I don’t sleep in our bedroom any more, I decamped to the spare room months ago. There are too many ghosts in our bedroom now, I do not like being in it. The room in which my ex-boyfriend used to work (and play, and sleep, and live) has long since been closed off: I use the space for drying laundry, but the door to it is firmly shut unless I’m hanging socks. This house is riddled with shadow-versions of him, and most of them congregate in there.
There are visions of him sitting slumped on the sofa playing video games. Dancing to the USB disco lights he put up in the corners. The image of him in his office chair, one foot up on the desk, pants off and porn on the screen all ready to turn and grin when I walk in to suck him off.
He’s alive and well and thriving, and that’s good. Half an hour away by cycle superhighway. He lives and breathes and exists and is real, so it’s pretty unfair that he also has so many ghosts that haunt me back here, in this house that belongs to us. I wonder if it is crass for me to refer to these visions as his ‘ghosts’, especially during a year where so many others are dealing with far more traumatic grief. It might be, and I’m sorry. The haunting analogy is the closest I can come to capturing the way I feel about this weird place – I’ve hunted all over for others and come up empty-handed.
My ex’s ghost haunts the garden, where we used to sit and sunbathe and listen to podcasts. It haunts the bathroom, where he’d sometimes bring me joints to smoke in the bath or let me watch him wank in the shower. It’s in the kitchen, standing patient and sleepy by the space where his coffee machine used to be, and in the downstairs toilet to which he’d sometimes leave the door open so I could watch him piss when we were drunk. On the stairs where we fucked. In the hallway where we fucked. In the car that’s parked outside, in which (perhaps surprisingly) we never fucked, but which carries memories of all the lemon sherbets I’d unwrap and place gently into his mouth so he could keep his eyes on the road.
This house is full of ghosts. I still, months after he’s gone, expect to see him sitting on the sofa. Still sometimes wake up and reach for him as if he’s there. When I come home late at night, I still have to suppress little jolts of shock when I find all the lights turned out and no one home.
His ghost is fucking everywhere.
The places I spend most time in are the ones where he is not: my office is safe for the most part. It’s mine, I made it. I put up these bookshelves and painted these pictures and covered these walls with post-its. It’s my space, and mine alone, until I remember that while I’ve been sitting here writing, nearly all the words have been about him.
It’s not just this house that he haunts either, it’s everything: my emails and DMs and texts and the reminder I got that I’ve finally finished paying off the finance agreement for the bathroom we chose together. In direct debits and mortgage payments and council tax bills. In spreadsheets of who-owes-who-what and the knowledge that this won’t be over until that is. He’ll haunt each day until the day that shit is finished and I wish I could take this exorcism in one intense burst instead. One full day of screaming contortions and horror and green vomit, not weeks and months of low-level, torturous haunting with barely an end in sight.
The next place I live in will be free from his ghost. I’ll find somewhere shabby and cheap and run-down, and take delight in stripping walls, ripping things out, tearing down and making anew. I’ll build a home for me, to house my life, and leave his ghost here where it belongs. When lockdown ends and I find my new home, I’ll invite my friends round to haunt the brand-new rooms. And here, on this blog, I will bring new people – introduce you to the ones who made me grin and made me flutter and brought me tequila. Eventually the posts about him will fade into the past, and the stories I write will be less him and more others.
And I will wonder how I ever let a single man haunt this place so hard: this place that I built, that is meant to be mine.
The person I used to be before I met him has returned, and she’s shocked by the weak-willed, love-battered shell that she finds in her place – sobbing into laundry and hiding from mere ghosts.
This post was originally written in November last year, and even at the time I was aware that many people will struggle with this far more than I would. This break-up has shocked me by being orders of magnitude more complex to untangle than my previous significant partnership, in which we were together for a long time but never shared a mortgage or other financial commitments. And I know that in turn those of you who have kids, or own businesses together, or have joint savings or a marriage certificate or any of that extra complexity might look at me and think how lucky I am to be relatively free. You’re right, which is why I’m adding this extra bit here at the end.
I wanted to wait until I didn’t feel this as strongly before I published the post, so I could end on something a bit more hopeful than just a woeful mental image of me weeping into a pile of old t-shirts. There are some things that are still true – there isn’t a single dark night I return home and am not shocked to find all the lights turned out. When I walk into his room I still instinctively turn to see if he’s sitting on the sofa, and get a cold punch in the centre of my chest when I realise he isn’t, and never will be again. But I do not sob into laundry any more, and I even sleep in our bedroom occasionally. His ghost is still here – still everywhere – but I’m getting better at ignoring it. And the person I used to be before I met him hangs around more often these days – she’s bossy and lively and full of future plans, and I’m doing all I can to encourage her to stay.