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Christy is visited in her dreams by her three ex-boyfriends who, through closure and insight, help her get her life back on track.
“It started when I saw the first ghost,” she said.
I looked up. Frankly, I was startled, professional knowledge notwithstanding. She was sitting on my couch: a typical college-student in her skinny-jeans and t-shirt emblazoned with Greek letters, hands clutching some form of venti-sized sugary coffee from Starbucks. She looked like the type of girl who would be bitching about her pms with her friends instead of seeing ghosts.
“A ghost?” I said, “Are you—I mean, what happened?” I frowned at the pad of paper in my lap. I was a professional, after all, and shouldn't ask insensitive questions, especially on the patient's first visit.
“Well, I wasn't sure what I saw, but it surprised me so I fell down the stairs,” she said.
“Why don't you tell me the whole story, Christy, and try to be as specific as possible,” I prompted, and leaned back in my chair, pen poised.
She took a sip of coffee before speaking. “Ok, but it's going to sound weird,” she said.
“I thought I saw a ghost,” she repeated, “on Tuesday when me and my friend Alex were walking back to our dorm from the library. We were walking down the stairs to the quad when I thought I saw it—him—at the bottom, and I missed a step and fell down. She was all like `Oh my gosh are you ok?' and I was like, `Um, yeah, I just slipped,'and got up. I looked to see if he was still there, but there was no one—that's why I think he was a ghost.
“Alex said something about the stairs being icy from all the snow we'd been having, and I lether babble aboutthe snow and something about her hair and God knows what else. All I could think of was the ghost—how he looked exactly like my ex-boyfriend. I guess at some point she got on the subject of weird states, because I heard “Wyoming” and snapped out of my reverie.
“What was that?” I said.
“I was asking you if you'd ever driven through Wyoming. We went skiing there over Christmas and it's frickin' desolate,” she said.
A flood of bittersweet wistfulness and pain struck me, the feelings I get every time I heard or saw something about Wyoming.
“Did you ever hear back from Mitch?” she said.
I gladly focused on the new topic, shoving the wistful feelings away. “That guy you tried to set me up with at that party? The one you said I should marry so we could have pretty babies together?” I said. “Yeah, he wanted to take me to a movie this weekend but I declined.”
“You what? But you would have been perfect together! Christy, you can't keep doing this!” She turned, hands on her hips. “What is with you lately?”
“I just don't feel like going on a date with some random guy from your stats class,” I said, “and stop sounding like my mother.”
“Geez, ok,” she said, and her shoulders hunched up.
I felt bad for her—it wasn't her fault that I was feeling snappy. I apologized and gushed over her boots, asking her where she got them.
That evening Alex and I parked ourselves in our corner of the cafeteria, a place picked out on our first day of our first semester and that we had never left. “So,” she started, forking a tomato wedge, “you coming to watch the game tonight?”
I took my time spearing peas before answering. “Y'know, I don't think I will…I have that paper to write…” I said.
“That paper for your anthro class?” She said, and waved the tomato-ended fork in my direction. “Isn't that not due for like two weeks?”
“Well, yeah, but I thought I'd get a head start on something for once and, y'know, actually not procrastinate,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” she replied.
“Geez don't give me that look! I really have stuff to do!”
“Fine. Whatever,” she said, and chomped on the tomato. “But don't complain to me tomorrow that you died of boredom.”
That night I leaned back in my chair, feet propped on the desk among the magazines and food wrappers scattered around my laptop, staring at a blank space of wall between the shelves where my textbooks mingled with an LSAT prep book and a guide to French grammar. I wanted to sit on my bed, but I would have to move the pile of clean laundry onto the floor which was rather dirty. I was tempted to go over to Alex's place and chill, but that would meanadmitting both boredom and defeat, and, just as bad, getting out of my pajamas.
My mom had called that day, on the pretense of asking how my classes were going but really to lecture about how I need to get a guy. She would have continued on about how I can't hide from life forever if I hadn't cut her off, saying I had class. I didn't for another hour, but I'd heard this spiel before. After I broke up with Jeff and was in the midst of a week dedicated to watching Nicholas Sparks movies with Alex, a box of tissues, and a tub of Ben and Jerry's, she called and told me that I needed to get over it.And as if that wasn't salt in the wound enough, she had to mention that Grammy and Gramps were visiting friends out in Wyoming.
