me tight and tell me how wonderful I was. How I deserved someone in my life to hold me the way he would. He was a romantic, although not with me. Never with me.
He knew my intimate secrets, and I knew his. His were darker than mine, depths of depravity and depression that I would never know, blended with talk about electroshock therapy and highs from mixed cocktails of prescription pills to get away from his intense clinical depression. My ghost was a tortured soul.
There was a choice. I made it. I couldn’t be close with someone who I loved who was hurting himself. I told him to get help, but until then, we couldn’t be friends anymore. He never did.
I saw him six weeks before in the old age home in Reseda during a social action event; he loved volunteering. We talked as we normally had, with the veil between us showing its holes. I was beginning to let go of my anger towards his addictions, hoping maybe we would be friends once more. He asked me to come with him and some friends to a coffee shop. I didn’t go. I should have. I would never see him again.
The day came. I was told that night he walked into his parents bedroom and collapsed. His heart had stopped. My denial took over for the next couple days; 23-year-olds don’t just fall down and die, after all. Girls at 19 don’t lose their friends to death.
I decided to confront my friend David that Tuesday, who was the bringer of the news. I pulled him in to a room with filing cabinets and mint green walls, asking him about JT. Was it true?
“Yeah, he’s dead,” David chirped.
My voice reached a fever pitch, screaming and causing the entire room outside to stop in shock as he started bumbling and getting defensive about some random unrelated rumor. My mind started spinning around the mint green walls, my heart crushed. It was my fault, my fault. JT was dead because I abandoned someone I loved.
There are other ghosts mixed in from the days after, now reduced to shadows of memories. His mother rocking back and forth at the gravesite in a pink dress. His snide ex-girlfriend hitting on his brother at the house after the funeral. The boy who would become my ex-boyfriend three months later after saying I was too fat to be with him, as I grabbed his chubby hand at the cemetery and lead him toward the gravesite. My Hillel leader, who had to announce somberly at the event after the funeral that one of our community members had died. But I see JT’s specter more than anyone.
As I moved on in the years, I blamed myself, swearing that I would never abandon someone in need again. Yet I was still seeking him and his guidance in dark times. There were moments where I was left to wonder what he would think of this guy or that guy, hoping it would make his romantic soul wandering the ether happy.
Yet at the same time I didn’t want to love anymore. Letting someone that close to me, and then the subsequent loss, was just too painful. I thought that if I found someone I really cared about, but didn’t love, it would make my life easier. So I did.
For seven years, I was prisoner to that child, who made me think I could capture what my ghost wanted for me — a person to hold me tight — but instead echoed every insecurity that played around in my head. He used the details that were confided in him and turned them into weapons against my sanity, cutting into my very soul. I tended to my wounds alone, forgetting about my ghost to try to mend the scars.
Then came the night in the white hospital halls with the child behind two double doors. It was the most extreme maneuver, but not the first time he threatened what he did. He was not in need; he was waiting behind those doors with his own version of a knife, waiting to slash at me yet again. I felt guilty, but walked away that night, the traveler’s prayer on my lips, praying for my ghost’s protection along with the loved ones that I had lost over the years.
The healing was not easy. The cracks would show, triggers popping up at first constantly to leave my body shaking on the bathroom floor, then less and less severely. I would crack, but be able to stand. Yet sometimes I would lie in bed crying, and a part of me could feel through my tears a hand brushing my hair from my eyes, telling me that it would get better. That I would find my way, that I would find love again.
There are echoes of my ghost since he left this world, of intimate friendships and reaches at flirtations. The green Jeep of a Christian guy with a receding hairline who was interested in me, but whose family cornered him about why he would want to go out with “that Jewish slut.” The bald head of a boy who knew me better than almost anyone as I was curled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and crying over my divorce as he held me tight and his lips made promises of taking care of me that he would never keep. A boyish faced friend with the softest hazel eyes looking at me constantly while driving me back to my car when he should have been watching the road, my eyes staring at the dashboard craving his kiss good night, but not receiving it. The guys’ beds that I had flitted in and out of, not loving them and using them in lieu of investing in someone for an extended period. Finding ways out of true intimacy because in my mind, love meant losing, and I couldn’t afford to lose again.
JT haunts me, the romantic who was close to me but didn’t want me. Who wanted me to find love but didn’t want to be mine. Who I loved for being in my life and being a friend, who I hated for leaving me behind and not seeing that I loved him, wanted him to stay amongst the living, to get better and grow older with the rest of us.
This wasn’t the life I expected, with my older self — divorcee, hidden romantic yet cynical lover, wandering and desperately healing soul — standing over his grave on a bright summer’s day in Simi Valley. The only way he has left to hold me is through a sprinkler going off at the top of the hill, and me looking down at my waist to notice a rainbow surrounding me. We are worlds apart, yet forever tied together.
As I zoomed out of the cemetery, I turned on my iPhone, played “I Will Love Again,” and just kept on driving. I just hope his angel wings can keep up.