Riding in lifeboats with ghosts.
With permission, I have posted the email below.
I'm moving to Athens, GA in three weeks. I know absolutely no one. I'm taking out a loan to start graduate school after I worked so hard to pay my way through undergrad to be debt free. And I'm going into a field I'm not 100% sold out on. And when I leave this Texas town that I've called home for the past four years I'm leaving behind my best friend. Only, he doesn't realize it. He ended our relationship right after graduation in May because he doesn't have his life figured out and cannot ask me to wait around. We were friends before we ever dated and have remained friends even after. But for whatever reason, the guy who shared my common desire to talk deep things and look beyond the surface level, he isn't that person anymore...not with me anyways.
And that's the thing. I woke up one morning in June and realized that I'm going to be okay. I'm ready to move on and let go. And I'm so excited to venture into the unknown. But like how a ticking clock 's tick becomes louder when you start to listen, this nagging in the back of my mind still remains. He was my friend...and still should be. The world awaits for me and I see him settling for mediocrity. Staying where it's comfortable. And I'm torn. What if I'm the one person who can speak into him? Should I? People are happy that I'm ready to move on. Heck I feel pretty good about myself too. But I can't watch him sink in the clear water of conventionalism while muddy challenges are meant to be seized. What do I do with someone who always asked me to hold them accountable, talks of appreciating those who are willing to say the hard things? Am I crossing the line? I'm supposed to be "letting go". I don't know if this is the right thing to do and I don't know if anyone else would do it. I don't even know if he would receive it.
But I have two-ish more weeks. I'll see him at church and when we go visit the old lady we've been seeing every Friday night for the past two years. And then August 4th will come and he won't see me again. And he doesn't even realize what he's losing (at least it appears that way).
Future Georgia Newbie
I have this friend from Atlanta who thinks we all have ghosts. That is exactly how he said it to me one night as we were driving through the mountains of north Georgia: “We all have ghosts.”
“Mine has green eyes,” I told him. I didn’t even flinch. I knew exactly what he meant. I knew I was guilty of my own ghost hosting— keeping someone around to haunt my memory. Finding threads of him in love songs. Dwelling on the “what if.” Letting the “what might have been” rock me to sleep at night.
People notice when you have a ghost. Not always but usually. Some people see it quicker because they have their own ghosts.
And while I’m not an expert or a ghost buster, I think a ghost gets born out of a constant wish that maybe you and another person might have more to say to each other. Like maybe you never reached the point of finally saying everything. And maybe, just maybe, if you can manage to keep a person in your orbit or your memory a little while longer then you’ll never have to face the real truth: you can’t fix everything. You are a human. Not a fixer. Not a maker. Not a lifeboat with enough seats to save a slew of green-eyed boys if you needed to.
I’ll write that again: You’re aren’t a lifeboat.
There is a savior mentality stitched into most of us. We want to save. We want to fix. Because thinking we can be saviors and lifeboats is so much easier than letting go of someone we learned how to love with our whole body.
And this guy probably doesn’t need saving. I could be wrong but I think I might be right. You just want different things and that’s hard to swallow. Maybe you two are the pretty, yellow parallel lines in the middle of the roadway— you’re both going somewhere but you might not touch again.
And I only say all of this because I used to think I was a lifeboat and I used to (wrongly) think the whole world— my family, my town, my friends— were for my saving purposes. There was a harsh little wakeup call waiting for me around the corner of that prideful purpose I’d given myself: Not everyone wants what you want. And not everyone wants to save the world. Some people want air. Some people want a family. Some people want dreams they can’t even touch. Calling is different for everyone but the mistake is made when we start thinking the way we measure our own success defines what other people’s mediocrity looks like.
You want something different for that guy of yours. You might be willing to fight for it, struggle for it, and claw for it. But, sadly, that doesn’t mean you’ll win out for him in the end. He has to want to win himself. And we don’t get to put our own definitions of “winning” onto someone else.