“I'm really starting to hate that place,” I muttered to the walls.
A knock on my door interrupted my pensiveness. “Yeah?” I said, opening the door. I took a step back. “Oh, God.” It was another ghost.
“Hey! Sorry to bother you, but would you like to purchase a t-shirt to support a summer camp in Wyoming?”he said.
“No!” I screamed at him and slammed the door. I wilted against it, heart pounding. Two ghosts in one day? Wyoming, again? And summer camp?! “This is ridiculous,” I muttered and opened my anthro textbook, turning my attention to the paper I didn't need to write.
I had the first dream that night, one of those ridiculously vivid dreams that feel like you're reliving your memories or something. I dreamed I was back at the camp I went to every year from when I was 10 to my junior year of high school: Arrowhead Lake, where you spend three weeks doing basic summer camp stuff and sleep in a teepee.I waswalking by the lake and listening to the canoers sing that goofy song about socks. And then he was there—the figure from my doorway—my first boyfriend, wearing that old AC/DC shirt and the hat he wore to cover his bright-orange hair.
“Hey Christie,” he said, grinning.
“Mark,” I replied, ignoring his open arms. “What is your problem?”
“What do you mean?” He said.
“Showing up at my door like that! All ghostly and weird and all!” I crossed my arms.
“What, you don't know?” he said, surprised.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said.
“Didn't Jeff tell you? He was supposed to.”
I told him about falling down the stairs.
“Oh, well, Jeff was supposed to tell you that we, your ex-boyfriends, have decided that it is high time you moved on.”
“From all of us. You think that we don't know that you just sit in your room all the time, all depressed and just surf the internet?”
I flushed. “How do you know that? I haven't heard from you in six years!”
He waved that away. “It's time you moved on, Christy, and fixed your life,” he said, and adopted an official tone. “You, Christy, will be visited by your three ex-boyfriends, one each night from the hour of 2 until 6:30 in the morning, four and a half hours to close anything left unfinished in your relationship and to hear our advice.” He relaxed and grinned. “See?”
I watched the canoes cris-cross the lake. Visits from my ex-boyfriends? Things left unfinished? I had to admit that lately I had been feeling—not myself, like I had been avoiding the world and using my room as a nest of safety, a cozy place to hide. I turned to Mark. After all, what did I have to lose? And anyways, this was just a dream. “Ok. I'm listening.”
By the time I woke up to the sound of my neighbor's alarm clock blasting the radio, Mark and I had reconciled why he had never responded to my letters and why I had called his interests “immature.” We walked through the camp, sharing memories. I remembered why I had fallen for him in the first place (he was so darn funny!) and also why we broke up: it wasn't just that we lived in different states, but I couldn't understand his obsession with Pokon. Just before I woke, we found ourselves in the clearing in the woods where we had shared our first kiss. We were silent for a moment, and I realized that I would no longer wince whenever I remembered those three weeks at camp.
“Christy, you really aren't introverted or antisocial,” he said, “You should get out of your room more.”
That day I cleaned up my room—throwing out old magazines and food wrappers I had forgotten, finally folding my clothes and putting them back in their drawers, and even scrubbing at the floor with a package of Lysol wipes. When I took the bursting trash bag out to the dumpster, I was only mildly surprised to see Rob, the guy I dated in high school, slouched against the wall, texting.
“Hey Rob. Guess I'll be seeing you tonight,” I said, but when I had thrown my stuff in the dumpster he was gone.
That night, after once again pleading homework to avoid hanging out with Alex and yet another irritating call from my mom, I dreamed again, returning to the halls of my high-school. It was eerily quiet, like how it was during finals week, and in each room I could see my old classmates taking notes or texting under the desks or doodling. Rob met me at my old locker, and we walked through the building as we talked. He still slouched about, one hand holding a half-liter of Dr. Pepper that I knew was mixed with a large splash of vodka. It was his rebellious nature that I had been attracted to: he was the type of person my parents despised, someone who I could stay out past my curfew with while telling my parents I was at a sleepover. Oddly enough, it was my relationship with my parents that Rob addressed.
