This is a ghost story.
Where do I begin? When I was 21 and just in the early stages of my acting/exploring the world/discovering myself period, I met an amazing young woman named Alex. And I mean young. She was 18, but, somehow, instead of spending her last few months of high school hanging around her schoolmates and partying, she was working out and hanging out with a bunch of twenties-and-thirtysomethings, including me. We were friends at first, as I was casually dating someone else at the time. When that fling ended and she and I continued to spend time together, I grew to realize that there was something deep and magical about her.
She was not at all like the other women I knew. For one, she was incredibly intelligent. She was fiercely independent. She was one of those “old souls” that made it seem completely natural for her to be good friends with a fortyish guy I knew. There was some pain there, too. She also had an intriguing combination of honesty and distance. She protected herself, even as she was vulnerable. It was a tricky combination to unlock, to say the least. But I admired her greatly, anyway. She oozed potential. I sensed that I would one day hear news of her curing cancer or leading a team of Doctors Without Borders that saved an entire ravaged province in Africa. I was impressed in advance.
The thing about that kind of potential when it intersects with precisely her age in a lifetime is that there is no track record. No history of “Oh, this is how you are and what you do, so I know exactly what you will be doing five years from now, too.” Real grown-up relationships often end with each party knowing just what to expect of the other’s future. There is enough film on them to know their tendencies. But when you are 18 and loaded with talent and depth, there is simply no limit. You can write your own ticket. It is like when space travel first became a real possibility. With no history and with potential to burn, it is bottled PROMISE. It is a degree of HOPE that leaves you breathless. It is, in a word, exciting.
It was during my short time of knowing Alex that I was given my very first journal by a common acquaintance. I was only writing about once a week then and quite briefly, but I am now completely enthralled as I look back on those initial entries. Even when I was dating someone else, I never failed to mention how fascinating and wonderful my friend Alex was. Eventually those entries come to the spot where there was only her in my thoughts, and we were a couple. A combustible mix of two characters protecting their hearts but still caring fiercely about the other, all the while knowing that we were headed in two very different directions. We were a classic case of two star-crossed lovers. Neither Time nor Destiny was on our side. I wanted to be a movie star and anywhere bigger and brighter than where we were, and she would be heading off to college before long and curing the world of its ills. It was a love that could not be.
I had my future of stardom on my mind and jumped at the first chance to leave town. So, instead of spending a Summer of Love with her, I put the fortress around my heart and said goodbye. I told myself that the writing was on the wall for us anyway, that we had a good handful of weeks and that a few more months was not going to change the end of the story. I chose the head over the heart. Or, rather, I chose my dreams of stardom over a possible love story. She even came to visit me for a day that Summer, and I had a very hard time letting her in. At first, I kept her at a real distance because I could not let it go on. It was only later, shortly before she left, that I realized—after all of our protecting ourselves early in our relationship and my firm resolve that we must cut the cord completely, no long-term relationships—that I really, truly loved her. I finally let myself feel that, if only briefly. It was like putting a giant weight down. I loved someone amazing. Someone who was going to set the world on fire with her brilliance. For a magic moment, I let my guard down and allowed that bottled PROMISE to enter my heart and carve its initials there.
And then she was gone. That was it. Never to be heard from again. We didn’t keep in touch. I kept on chasing my dreams across the country and across oceans. And she……….??? I have no answers. I have a million questions and even more visions of what she might have been doing all these years—the people she has touched, the wonderful places she has visited, the diseases she has cured—but they are only visions. Apparitions. She has truly become a ghost for me.
I don’t know why I never took pains to keep up with her or track her down. I never thought we would ever be together again—romantically speaking–so I wasn’t pining in that way. But that POTENTIAL. That bottled PROMISE. That HOPE. To simply follow her life story seems like reason enough for me to have kept connected, even once in a blue moon. But no. Nothing. Not a call. Not a letter. Nothing. I cannot explain my actions.
What I am left with is a ghost. An apparition of who she is. A vision of what she has done. And even a “what if” about an epic love story that might have been if our paths had crossed in a different place and time. It is the kind of stuff that an imagination can go wild with, or that can turn a sane mind insane. There is so much to dream about, so many holes to fill, both in the story and in the heart. Lots of wondering.
It has taken on a life of its own, I suppose, as the years have piled on top of one another. The ghost becomes the thing, perhaps a bigger thing than there ever was in the physical world. I had but a few months to know her and even less to love her. And now, on the other side of the scale from those few months is 21 YEARS! Years of myth-building and monument-making. Based on what? My belief in her potential. In her inner beauty and future greatness. She is immortalized for me the way James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are for others. Dying young does that to you. We only remember the best and imagine what might have been. That is my Alex. Bottled PROMISE. Forever a ghost, made sacred by potential and the sands of time.
Yes, earlier this week, I was doing a work assignment of trying to connect to old acquaintances by sending friend requests on Facebook. I was only thinking of people from the last few years. When I finished the task, which had me feeling nostalgic for old friends, I decided to see if anyone existed from my past lives. I searched a few people from the old acting days in California without much luck. Then it hit me: my ghost! Why had I never thought of it before? Honestly, it took me a minute to get up the nerve to type her name. I just wasn’t prepared to see her, as she had existed only in my mind for over 20 years. And then, there she was. Photographic evidence of a real person. I was completely sucked in, of course, checking out her posts of her dog and her recent wedding. But I was also unnerved by it. Worlds were colliding, and it was a bit overwhelming.
I could not bring myself to send her a friend request. It was like it would be an invasion of something that existed magically in another dimension. Making us real adults that had moved on would violate that sacred space. Only later in the evening, when I reminded myself that she was a big piece of me somehow and that this is my one life and that I would actually love to hear her life story someday, did I go back and send her that request. I couldn’t tell if I had just ruined the whole thing or not, but the ghost was now actually haunting me. It occupied my mind and kept me always on edge when I turned on my phone or computer, ever wondering if my request would be answered. After a day had passed, I felt a little relieved that she hadn’t accepted it. Maybe I was a ghost in her life, too, and she preferred me that way. She was going to protect the sanctity of our otherworldly arrangement. I appreciated that.
After another full day passed, however, my heart stopped when I saw that she had accepted. With the dye now cast, I knew I had to reach out and see what the conclusion to our story would be. Not wanting to sound like the crazy stalker but still needing to be honest, I sent a note to tell her that I had always held her in the highest regard and believed that, with all of her talents, she would somehow save the world. I told her that if she ever wanted to meet up and tell me her life story, I would love to hear it. And if not, I wished her all the best. It was my Truth, and I sent it with a clear mind. And then, I waited. There were a million different ways that note could land with someone who hadn’t heard from me in 21 years and with whom I had no idea where I stood in her heart or mind, so I was totally on the edge of my seat. I wasn’t sure if it was excitement or dread. Finally, this morning, the response came. And the ghost story kind of ended.
It turned out sort of the way I intuited it when my first impulse on seeing her Facebook page was to leave it at that and not send the message. It was more romantic and mysterious when it was a creation of my mind. I could wonder forever in the ethereal haze of “What if…” Now I know that she has not cured cancer—though she is a nurse—and that she has only a vague recollection of our time together. Sure, that stings the ego a little bit (or a lot). But it is also fascinating to me, a guy who loves to study the human experience and the way our minds can choose to interpret our world. I caught a glimpse of someone for a handful of weeks, when every possibility in the world was before her, and I immortalized her there. She was my James Dean. For her, it seems, I was a happy moment in her life, but like most moments, soon forgotten. We were two ships passing in the night.
And so, my 21-year fantasy comes to an end. The bubble has burst. With the reality just a few hours old, I cannot say for sure if I regret searching her name on Facebook. I felt enriched by the fantasy all these years, so grateful was I that I got a brief glimpse at Greatness before it became Greatness. That felt good, like I had a secret window that no one else ever would. And really, I did. It doesn’t, in the end, matter if she cures cancer or prevents a nuclear crisis. Like all of us mortals, she is and always will be magic and Divine. And special. We can count ourselves lucky in this lifetime if someone sees all of that in us. But that part is not up to us, as I learned by this experiment.
I learned something else, though, too. I learned that it is perhaps an even greater gift to see that magic, that beauty, that bottled PROMISE in someone else. It is like being able to see through God’s eyes. It’s amazing, truly. Maybe my Divine vision could only sustain for this long because, after my brief glimpse, the vision was only in my mind. It was a ghost, an apparition that I could beckon in its purest form at my whim. It is hard to maintain that Divine point-of-view day after day in the real world, when that person is disagreeing with you about finances or leaving wet towels on the floor. The mind’s eye is more forgiving.
So yeah, as I process this whole thing right now and my fantasy gives way to reality, I really am grateful for this ghost that was my ghost. Today’s reality check just reminds me of what I wasn’t so aware of before: that the ghost was good for me. That the Hope was a gift. That tiny window in my lifetime is a beautiful memory for me and planted a seed far greater. She isn’t the one that got away after all. No, she is the one that will stay with me forever in that Divine form, a beautiful reminder of an important lesson. This ghost story has a happy ending after all. I’m keeping her! The ghost and I will live happily ever after……The End.
How about you? Do you have a ghost that you have lived with? Open up your journal and tell your story. Who was your ghost to you? A lover? A friend? A family member? How long did your actual relationship last before it existed only in your mind? Why did it end? Do you feel badly about the way it ended? What role does potential play in this person becoming your ghost? Are you like me and wonder how this person lived her life and changed the world with her gifts? Or is it about the potential relationship you might have had, the epic love you might have shared? Do you believe that your ghost is really “the one” for you, in the romantic sense? Do you think your ghost is somewhere feeling the same way about you? Why is the person still a ghost? Have you ever tried to track him down? What is stopping you? Is it safer just to keep him in your mind, where you get to control the vision? Who is the one person in your history that you would most like to sit down with and hear their life story? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is the ONE that got away from you?