My neck hurts from craning in both directions; forward, back, forward, back. My departure is encroaching and the pressure it is mounting. I am looking with eyes stoned from too much computer time with trip preparations, and I am looking in every direction. I am forward-thinking to me in snowy Szeged, teaching English and stumbling through sentences in Hungarian, to my holiday break in Italy. I am imagining new futures, but I can't stop looking back to the past.
The past is a herd of ghosts, haunting me. They slither out of every box I open and drawer I slide unshut. They wrap around me while I sleep, burrowing into my dreams. I have anxiety dreams about teaching English or catching planes, but I also dreamt up an old boyfriend last night. This one is old-old, from when I was 15. Maybe this is because I found his sweetly punk-rock mixed cd he'd made for me while I was sorting through binders of old discs, but it haunted me. I am chilled to my bones with guilt and nostalgia, coulda-beens, shoulda-beens, never-beens. I think about everything I've ever done that I am not proud of, everything I never did that I wished I had.
When is it time to call the code? My lungs are tired from all this air I'm pumping into something that I already lost, that died to the past, that can't live with me in this time period - my present. How long am I going to press my sorry lips to all these cold mouths? How long am I going to act out of guilt?
And how do I let it go?
How do I let it go?
. . .
I am near-tears in grocery stores, holding Charlie tight to my chest and breathing in his baby scent. This
may be is drastic, but I feel like my life is about to end, and everything that happens is happening for the last time. Sentimental in a supermarket, that's me this week.
As I drive on the 126, I breathe in the chipotle processing plant, that sweet smoke rising. I look out at the rows of lemon trees, at the ocean, and I think how far I will be from all of this, from my citrusy home.
This time, leaving feels much harder. Does this say something about my life? That I have more to lose? Or maybe, I shouldn't have scheduled my departure date to close to my menstrual cycle.
When I tell people I have a week and a half left before I leave, they ask how I feel. "Mushy," I say with a small laugh and watery smile, but maybe that adjective isn't quite right. I have a feeling my fire is burning down because I'm about to leave camp - I'm all coals and ashes, disintegrating, a slow burn before the atmosphere swallows me up again.
. . .
If I had to pick one word to describe how I am feeling: grief.
And then the ghosts arrive.
It's such a smooth B&E that I can't call the police. There is no hard evidence of their presence here, just my prickly skin and eyes, the stubble of last night's nightmares, a sinking feeling of guilt.
I don't know how to kick them out. I don't know what to do with them.
Wait, that's not true.
I know what to do, I just don't want to do it.
They come up when I am sifting through old letters; they are old hurt, failed relationships, actions of mine I wish I could erase. I packed them up, boxes sealed tight and labeled, and they sat, waiting for me. As soon as my knife made the incision in cardboard, I felt the bleed.
They had been gathering strength from their hurt, from unresolved tension, from being ignored and abandoned, and now they are here in my life with a vengeance.
I tried with slippery sweaty palms to collect them, to shoo them into a rubbermaid I thought would contain them.
So here I am, kneeling in front of the box, fingers on the edges, trembling.
On the edge, trembling.
"Okay," I say, and just like that, my fingers lift. "Okay," I say, "you are free."
So when will I be free?
. . .