“What are we celebrating?”
The Bartender poured.
“A broken heart,” she said with a secretive laugh.
Their eyes met briefly. He smiled back and poured longer.
“Well then – have a double.” He was nice. Or, maybe he just wanted a big tip. “Need a minute with the menu?”
She had a book with her, so he took that to mean she wanted to be alone for the most part. It was a science-fiction paperback with a lot of plot giveaways on the cover – something about an alien who fell to Earth but couldn’t get back to their planet.
He left her.
It was well after hours and she was lucky to find a place that was still open. She wasn’t sure why she’d decided to sit at the bar – after all, she wanted to be left alone. The booths looked way more comfortable.
The place was empty. Good.
Theoretically, she could have just driven through, and made better time on the 5-hour drive to her hometown.
But – a longer drive promised a shorter stay.
And, a shorter stay meant less time keeping up appearances, putting up force fields, and pretending she wanted to be there.
It was less exhausting to stay on the road.
Was it weird not missing your hometown? She wondered.
Just enjoy the pause, she told herself. She knew she looked good in the non-invasive lighting. The playlist was soft and strange – all covers, no originals. The bartender was cute.
Alas – she could not unwind because she was being haunted by a Ghost.
The Ghost was someone who once meant the world to her. He made some promises, lit her up, and then he disappeared.
They had met when she wasn’t looking to meet someone – just like many sappy romances begin.
There had been laughter, and flirting, and enlightening conversations, invigorating debates, longing glances, not-so-accidental touches, kissing (and biting) in public, fucking in strange places… all of it. It was the perfect love story.
And then, just like that, there was silence.
He was gone.
Without a word, without an explanation.
At first, she feared he might be dead. Or, possibly in a coma.
She confirmed he was very much alive and breathing on his own.
She didn’t feel better.
As it turned out, she was dead – to him. She was almost convinced she was dead, except the unrelenting pain she endured assured her she was very much alive.
Their conversations ended abruptly three months ago. And yet, sorrow remained in the depths of her stomach like a festering wound.
She would ask herself constantly – why?
Stop asking, she told herself. Stop torturing yourself. There is no why. There just is what there is. No need to be dramatic.
She would not allow herself to go down this masochistic path again. After all, she was a woman of experience now.
She wasn’t 20 anymore, far from it. She knew men did this. What she struggled with is why they did this.
Sometimes the trash takes itself out, she reminded herself.
This wasn’t the first time someone had ghosted her. But this time, her recovery will be different, she promised. It will be efficient and prompt. Scientific.
Because that is what strong, intelligent, self-made women do. They get over things. They move on. They get harder and harder. They become resilient. They become untouchable.
Because men go where they are needed. Women go where they are wanted.
She noticed something by her foot.
It was a large white feather – a strange find. She checked the time on her phone and it ended in an 11. Synchronicity? Was an angel watching her? Were these signs?
“Want another?” The Bartender was back.
Her drink was almost empty. How did that happen?
She was about to say “yes” and order the dinner special, and then it hit her…
“I forgot my wallet,” embarrassment rose to her face, “Oh my God, I am so sorry.”
He had already poured the second drink.
“I’ll go get it,” she said, emphatically.
She had left her wallet on the counter when she stopped for gas.
It was an hour’s drive away.
“I know where it is. I promise, I’ll be back.”
He didn’t believe her, although he tried not to show it.
But it showed.
“It’s okay. I understand,” he said, robotically.
“No, it’s not. Just give me…” her expression dropped. “It’ll take me 2 hours. Maybe less…”
“Don’t worry about it, enjoy your evening.”
“I’m coming back.”
“Sure,” he was already headed back to the kitchen. “Enjoy your evening,” he said again. He knew this drill.
She raced out to her car. Feeling stupid. He had been so nice to her. And now, she had ruined everything.
The worst part was that she had forgotten her wallet at the gas station because she had allowed the Ghost to distract her.
The Ghost was in her head, and he wasn’t leaving.
She was always slipping up these days, woefully derailed by someone who, by all accountable evidence, didn’t shed a split-second thinking about her.