It took me a long time to stand in this space of believing all of this for myself. I wasted a lot of time telling a love story that always ended the same— that green-eyed boy never went back to who he used to be. I really should correct that for all my years I said it wrong. While it’s true he never went back to who he used to be, I really should have been saying something different all those years, “He never became who I wanted him to be. And that’s the expectation I should have never put on him, this expectation that he was supposed to please me with his becoming.”
One random Saturday night in college I met a boy at a party.
I was two years into having a ghost with green eyes. This guy was tall. He was Irish. I think for five minutes I thought about how Irish our babies would be. I was just happy he wanted to talk to me. You know that feeling, it’s just really nice to feel like the center of someone’s universe within a sea of red solo cups. I liked the way he leaned his head against the door frame and watched me talk. We left the party holding hands. I remember there was this strange fog that seemed to sit in the air that night, as if there was some sort of shelf we couldn’t see holding that fog at eye level. We got to the spot where our paths split and he kissed me at the bus station. I wasn’t really used to kissing strangers but I liked the way his eyes looked when they were on me.
And then he pulled back and stared at me.
“Someone hurt you really badly in the past,” he said. “I can see it in your eyes. I’m sorry.”
He released me from his grip. “I don’t want to be that guy to you but, if we keep this going, I will be.”
At that exact moment, Joey Potter and Dawson jumped out from the bushes and screamed, “YOU’VE BEEN PUNK’D!!!!!!”
No, that didn’t really happen. Not the Dawson and Joey part. But yes, he said those words. And yes, you are right, I think he was probably hiding the fact from me that he wrote the scripts to Emmy award-winning dramas when not in biology class. I mean, those are Dawson’s Creek words.
I winced when he said that because I already knew the ghost standing in my own eyes. And I wanted so badly for the ghost to release me.
I turned to walk away from him. I trudged up the hill to my apartment with tears in my eyes. I pulled my laptop out off of my desk when I got back to my room and I started to type a letter to him— the ghost. I wish I could remember all the words but I know somewhere in there I said what needed to be said for the last few years: I had expectations for you. And you didn’t meet them.
It had always been his fault to me until, in that moment, it wasn’t any longer. It was no one’s fault: We loved one another once. And then life brought us in different directions. And we would both be okay. He just wasn’t mine. I just wasn’t his. And maybe a ghost gets born on the day you can’t accept the hardest fact: someone else will love them, someone else will love them in a way you know you can’t.
And then it was over, J. Like that. It was over when I finally found the final words. I still thought of him, yes. I still found him in random songs, yes. But I let go when the truth tumbled out of me: you can't always love someone how you hoped to after they choose to become someone other than who you thought they'd always be.
Some people call that forgiveness. Other people call that closure. Sometimes it’s just letting go. Letting someone off the hook you built for them. Final words shift the atmosphere though.
If it’s going to kill you to not say something to him then say it.
Maybe write a letter. Send it or don’t send it. But try your hardest to find final words for this because your mind is already made up on certain truths that trump your hope to keep you both standing in one place: you’re going away. You’re starting something exciting and new. It’s gonna be good. You don’t love him the way you used to. You both have different callings. The past is a square tin box that looks smaller every time we go back to it. But no, it isn't your job to try to fit yourself inside of it.
And as for that boy not seeing what he is losing? I guess we don’t know. But you should take the inventory when you walk away for good. You should know exactly what anyone in this world loses when you walk out of the room-- not in a prideful way or a boastful way, just in a "you're kind of awesome" sort-of way.
So here's the inventory, the thing you get to pack when you head over to Georgia come August 4th: You're whole. You're doing this. You're gonna be okay. You're ready. That's the big one: you're ready. And after the "ready" comes the "set." And after "set" comes "go." So take the ready in your fists and make the set, J. And when you make the set, be sure to go. I guess that's all that is left to say: You’re ready to go-- without all the lifeboats and without all the ghosts.
I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for J. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.