I saw my ghost for the first time after Lee and I broke up. I saw her, a 32-year-old version of myself, walking around the house where Lee and I had lived. She went back and forth along the walls of the living room, her old stomping ground, stirring up the energy in the heart of the house. I could see the dreams blooming from her soul, like wispy but determined vines. Motherhood. A deep partnership with a man. A nest to build for the family.
I saw her again, just the other day, when I visited the school where I used to work. She was standing at the far end of the field, all alone, watching the students run at the heels of their parents. I saw those tendrils of dreams again, reaching out. She thought she would become one of those women someday, with the children at her heels. Back then, her man and her dog were always waiting for her at home. She thought she was halfway there.
Now there is a new home – a somewhat empty home. Many belongings are still packed in boxes because there’s no place to put them, and no time to unpack them. There aren’t many students in this life anymore. Not many children, and none of my own. Lee and my dog have gone to other places, far away from here.
My ghost is here, though. I can feel her sometimes. She is still a little sad, but also a little grateful. She finally realized she had a little taste of what she hoped for.
A few months ago, a young woman I once mentored called me and told me how grateful she was for the time we spent together. Me, and her, and the other two teenagers I mentored, and my sweet pup. “Do you remember,” she said, “how you used to take us to the park to hike and we’d take turns walking your dog, and John would curse and you’d scold him for cursing, then I’d start cursing because I wanted to be cool like him, and you’d scold me for cursing, too?”
My little ghost was hovering just at my ear in that moment, and I could feel her smiling. She hadn’t noticed at the time. But that was a little family. That was a time of motherhood. That was a nest she built.
When she stood at the edge of the field the other day, part of her was smiling. She remembered all those children who screamed her name when she bicycled to work. They waved and ran along the fence, so excited to see her. They wrote her notes and drew her pictures, telling her they loved her. That was a little family. That was a time of motherhood. That was a nest she built.
These days, my ghost is a little more observant. She doesn’t miss the moments quite as often. She notices the male colleague I work with and our efforts to get our 80 employees in line – people from the ages of 16 to 55. She laughs because she sees me working alongside this man with whom I share a deep respect and rapport, and watches us wrangling this huge group of wild human beings, trying to keep everyone safe and happy. That is a little (or not so little) family, she recognizes. That’s a time of motherhood. That’s a nest she builds.
I suspect my ghost will follow me the rest of my days, a little bit in grief, a little bit in gratitude. And I will long to put my arms around her and give her what she dreamed of, as I always do. I love my ghost so very much and her suffering pains me.
But she is beautiful and brave. And she reminds me what’s important. She reminds me what I care about. She reminds me of my purpose and my calling. And she reminds me of my strength.
She is the me who split off when my dreams forked away from my reality. But she is still me, one shining point of light, like the pieces of Osiris.
She begs to be remembered and to be honored. She gave up so much for what she wanted. And she ended up empty-handed.
But still she walks beside me, sometimes far in the distance. She walks beside me, carrying the same vines of hope in her heart, holding them close, watering them carefully.
I watch her, completely enthralled, completely in love, completely in awe. And still wanting to hold her close, the way she holds her hope. Protecting her, thanking her, loving her.
But the two of us, I have discovered, must, for now at least, walk our own separate paths. So we watch each other, and walk on parallel roads, and hold one another up from across the distance. Neither of us can see far enough ahead to tell if our paths will merge once again.
We can only hope.