And if he was thinking of her, he didn’t want her to think he was thinking of her, and that was just as (if not more) terrible.
But this one was supposed to be different, she sighed. Even if he hadn’t been around for that long. It didn’t matter.
Some men changed her more in a night than others did in weeks, months, even years.
Some men are stagnant waters. Others are raging infernos that burn the whole castle down.
Off she drove, into the night, remembering what fire felt like.
The Angel at the end of the bar looked up from his drink. He spoke thoughtfully. “I think she likes you.”
“She has a funny way of showing it,” laughed the Bartender.
“This one might surprise you. She’s just having a bad night,” assured the Angel.
The Bartender topped off the Angel’s drink. “Have you known her long?”
The angel’s favorite part of drinking was watching the bartender pour. “Longer than she remembers”.
“Think she’ll be back?” asked the Bartender.
“I’m sure of it. She needs someone to talk to her, someone who gets her. Don’t go overboard. Just be yourself, it will be good for both of you.” The angel got up from the barstool and stretched his wings.
“Where are you going now?” exclaimed the Bartender.
“Cigarette.” He glanced around the empty bar. “Don’t let anyone touch my drink.”
Back in the car, her mood had shifted.
She’d caught herself going down a familiar rabbit hole.
Memories of the Ghost weren’t letting up.
She no longer liked what she saw in the rear-view mirror.
Why did the Ghost discard her? Had she done anything wrong? Was she too clever? Was she too boring?
Why couldn’t she just put this thing to bed? How could she, when there was no goodbye? There was no fight or discussion. There was no clarity. There was no reason.
So, in desperation, she turned to other sources. What do the mantras say? The memes? The couch psychiatrists. The Instagram poets? The online psychics?
Closure is within you. You don’t need him for closure. Closure isn’t even real.
Clearly, there had to have been red flags. You ignored red flags.
He’s being cruel to be kind. Do you really want him to tell you he’s just not that into you?
You can’t control his behavior; you can only control your behaviour.
You like emotionally unavailable men because – plot twist – you are unavailable.
You settled. Forgive yourself for settling. Move on, Sis.
You didn’t have high enough standards, Bae.
He hates himself and he’s taking that out on you, Queen.
All. So. Exhausting.
It’s on him, she screamed inside her head.
Maybe this time, it wasn’t you, she reasoned. Stop pathologizing.
Foot on the accelerator.
This time, you did everything right. You asked all the questions. You were transparent and vulnerable. You calculated the risks. You managed your expectations.
You were independent, but not dismissive.
You were attentive, but not clingy.
He still left.
You still didn’t see it coming.
It still hurt.
How does one put an end to this mind-fuckery?
She almost missed her exit and stopped abruptly at the gas station. Miraculously, they were still open.
“Why don’t people want to fix things? Make things right?” she wondered, and then noticed a white feather on the ground.
The Angel returned.
“You’re molting all over my floor,” said the Bartender, sweeping feathers and debris around the Angel’s stool.
“Some people think that’s good luck,” smiled the Angel. He sat down again.
“I feel lucky. So, what’s her story?” asked the Bartender.
A sudden sadness overcame the Angel. He didn’t want to talk about it.
“She is Fallen”, the Angel answered quietly.
“What? How?” The Bartender stopped sweeping.
Tears formed in the angel’s eyes, for this was very difficult for an angel to say out loud. It was hard for an angel to know someone was in pain – it became their pain as well.
“We don’t really talk about these things. It’s disrespectful to speak of the Fallen.”
“She got to be devastated.”
“Don’t say anything about it to her. She just thinks she’s one of you.”
“She doesn’t know?”
The Angel tried hard to find the words. It was difficult to explain. “She knows. But she doesn’t know she knows.”
“Was her memory wiped?”
“She’s incapable of understanding,” offered the Angel.
The Bartender was confused.
The Angel had to take a moment to find the words.
“It’s like when you love someone, very intensely, and then they suddenly just leave, and you don’t have the capacity to understand why. They ghost you. So, you have memories and feelings about them that are good, but now you’re not sure if they are real memories at all because… well, if they were real, they’d be here with you, wouldn’t they?”
“She knows she’s been discarded,” continued the Angel, “but her feelings make no sense to her. So, she is constantly searching for a reason. Sometimes, she thinks she finds it, but she is always wrong. She’ll find someone who will let her down, and she will feel pain and know it’s real and think that’s it, now she can start to heal. So, it’s actually a silent relief… it validates that lost memory she keeps having. For a while; the relief won’t last because it’s the wrong pain. It’s one pain in the perfect disguise of another pain. It’s not painful enough. Eventually, she leaves it and looks again for an even harder pain. It goes on and on. And she does it to herself.”
The Angel let out a long breath. “It is one of the worst kinds of suffering.”
The Angel was interrupted by someone briskly entering the bar.
The Bartender compulsively turned his attention to the door.
It was her.
“You’re back!” exclaimed the Bartender, a little too emphatically.
“You seem surprised,” she smiled sweetly and tried to hide the fact that she was quite out of breath. Her drink was still waiting for her. How nice. She was relieved.
“Well yeah – you could have just left, you know. I couldn’t have done anything about it.”
“Yes, I know. But that’s not who I am.”
“Wow. Well, you’ve renewed my faith in humanity.” He wasn’t completely joking.
“You didn’t throw out my drink, I doubt your faith was that shaken.”
She held his gaze.
“Did you forget your book?”
“No, I left it in the car.”
He laughed. “You’re not paying for that.”
“Yes, I am and I’m staying for dinner.”
The Angel in the corner grinned.
“You don’t seem to be in a rush to get home,” mentioned the Bartender.
“Not going home. Well, it’s my hometown but I don’t really consider it home…”
She paused. “Is that weird?”
“Nope. Not at all. Visiting family?”
“Sort of. It’s a funeral. My dad’s funeral.”
“That’s okay. We were never that close.”
“Every time I speak to you, I say something awkward.”
He laughed. “I’ll get your dinner.”
Off he went.
Strange – she had almost forgotten about the funeral.
And there it was.
Was she supposed to feel sad? She was sad. But not in the way she was supposed to feel sad, she somehow thought.
She knew a long time ago there was no way to correct what was between her and her father. That hurt, but what else was there to do except accept the way things were? And now, of course, it was too late.
But it was always too late, for as long as she could remember.
Is that why she ended up with emotionally unavailable men, over and over again? Men who disappear but who were never really there to begin with? Ghosts?
Was it all really that simple?
Just a pattern that repeats itself, even though she has done all the reading, all the therapy, and shared all the memes… was she truly just doomed to repeat her circumstances because familiarity was more soothing than change?
Hard to believe.
But that was the only explanation, so it would have to do.
She didn’t completely buy it, but she was tired. And hungry. And she wanted to enjoy what little was left of the night.
She had a lot to be grateful for, after all. It was a miracle she was able to get her wallet back – the gas station had closed for the night, but something had tripped the security alarm and she caught the attendant just in time…
So, for now, it was enough – that is, until the next bout of overthinking grabbed hold of her and sent her down an abyss.
It was turning into a good night. Let’s just stay here for a while, she reasoned. While it lasts. Because it never lasts.
The Angel watched her lie to herself.
He missed her immensely.
But all he could do was watch over her as best he could.
There were so many things he wished he could tell her.
Stop searching, he would tell her. Stop gaslighting yourself.
You will never be rewarded for your relentlessness. You will only question your own sanity.
Hours later, she drove off into the early morning, a strangely less tired than when she first arrived. She and the Bartender had talked a lot, about science-fiction, and hometowns, and synchronicity. He bought her dinner.
The Angel lingered for a while, until the Bartender was finally ready to close.
She’s free for now. With only a dull ache where that missing part of her used to be.
“Thank you for holding space for her tonight. She’ll get through the next few days.” The Angel smiled at the Bartender warmly.
“But what happens now? I feel like, in a way, we’ve been lying to her. She still doesn’t know what really happened,” said the Bartender, sadly.
“Yes,” the Angel stared sadly into the bottom of his glass.
“That won’t ever leave her.”