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April 15, 2024

Ghost Story

By Amy Probst

Ghostly entities that flutter and tease just beyond the grasp of our physical senses. Flashes, images, haunting feelings that touch our tender, abstract parts. I have a ghost like that. She was once me, the very guts of me, but was abandoned along the road to here. I left her behind for the richness of emotions she is comprised of, all those sensitivities that make up the core of a person, but which were overwhelmed with heartbreak by the time of this ghost's 16th year -- the last I saw her.

Now in my 36th year, I am a hollowed out kind of figure. Through the therapy years of my late 20s, and relationship-focused early 30s, it has become apparent that what I've taken to be my own feelings the past 20 years are in fact only my ideas about how I would feel in given situations. Like a computer, I processed the data, landed on the emotion that made the most sense, and behaved accordingly. Who knew I wasn't really feeling anything? I had no idea, until my ghost showed up, that my emotions were existing only inside my head. What a bizarre shock. How very Twilight Zone.

Turns out that my feeling mechanism, the core of my person-ness, was kicked to the curb those many years ago, left behind inside teenage girl who'd run out of options, and I went on into adulthood without her. My logic made an executive call back then. At 16, my heart's track record indicated little reason to believe it was a useful part of my human package. It suffered a constant, wrenching scream of terror, of panic and woe. All avenues of help were dead-ends, so that part--the heart--was left there, and the rest of me moved on with life.


But now, I have a ghost trailing me. A ghost who wears heavy black eyeliner, tight jeans, and a haunting expression of hopeless abandonment. She spooks me; but there she is. She's not going away, and ignoring here is getting harder to do, because more and more, I am wanting what she's got: the heart and soul of who I am.

Such a damaged package it comes in. Isn't there another way to get my spirit back, to fill in my empty center with the rich colors of emotion, than to let that wretchedly miserable ghost inside? She is so alone. For twenty years, she has been living in the dead-end of my 16th year, suffering in emotional isolation, going through the motions of a life peopled with traitors she loves. Ignored, ridiculed, blamed, and her sane views used as evidence of an innately rebellious and flawed nature. She is too confused and sore to see that she's okay, and they are not.

But she knows about me now. My little ghost caught a glimpse, somehow, of a future, a way out, and hope again drips inside her heart's deepest well. Fool. I never would have escaped had I allowed those drops to fall and threaten their inevitable flood. She should know better than to hope for a way out, for things to change enough that she might ever life a free to be herself; see why I had to leave her back there? She is a minefield for disappointment, pain, crushed love. These are the side effects of her hope, joy, and love.

I want the hope, the joy, to feel the love. She comes with these things, and so do the risks.


So she knows about me now, and darts about the edges of my vision. She wants in, into me; I am her doorway of escape from the 20-year prison that I hate to even think about, and which she calls home. I am her future.

But so far, I've pretended not to notice her. I refuse. So far. My life is together, and I am in charge. I made it! I got out. I live alone, in my own house. Nobody has power over me. I am dependent upon no person who can abuse my helplessness and crush my world. I am okay.

Okay is becoming less satisfying, though. As I settle into safe, into freedom and independence, an emptiness becomes more noticeable. I am living paradise compared to my ghost, but maybe I want to use other measuring sticks, now. Like potential: how much better could it be? Is there any reason I don't deserve a full range of emotion in addition to peace?

That trampy little ghost is my full range of emotion, like it or not. And I judge her so unfairly, because it's safer that way. I'd like to create a new emotional core for myself, one with clean edges and only pleasant, admirable desires. But the heart cannot be orchestrated intellectually, only felt; and following my feelings, I turn up inside that miserable, pathetic ghost.

Why, when I've come this far, crated a life of peace and health through my own hard work and confusion, should I open the door to everything I've run from, the feelings I've purged with distance? I'm embarr4ased of her, and refuse to acknowledge her presence. I don't want her to be part of me. Again. But she's smart, my ghost, and with raw courage and vulnerable hope that I once felt coursing through my own veins, she's closing in on me. I guess she needs me more than I need her. Yes, of course she does: what she has for me merely adds quality to my life, while I can save her from a tortured, lifeless eternity.


That doesn't make her any less creepy, however. She's all the more distasteful to me for her need, and for her realness. At this point, I'd find it preferable to have a more traditional ghost haunting mesome ghastly white apparitionthan this slice of myself bending time as she nears. More than just shivers down the spine, my ghost has the added power to make me feel insane.

Especially when she first started drifting into view. Now, I understand the psychological processes involved with my fragmentary self, with having the power-pack of my emotions housed twenty years in the past, inside a person I've worked hard since to distance myself from. That understanding is hard-earned, the product of ten years' marination in the field of psychology, talk shows deconstructing family and teenage dynamics, and ferocious introspection. And writing, a powerful tool in transforming my ghost from invisible, screaming shadows to her increasingly human and more sympathetic form.

I've learned that my ghost exists for reasons that once protected me, and made sense. It's good to learn that I am not crazy, but maybe worse that I must now turn around and face her. Find a way to embrace her, this tortured missing part of me.


Learning to live with her is not easy; you know how teenagers can be. She shows up at inconvenient times. When new romance blossoms and somebody says they love me, there she is, 16 and frantic, overwhelmed and panicked. Just when it is my turn to love somebody back, she disappears in a ghostly poof, taking with her my ability to feel. I stand numbly then, capable only of simulating the emotions I suspect I'd feel if I could--that I would if that flipped out little wretch would come back with them. Maybe it's better, I think then, that we stay in our respective worlds; after all, I've become an excellent actress without her and the range of emotions she hoards.

But I don't want to fake my way through life anymore. Together, we are a whole, and anything less cheats us both. So it is that I work to soften for her, letting her join me here in the future. When she is me, I am three-dimensional, full of feeling, alive. And when with the fullness of joy I also experience a fondness for Ratt and other hair bands of the 1980s, I grit my teeth in tolerance and try to love this version of who I fully am.

The sorrow and fear she brings with her are tremendous, and when I feel these things as well, I fight through to find compassion for the ghost that carries them. I comfort her, instead of pretending that I don't see her, instead of pretending -- as others did -- that she doesn't exist. Finally, she is a ghost no more.


Article © Amy Probst. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-02-21
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