Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, when I was a freshman in college, new to smoking and growing my hair out, I danced around mutual attraction with a senior for 7 months. Toward the end of the year, playing indoor soccer in the hallway of the dorm, he knocked me over and gave me a massive bump on the head. A week later, I was in his bed. We swapped music, laughs, bodily fluids, and he told me adventures from abroad as bedtime stories. He was the first guy I fell in love with. I’ve loved other people since, but I will always have a somewhat softer spot for him, just like the tender and swollen flesh on the top of my head that he caressed after he picked me back up.
To this day, we’re still more-or-less in touch. If he comes back into town, he calls. We’ve met for coffee dates and spent a few evenings together. Usually, I’m busy and/or seeing other people, but if I can, I’ll make time to catch up with him. After the summer that he graduated and some hard feelings, I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not hard to pick up the phone or send him a message to contact him anymore.
It’s always a fine line between surprise and the inevitable when I hear his ringtone go off, usually right in time with the seasons. I can say to him, “Sorry—I already have a date tonight,” and he’ll respond with an “Ok, what about tomorrow night?” Unfortunately, at some points in the past, I was ambivalent about the person I was currently seeing as a full-time adventure, and so I said “yes” to his part-time adventure. Not one of my proudest moments. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s one of the complications of life.
In the past few months, he and I have finally progressed from the weird holding pattern we were in. He figured out that although I will always find his big blue eyes and puffy lips tempting, I’m not quite the same girl I was 3 years ago. And I’ve figured out that although the girl I am now has no problem moving past the past and keeping up with him, I’m also moving past him.
It’s always hard to see him. “No” is a word that I struggle with sometimes. As I once said to one of my roommates after coming home from coffee with him, “He was supposed to be fat and balding and unhappy, not tan and fit and cute.” But that’s how past relationships work—you’ll never quite get rid of them. They will always be people you look at and think, “I spent a month/2 nights/6 months thinking you were the best thing on Earth, and I know what you look like naked.” It’s a hard act to juggle. He came to Florence first. He was the one who first planted the seed in my mind, and I’ve been following his ghost all over Italy. It’s in the same places we visit and in the same photos I take that were hanging on his room’s walls. It’s something that I look for, almost unknowingly, when I’m out and about. My breath still catches when I think I see him. Ghosts haunt. Not all of us have exorcists on call. And like Casper, not all ghosts are unfriendly. But ghosts do hinder you—other people don’t want to come and play in your little fright-fest. It's not fair to ask other people to put up with your undead companions. So I have since been learning how to say “No.”
I made my choice (moments of weakness notwithstanding,) a few months ago and decided to keep on growing up and moving on. You can’t keep your future open if you’re still keeping your past on speed-dial as a crutch. We’ve more-or-less both moved on, but are still both past and present. In the past, he was my lover. In the present, he’s someone who I have no qualms asking for advice, or sharing coffee, a few beers, or laughs with again. We all have skeletons in our closets. The true test of character is how you deal with them and bury them again when the Bad Voodoo man comes to call and you know zombies aren’t exactly great playmates.