by Jean Roberta
The following letter is not new, but it has only been lightly "published." It was posted several years ago on a website that had a theme issue on "breakups." It is addressed to my first born-female lover, who is still alive -- to my amazement. Since she broke my heart in the early 1980s, several important people in my life have passed away: my remaining grandmother (a smoker -- she developed emphysema), my tortured, alcoholic ex-husband, my parents (in the same year), both my aunts (one was a smoker who developed lung cancer) and my uncle (by marriage). Yet Kerry has survived, and both of us now have grandchildren. Go figure.
I haven’t spoken to you in years, but I still see you sometimes. Don’t think you pass by unnoticed. You still move through space as if you knew where you were going (do you?). Lately, though, I’ve seen glints of silver in your thick black hair, and a few lines in your face that weren’t there before. Who would guess that I am older than you? You were such a wild puppy when we first met.
You must know why I never speak to you any more. We still live in the same community, but we might as well be separated by soundproof glass. Are you still drinking? I shouldn’t care, but I do. The pain you left me with is still alive somewhere inside me, like the imaginary baby you wanted to give me.
Someone I respect wants to get you barred from every bar in this town, as well as every other public place you might try to enter. She hates you because you stole from her as you did from me. Do you realize how much else you take when you steal the property of someone who trusts you? Fifteen years ago, I screamed at you in my rage that you would pay and pay for what you did. And I know you have been punished, but that’s not what I really wanted. I just wanted you to understand, and to give back.
You told me once: “I wasn’t just after your money.”
I answered: “I know.” The warmth of your hands when you touched me told me what else you wanted. You could kiss me when you were drunk without making me feel used. Even with the smell of beer on your breath, you tasted real. You seemed to be searching for an identity, but you already had one. Even your gender seemed irrelevant to who you were. No one else ever moved against me with your rhythm, or with the perfume of your sweat.
I have argued with myself (and a lot of others, believe me) about why I wanted you so much that I would open my door for you at 2:00 a.m. after the bars had closed, and let you carry me back to my own bed. You didn’t even have to undress me, since I always wanted to feel your skin against mine as much as you did.
Did I know I was a fool? Oh yes. But I also hoped against reason that I could save you from your demons, or help you find your inner hero. I could see that part of you just as well as I could see the female fruit between your legs when you showed yourself to me.
You used to say you wished you could marry me and live with me for the rest of your life. I know that wasn’t all hot air. You liked me to wear dresses, but you also told me that in some ways, I was more butch than you. I have always grieved over my failure to take care of you.
At the strangest times, I remember the feel of your hands in my hair, or even the heat of your mouth on my breasts. You would pull one of my swollen nipples into that wet cave as though you were starving for my milk.
Have you ever told anyone how I sometimes used to ride you, exploring your inner channels with my small, determined fingers? Your need to be known that way seemed powerful enough to fill the air of my bedroom as the incense from the censer filled the space of the church when I went to mass with you. Do you really believe we are both damned because of our secret communion?
I couldn’t imagine living without you until the day I found out, and then I knew I had to. When I walked into the bank, I suddenly felt as though I had lost a lot of blood and might fall to the floor if I didn’t steady myself against a counter. The teller, a friendly young woman I didn’t know, showed me that my fear was justified: my well was dry. A scavenger had stolen my nest egg. Sixteen hundred dollars in Canadian money isn’t much by international standards, but it was all I had, and it was for both of us. How many rounds of drinks did you buy for total strangers with that money? I doubt if you'll ever tell me the story of that party. It's probably just as well.
You broke my heart, and I’ve never been the same as I was before. I became stronger, and that was a good thing. Endurance, the ability to survive what seems unbearable at the time, is a currency that can be used anywhere. I owe that to those who have hurt me, including you.
Am I driven to seek out suffering by forces beyond my control? I doubt it, and I won’t accept it. What I was looking for is so much better than pain.
Even when we moaned together in the night, feeling as if our cells could explode, leaving us permanently merged or mixed up, you were on one path and I was on another. I still worry about where you are headed. I know that your path leads to death in one form or another, and I suspect that I will hear about your passing long before I go to join you. That news won’t give me any satisfaction.
The echo of the pain you left me with reminds me that I am alive, and that I can feel other things too. You sometimes pass by me like a winter breeze that teases and stings just enough to bring a blush to my face. I will never forget you.
In love and sorrow,
a ghost from your past.