“The problem with you, Christy, is that you haven't actually talked to your parents since we started going out,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said. We stopped walking and faced each other.
“I mean that you never tell them what is really going on—who you are with, what you are doing, how you feel about stuff,” he said, and took a swig from the bottle.
“Well, ok, yeah,” I said, “but only because they wouldn't understand what's going on, what I want to do. Your parents don't care, they buy you alcohol for crying out loud! Mine—well, they're not like that. At all.” I thought about the daily calls from my mom, the worry in her voice, the questions. I thought about how over break my dad wanted to drive me everywhere, if only to have the opportunity to ask me if I was doing ok. How I felt stifled by their attention.
“Seriously? Christy, don't you know that they've done crazy shit too?” He said.
“Rob, what are you telling me? That just because my parents haven't always made the best decisions means that they'll understand where I'm coming from?” I said.
“No. I'm telling you that they have experience with tons of stuff. And they want to help you with your problems. They do love you, you know.”
We started walking again. He talked about his dad's death, how he never knew how much his father meant to him until he was gone. He wanted me to know that my parents should be a part in my life, not a main part, but a strong supporting character nonetheless.
“You always did like theater class,” I said.
“Well, it gives some good insight into life,” he replied, right before I woke up.
I couldn't pay attention in any of my classes that day. I fidgeted, picking atmy nail polish or tapping my fingers or jiggling a foot. Would I call my mom? I glanced at the clock often. Did I want time to go faster or slower? Either way, I didn't want to be in class, caught in a limbo of impatient indecision. When I finally left my last class, I told myself that I would decide after treating myself to Starbucks. But as I sipped my steaming white-chocolate mocha, I knew that sooner or later my mom would call.
“What the hell,” I muttered, and pulled out my phone.
“Christy? Is everything ok?” she answered.
I choked up. “Hi Mom. No, I'm—fine. Just thought I'd call and say hi.”
“Well, isn't this a surprise! I'm just in the middle of making a loaf of pumpernickel,” she said. “What are you up to today?”
I pictured her in the kitchen, apron on, carefully measuring out ingredients. Everything she did was precisely calculated to be perfect the first time. I never understood why; to me, trial and error made everything an adventure in discovery, which was the main reason why she only let me make bread if she was there with me, ensuring that I did it her way. I almost replied “Oh, the usual,” when I saw a ghostly Rob walking down the street.
“Christy? Are you there?”
“Yeah, sorry. Well, I went to my classes, and now I'm sitting in Starbucks. I'm prolly going to work on a paper for anthro later,” I said.
“Sounds pretty generic,” she said, “are you doing anything with Alex?”
“I don't think so…” I said.
“Really? Last year you two were practically inseparable!”
It was now or never.“Actually, Mom, I've been having a tough time since I broke up with Jeff—I just haven't felt motivated to do much,” I said.
There was silence for a moment. “Oh, honey, why didn't you tell me?”
I released the breath I hadn't realized I was holding. What was I expecting? That she would yell at me?“Well, I pretty much just realized how bad this has gotten, like, last night.” I didn't want to tell her about the ghosts. “And now I just don't know what to do.”
We talked for an hour and twenty minutes, although it felt nowhere near that long. I told her about how I spent too much time in my room, how everything felt like a dead-end with nothing to do but avoid it all,how it felt like I was living a half-life. She listened as it all rushed out, and told me the straight up truth I needed.
“Getting out of your room is a good start,” she said, “you should only go there to sleep.” She gave me more advice, and then said, “I'm really proud of you for recognizing this, honey. You know, I have a tendency to just curl up in a cozy spot when the going gets tough, too.”
“Well, not exactly, but I didn't want you to feel too alone” she said.
She continued, “But I want you to know that your dad and I love you a lot, and I know that you will do your best to get out of this rut.”
I followed her advice and worked on my paper in the library that evening. By the time I got back to my room, I was too tired to do anything except get ready for bed. As if congratulating my first evening of not being in my room, I got a goodnight text from my mom.
