I saw the ghost of my ex-boyfriend across Clinton Street last night.
Okay, I’m sure it was actually him. The fading sunlight gave him the grey cast of an apparition. He looked a little softer around the edges and he was wearing pleated khakis. He was always one for buying pants at Ross Dress for Less, fit and style be damned.
This was my first boyfriend in Portland, a college friend of Dylan’s father. In Chicago we spent hours drunkenly discussing records while our respective partners rolled their eyes in frustration. I constantly encouraged my boyfriend to hang out with him, because he was the only individual I knew in Wicker Park that was not in the midst of a love affair with opiates. He seemed wholesome in comparison to the rest of us. One day he packed up his car and took off for the West Coast. My boyfriend and I stood in the middle of the street waving goodbye as he drove away. Two years later, he lured me here and I have always been grateful.
He never had a chance.
I spent my nights scouring Wicker Park for my dead boyfriend. He appeared around every corner, just out of reach. My fingernails were worn down to scabs from scratching at the wall above our bed. When forced to actually be intimate with my real, living boyfriend, I adopted a stoic “close your eyes and think of England” approach.
Most days took on the feel of sleepwalking: moving around and holding conversations, without a true grip on anything I was doing.
I hated myself for being so devoted to someone I would never actually see, touch, and smell ever again. And yet, every time my own hands touched me, I would imagine that it was him. I felt as if I was infected with some unnamed, certainly incurable illness. I briefly toyed with the idea of jumping off a bridge in Goose Hollow, but I worried to much about the fate of my little demi-orphan.
We broke up and I moved to other side of the city. We agreed that we would never be friends again. It was a surprisingly honest decision for both of us. Now I was free to spend every night with my dead boyfriend. My new ex-boyfriend was free to find a woman who was much more alive than me.
And slowly I began to return to life. Never underestimate the healing powers of friends, long bicycle rides, dance parties, and ever-growing lists of inside jokes.
A year later, I accidentally slept with one of closest friends. Maybe it was because I knew I could trust him…maybe it was because I already knew that I loved him for reasons more important than any romantic notions, but suddenly I was fully awake for the first time in years. Even though that relationship was doomed for a variety of reasons mammoth and tiny, every time he appeared in my bedroom thawed me out a little bit more. All of my cells and neurons were finally functional again.
And so, when I saw my ex-boyfriend across the street, standing in front of a bar I have never visited because it seemed too posh, I debated running across the street and yelling “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m really, really sorry!”
Instead I assumed that he probably wouldn’t recognize me. I walked back inside Dot’s, ordered another gin and tonic, and said to Reyna, “You’ll never guess who I just saw outside.”