Haunted by Memories of a Lost Love
Yes, you can be hooked on a feeling and move forward at the same time
I recently read that we spend nearly half of our time thinking of the future or past. The present often fails to hold our focus.
I have rooms within my memories of past relationships that are coated in dust and cobweb-ridden. Tarnished from lack of mental caress. Sepia-toned memories that I do not miss and never intentionally visit.
And then there are my memories of John. Those rooms have floorboards worn smooth from my frequent visits. There are fresh flowers in the vases and dust motes in the sun beams lighting up even the corners of these rooms. These memories are the poppy fields within the Wizard of Oz as Technicolor washes over them.
“…now, I know, how absence can be present, like a damaged nerve, like a dark bird.” — Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Living with A Ghost
I have not dated John in 8 years. He was my first serious someone after my divorce. It was one of those relationships that makes you believe in the concept of soul mates.
My favorite memory of John? Our meeting. This is one of the most treasured rooms in my mind. Whenever I’m lonely, or considering settling on someone less than wonderful, I visit this memory. Every feeling within it is still visceral.
I met John on a bitterly cold December night. It was my first full weekend without my daughter, and I was navigating despair by shopping for her Christmas gifts. I walked into a bookstore, and heard laughter rising from the back of the shop.
I encountered a circle of metal chairs and people with name tags. I had absolutely no idea what they were doing, but instantly decided whether AA or an acting class, I was in. My name is Veronica and I’m <whatever you want me to be to get me into this circle of laughter and not be alone right now>.
This is where I first found him. My John.
I still remember what he was wearing, down to the shoes. I wrote a poem about those Rocket Dogs that same night, and turned it into artwork for his first birthday we celebrated together.
The circle was a game of strangers playing a prompt game. You know, the kind of game with questions like, “Tell me about the most meaningful gift you’ve ever received and why.”
I learned he had owned a B&B in the tiny town that no one knows where my family resides. I’d been there staying with my dad one summer, 20-something and single, when he lived there. I walked by his B&B countless times. We never met. He left that small town and met his wife, getting married and having two boys. I left that summer and found my husband, getting married and having one daughter. We moved to the same city, and were married in two separate churches housed on the same city block.
This is one of many stories of our near-misses I could share. Our lives were like a choose your own adventure book where we kept finding pathways that left us entwined but apart.
He felt fated to me.
We left the bookstore together, emerging into a bitterly cold night. Rather than parting, we sat in my car talking for hours, lingering. We had a natural banter, and he had this tiny habit of licking his top lip nervously that was the most seductive thing I’d ever witnessed.
We made a plan to meet the next weekend for our first formal date. I felt like I’d won the lottery. I could have powered a small city with my elation.
I got out of my car to hug him goodbye (the center console was just too much of a holy spirit between us). As I stepped into his arms, impossibly large snowflakes cascaded down from the sky in the most cinematographic moment of my lifetime.
His whiskers grazed my cheek, and we were kissing. And I knew I’d found home.
The Truth About My Ghost
I was with John for over four years. Like every relationship, we had highs and lows.
He traced hearts in the snow when he shoveled my driveway for me. He took my daughter for bike rides. We vacationed with blended families. We took solo trips into the mountains and conducted a love affair like none I’d ever known before. It was never in question that we were aiming for a forever relationship.
But we never did merge households, although he pushed for that. He wanted to marry me, and although I wanted it desperately, I could never get there emotionally.
His ex made any sort of role in his children’s life a minefield to navigate. He avoided conflict, often doing what was easy rather than what was right for his kids. I had my own ex-husband dynamic underway. Single parent dating is not for the feint of heart. We were both freshly divorced and had no idea yet how to endeavor it all.
Ultimately, it was his unchecked rage and verbal abuse that kept me from committing entirely. He had the most un-evolved temper of anyone I’ve ever dated. He’d grown up in a co-dependent relationship with his mother, and it bubbled up as anxiety when things felt out of control. And his anxiety was mean spirited.
Our relationship was dichotomy. He was oxygen for me, and he was toxic. He banged his head on my wall when angry. He once jumped out of my car while I was driving. He called me the most negative person he’d ever met; a grudge-bearing mother fucker. A whore. A bitch. Many, many verbal daggers were thrown, and hit their mark.
It was not all fairy tale love.
I sometimes wondered if our how-we-met story, that enchanted me so much, was much of what sustained me and kept me with him.
Hooked on a Feeling
Is it muscle memory that guides our wandering minds? I visit John’s memories more than I want to, frankly.
I find myself trying to stop and re-direct my thinking. I bring to mind other memories that have stuck with me. Listening to Purple Rain with my high school sweetheart. Vineyard tours on my birthday. Sharing a Mother’s Day brunch with David’s family and feeling whole somehow. Hearing Enzo’s voice for the first time via voice mail and somehow knowing he’d forever be someone special to me. A million moments with Juju in D.C.
I have been pondering why, when I have a lifetime of memories of feeling love, I keep returning to John. It can leave me feeling almost trapped — like a lover’s rendition of Groundhog Day.
My working theory is that I crave that feeling — the snowflakes and the magic. The promise of a lifetime of holy yes in an instant. Although I have known fated love before, I have not had it since John and so I have given it to him.
It is perfectly reasonable to miss that feeling of connection, especially when alone. To crave a partnership that makes you pray reincarnation is real so that you can seek each other again and again over lifetimes. Who doesn’t want that love affair?
And so, I find myself retraining my thoughts. I am not missing John. Or Enzo. Or Juju. Or.
I’m craving the feelings they evoked. It is the thing I seek in each potential partner. The natural, inevitable ease of knowing I have found someone worth a deep dive. Someone who effortlessly zings me. Someone who makes me believe a forever is a thing worth striving towards.
It would be a tragedy to turn my lifetime over to tiny rooms filled with memories in my mind. To let the past be the only place I seek love. It would also be a disservice to the next great love of my life to repeatedly be looking behind me. To step into shadow.
Of late, I find myself building a new palace in my mind. A forward-focused vision filled with hope and possibility. It has space for the feelings I crave. It doesn’t have a face or time or even place attached to it as of yet. It is sheer possibility.
Now, when I find my foot hovering over the threshold of John’s memories, I’m pivoting into this new space. It is not haunted. It is not marred.
It is hope for the future. And in this era, couldn’t we all do with the bird of hope perched within our souls?
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops — at all -