I look up to greet the next student in line.
“Hi,” I start cheerfully, then trail off as I realize I’m staring into the eyes of The White Boy Who Tried to Colonize My Vagina. I’m shocked, he looks uncomfortable, and this has the potential to be an extremely awkward situation. Still looking in his direction, I immediately un-focus my eyes so as not to show that I recognize him, then swipe his card quickly, giving a silent prayer of thanks when it goes through without a problem. I pass his card back without looking at him, greet the next person, and it’s as if he doesn’t even exist.
Even though he’s still so close that I could reach out and touch him. Or slap him in the face.
Being on a small campus constantly forces me to remember that it’s also a small world, and one at which I am not the center. When I decide not to contact someone anymore, they cease to exist in my world (the one in my head). I train myself to look away when I see them, until not noticing their presence is a reflex. I get myself to stop thinking about them, and eventually repress whatever negative memories they’ve left behind, unconsciously along with the fact that they still exist and have lives to live.
At this moment, my world has its fair share of people to whom I refer as living ghosts. Ghosting makes things easier, because it keeps me from worrying about these people until they sneak in under my radar and we’re blatantly confronted with each other. Then things are weird for a minute, and I struggle to decide whether it would be better to solidify them in my mind, in order to tell them off, or to keep them as ghosts and let them awkwardly float away.
The White Boy floated free, before I decided whether or not I wanted to ask about his girlfriend, or call him a creep. The “friend” who cyber-bullied me in the beginning of freshman year is continually floating around my peripherals, as is the sketchy drummer in my dance classes. I did such a good job of ghosting him that I legitimately got stuck outside the dance room for a minute, and was confused as to why I was still in the hall before realizing that there was someone in the doorway I was afraid to walk past. Over the summer, I had an issue with a manager at work who thought it was okay to rub my arms while telling me that my top was inappropriate. This was a guy who liked to talk about the girls at work, saying if he ever got the chance to sleep with one, he’d “tear her ass up”. Nothing about the situation was okay, and while he had to exist in my work world, I made sure my mind banished him from all other aspects of my life. I didn’t think of him until, while wearing a strapless dress on my day off, I all but walked into him on the street. All I could think to do was greet him and exit the situation as quickly as possible.
Thinking about it, there are so many other people who might as well be ghosts. In a life where you’re constantly making connections with others and figuring yourself out, people slip through your social cracks. They resurface in random Facebook posts, or materialize on the opposite side of the street. “I used to know you,” I think, as I wonder whether it’s more socially acceptable to greet or ignore them. “And it’s not as if I don’t know who you are anymore.” You don’t stop recognizing someone once they’ve made some sort of connection with you. Yet from the way a lot of us act, you’d think that was the case. It’s weird, this half-unconscious, feigned ignorance. Why does it happen? In what ways do we think it will make our lives easier? And how do we somehow automatically know to do it?
Many of the people I’ve encountered have supernatural fears. I’m not really afraid of spirits, I think because I’ve accepted that whether by choice or not, I’m already living with ghosts. I can’t run from them. They won’t disappear if I close my eyes, but half of them would probably look through me if I decided to make eye contact with them anyway.