Parting Gifts 6(1): 36-38. Summer 1993



"Hungry Ghosts"


I'd been gone a long time.   The mail was piled up in the post office mailbox.   People had written me.   People had been writing me.   Things had piled up -- things I hadn't attended to, like my love for a certain woman.

It was over now.   Oh yes, it was long over.   I acted like she wasn't there, by my side, as I went through my stack of mail.   Because in a sense she wasn't there for me.   The us that we had been -- the couple in love -- that was like some sort of novel that we both happened to have read and might allude to now and then or probably even just avoid mentioning entirely.   It might not even have been the same book that we'd both read.   Maybe that's why we rather tended to act as if nothing had happened at all.

I was seated there at the table going through my mail and she was there at the next table.   It was a post office but it was also some sort of café, with tables and chairs and people seated around reading their mail.   That's the way everything had been for me for so long now.   Nothing was just what it was.   Everything was something else also.

I guess I had cause to ask myself why I would care that she saw the pile of mail that I had gone through, for by some law of equivalences, it wasn't letters or envelopes that constituted this pile, but the panties of some woman from another country with whom I'd had casual sex while I was away.   I'd done it just because it could be done.   For no other reason.   Because she'd been a woman and I'd been a man and it was a thing we could do.   And now I didn't want this woman at the next table to get the wrong idea, this woman from a long time ago.

I guess I'd always wondered what would happen if I ever saw her again.   I wondered if I would care, if I would hold up, if I would tell her how much I had loved her, whether I would find out that I still did.   I guess I had cause to be embarrassed for things that I had done, like someone shedding possibilities.   The mail I'd gone through as I was seated there at that table, in fact, was composed of a lot of old clothes that I had taken off, mine and other people's, and I was seated there with almost nothing on.   I was who I was.   I guess that had always been clear to her.

Some people don't know who you are.   And so what they might or might not think about you or do to you doesn't really matter.   But maybe once in a lifetime you come across someone to whom you can make yourself completely naked, to whom you can really reveal your soul -- like a little throbbing, breathing alien you've harbored within all these years without showing anyone.   It's this person who can really hurt you.   This woman seated at the next table was that person for me.   When she turned her back on me I was relegated to living life in a place of strangers.

You do all the same things.   You smile.   You brush your teeth.   You pick up the mail.   But it's not the same.   You are like a stranger circulating around in a world to which you don't really belong anymore.   Someone has cut the root that attaches you to the world. The sense has gone out of things.   Reason has gone out of being.

And now the love of my life was seated at the next table -- just another one of the strangers that circulated around me, another one of the emptinesses that inhabited the vicinity.   But the emptiness that she comprised wasn't like the others.   In it there had once been something.   It was a space that I had once inhabited and called the world.   I was apparently back now for some reason after a long time away.   I couldn't understand why this was happening.   I had done everything I possibly could to prevent this from happening.

I looked at her.   I tried to make myself look at her like a stranger, to get completely aside from any weakness of my own towards her and to see her fully for the stranger that she had always been towards me.   I think this was something I'd worked out over the years in my head in case I ever came across her again.   But she began speaking a language that we had once shared, a language that wasn't mine or hers, but happened in the places we overlapped.

With a start I looked up because this I couldn't deal with, this I hadn't prepared myself for.   I had once made that language my master.   I had always made that language my master.   This was precisely what I'd been trying for so long to keep from happening -- that the world would unravel with me in it, that all the pieces would go flying apart and become something else too so that I wouldn't know what things were anymore, how they fitted together, that she would take my world so completely and make it hers so that there would be no space in it for me anymore -- no space that could make any sense to me, or that wouldn't at the same time make sense in so very many different kinds of ways that I wouldn't know which one of them to cling to.

She wasn't speaking this language to me.   She wasn't speaking it for me.   And she certainly wasn't speaking it well.   She was speaking it to show herself that she had no more need of me.   She was her profession -- a psychological social worker.   She was her sex -- a woman.   She was her nationality -- a Dominican.   She as a definition of herself: someone apart from me.

I was the place where she and I once touched.   I lived in a world that had been raped.   I lived in a world that had been laid waste.   I always was afraid it was my own fault.   I never would know the things I needed to know.   I helped myself to my feet and led myself away, like a doddering old man who couldn't make much sense of the world anymore, who smoked a kind of cigar that couldn't be found in any of the stores these days.

That old man was the only one who could tell me the things I needed to know.   But he couldn't speak.   Someone had stolen his language.   He still loved her.   He always would.

He never forgot -- her, or me.   No, the two of us lived on in his memories, still young, forever young -- like invisible presences haunting this world gone dry.