When I began dreaming, I wasn't at all surprised to find myself seated on Jeff's unmade bed in his old room, the familiar Family Guy and Wyoming posters on the walls. He sat across from me on the arm of the garage-sale loveseat, his sock-covered feet propped on the bed. I sighed. Here we go.
“So, what are you going to tell me about myself?” I said.
“What, you don't want to know how I'm doing or anything?” He said.
“Well I thought I'd just jump right to the purpose of this conversation,” I said. In truth, though, it felt like it was almost too much to be there—as if we hadn't broken up—and I didn't want to hear how he was hooking up with some hot girl.
“You've been avoiding me, haven't you?” He said.
I flushed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that, whenever I see you, you either whip out your phone and pretend to text or you suddenly change direction and walk away,” he said.
“I guess it's was kinda obvious,” I said. “I kept meaning to talk to you, at least say hi or something, but when I see you I just can't,” I said lamely.
“Y'know, you can't hide from stuff forever,” he said.
“Well, sometimes it's hard to face stuff for a while,” I retorted.
“Ok, ok, simmer down,” he said, and reached out as if to pat me on the leg, but decided against it and adjusted his sock. “I guess we haven't talked at all since that night,” he said, “how're you doing?”
“Oh, fine, I guess,” I said, “but you know that isn't really true.”
He nodded. “Yeah, this was all mainly my idea.” He told me how he was worried that I was becoming depressed, and that even though we ended the relationship on good terms it seemed to really affect me, that I hadn't “bounced back.” He conferenced with my other exes and learned that I had more problems to address as well, and they, like guardian angels, had decided it was time for an intervention.
We talked about some of our memories of our relationship—the time we splashed around in the fountain, the day we spent at the mall pretending to shop for our house, the night we almost got caught making out on the football practice field, the day before we broke up and all the tears. I still did not argue with the reasoning behind the break-up, it was clear that we had both ignored our other friendships and were relying too much on each-other to fulfill that need. And besides, dating for a year and a half is quite a feat, but keeping it all new and spontaneous at the same time wasn't possible with us.
“You really should try to be closer with Alex,” he told me. “You've been neglecting that friendship for too long, and you really need it.”
I didn't deny what he said, but the pressure of both getting out of my room and recovering a friendship felt like a lot, especially since it was all so sudden. “Maybe I should talk to a therapist,” I said, “but who would believe me about the ghosts?”
“Ghosts?” He said, “what ghosts?”
I took a breath. Ok, I thought, what is going on here? “Um, never mind,” I said, and wondered when I would wake up. Thankfully, it wasn't much longer: we had only time to share what classes we were taking when my neighbor's alarm went off.
That was yesterday. Interestingly enough, I felt a strong purpose to talk to Alex, so I called her and made plans to not only get lunch but also to watch Aladdin in the evening. I was surprised how much we had to talk about—it felt like we could have gone on forever. And we would have, if I hadn't seen all three ghosts standing in a corner of her room, congratulating me—Jeff's confusion made me question my sanity. So here I am, wondering what is going on.” She drank the last of her coffee and leaned her elbows on her knees, expectant.
I glanced through my notes, digesting everything she told me, before saying, “What matters to you more: the fact that you are seeing ghosts, or that you are mending broken relationships and getting your life back on track?”
She instantly replied, “That I'm fixing my life. I've needed to do it for so long and it's really great so far.”
I leaned back in my chair, smiling. “Well, Christy, it sounds like you don't have much to worry about. But I would recommend that we meet once a week for the rest of the semester, if only to make sure that you don't revert and start avoiding the world again.”
“That's it?” She said. “You don't think that I'm crazy or hallucinating?”
“I think your sub-conscious took some extreme measures to make you realize that you needed to fix some things, and used the guise of your ex-boyfriends, since it seems that everything related back to your relationships with them. There was a case similar to yours just two years ago in Kentucky—a young man dreamed of his ex-girl-friends for two weeks before he realized that he needed to change, and after a few days never saw the ghosts again,” I said soothingly.
“Ok, great,” she said. We planned to meet again in a week.
I watched through the window as she walked along the quad.
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