Chasing Ghosts

1-04-06, 3:41 a.m.

Why am I telling you this?
No reason, really, or maybe a lot of reasons:
I guess it's a little too early to know,
isn't it?

I met my ex- when I was twenty, and hadn't dated much.
She was a step up for me, angry but smart,
and I was a shy kid in search of a partner.
We went to see The Princess Bride that first night,
a lucky guess on my part.
She liked the film, and only threw one tantrum that night:
I pretty much ignored the warning.

Eventually things settled down, and I ignored more warnings.
I wanted a partner, you see: an equal,
someone to spend the rest of my life with,
an honest-to-goodness soulmate.
And I thought that she was the best I could do.
And I hoped I was in love, I desperately hoped.
You see, I was a lot more desperate in those days.

She had her own kind of desperation.
I wanted to share a life, to share adventures, to share
whatever life brought us; she wanted to hide.
She wanted to be safe at all costs,
safe from the ugliness of her childhood,
safe from the fears of her adulthood.
And so she made a bargain with me,
though I never knew its terms until it was much too late:
As long as I could keep her safe, she would play at being a partner.

That worked for a while. I would have been horrified
if I'd realized what the bargain was, but I never asked.
I was afraid of losing her; I never asked her to give back when I gave to her
and soon she stopped offering.
Desperation is unkind to lovers.
I was the lover, the one who touched, the one who gave:
She was the one who accepted, and acceptance made me feel whole,
made the desperation go away.

Always I saw in her, something beautiful inside,
something I seldom touched, and no one else saw or touched at all;
I thought that person inside was the real her,
not the woman who feared romance, who scorned romance
not the woman who insisted she had no dreams, she wanted no dreams,
though she wanted a Romantic to protect her.
When I could no longer protect her
(though she had never asked for protection,
had never admitted out loud that she needed it)
she left: in search of safety I suppose.

That was a little over three years ago, now.
This would have been our fourteenth anniversary.

When she left, I cried, of course,
and thought about what it was that I'd lost:
I missed touching her, rubbing her shoulders whenever I passed her;
I missed calling her to see how her day was going;
I missed pleasuring her for hours on end;
I missed talking, touching... but then I'd missed that for years.
I missed having someone to give all of those things to.
Did I miss her? Well, I missed the person I'd thought she was.
I missed the symbol, and the warmth that hadn't really been there in a while.
I missed the ghost of being in love.

Once I got the crying out of my system, I went looking for that ghost.
Since then, I've loved a lot, each time with women who gave as well as took.
I've been in love... twice I think, with women who feared it and ran away.
I've been in love enough to know it's a rare and precious thing:
A flame to be guarded and nurtured and feared
and looked for at all costs.
I've been in love enough to know that it's what gives spark to the talk,
the touch, the calls, and the rubbed shoulders;
it's what gives life to the ghost I was chasing.

Why am I telling you this?
No reason, really, or maybe a lot of reasons:
I guess it's a little too early to know,
isn't it?

Life looks different from the perspective of 39 and divorced than it did at 20. It's not a difference in perspective that's particularly hard to understand, but when I've felt the need to talk about it, it's mostly been with friends or contemporaries. When a friend and former student in her early twenties, a recent college graduate whose relationship experiences were very different than mine asked me, indirectly, about my divorce, I realized the metaphors I took for granted didn't really make sense to her. I'm not quite sure how I answered the question at the time, but it nagged at me a bit, and I wrote this poem later that night, addressing it as much to an abstraction as to a specific audience.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman