The Ghost & The Phone is the book I’m not yet ready to write.
My guess is it will end up a creative non-fiction memoir about grief and rebuilding your life, but grief is a sneaky form of love that shows its face unexpectedly.
When I can see more objectively, I’ll see where the story wants to go. For now this essay is me telling the book “Yes, I see you. But now is not your turn. Now I write Chronos & Chiara and The Oddest Little Business Book, and when those are done I will come back and see what you want to tell me.”
The Ghost & The Phone
New rule. No phones in my bedroom. I could say it’s because of too much screen time. Instagram stealing my productive hours one click at a time, and there is truth to that—but it’s not the reason the phone has been banished.
The phone is banished because every time I pick it up, I am reminded of a life when my people would text me each morning to share about the promise of the day. I am reminded of the texts I no longer receive. I am reminded of the people I no longer have. The phone is banished because it reminds me of what I have lost, and I have no need for a reminder.
Loss is around me, and in me, and on me. It seeps into my writing and my client work, my Pilates classes and my relationships. Loss contaminates and spreads every time I get out of bed, every time I tell a story, every time I answer the stupid fucking phone.
Loss is hungry; it steals my appetite. Desperate to remain strong, it feeds on my energy. In dumbfounded curiosity I watch this odd hungry ghost consume a life I once knew. A life I had fought hard to build, roles I had worn like badges of honor because of all they had cost me. The ghost devours that life, bit-by-methodical-bit, and in morbid fascination I wonder Is there anything worth saving in that old life anyways?
Moments of frantic need to stay in the life I’ve always known, lead to attempts to mitigate the hungry ghost’s destruction. Ghosts are silent, so maybe words, communication, connection—maybe they can stop its binge? I reach for the stupid fucking phone.
I call back to the life that is actively disappearing. I explain that it is hard right now, and it would be less hard if we could talk, but not in the way of that old life. The old way doesn’t work for me right now, (Will it ever work for me again?) I need a new way—a gentler way.
But my old life doesn’t understand this need for a new language. Communication and connection are taboo in a world where don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel are the only constants. The language of before is punctuated with aggressions of silence and distance—the very things a hungry ghost thrives upon. My old life says I can return when I am ready and they will welcome me if I go to them, but I must be the one to break the silence.
I re-banish the phone and retreat to my bed, knowing I have asked too much of an old life that is not ready to change. In my changing, I unknowingly asked the people of my before to change and come with me. They are not ready. But I now understand, none of us are ever ready. And where I go next, I will be going alone.
I wonder why I cling to these final threads of the life from before, when the hungry ghost crawls into bed next to me. I see its hungry soul and realize You’re just doing what a hungry ghost does. I look into its vaguely familiar eyes. There’s no malevolence to your action. The shape of its nose fills in. You eat to survive. The curve of its lips reveal. To maintain your energy. A sweep of bangs across the forehead. You are fighting to stay in existence. And there’s her face.
But her face is my face, and now I see.
I am the hungry ghost.
A deep, calm, knowing settles inside me. Because even though my world has been chewed to rubble and I am hardly recognizable, everything is completely, totally, and perfectly fine. I trust her to finish every last bite of who I used to be. Because maybe this is how everything is finally right.
I climb out of bed and head to the fridge. I know the ghost will finish her job soon and then she will go. The ghost cannot build me a new life, but she can help me let go of my old one. She can give me the space I need to grow into whoever I am supposed to be next.
I make myself a sandwich; I’m going to need energy to build this new life. A text alert goes off on my phone. I look at the ghost. Pick it up. Communicate. Connect. We have work to do.