When I first started working at my job (I wanted to write “my new job” but after over a year now, I suppose it’s not so new), I was, frankly, a nervous wreck. I know I wrote about that, so I don’t think I’ll go into it again, but the short version is that I am way overly critical of myself about oh…everything I do…and so much of my time at the job (and before it every day) was spent in my head alternately criticizing myself, berating myself for not being better/faster/more efficient and for not already knowing how to do everything there, and imagining all sorts of disparaging things my new coworkers must be thinking of me.
Anyway, as a result of that nervous wreckness, I could barely eat for six weeks and I lost some weight, which was nice, but not in a manner I would recommend to anyone.
In addition to all the self-flagellation and not eating, I was also back in my home town, where many people from all my pre-college years still resided.
And post-college, because I moved back to that same town for a while some years ago when I returned from out of state.
Anyway. In my overly emotional and jagged mental state during those first weeks, I didn’t want to see anyone I knew. I was afraid I’d cry. So many swirling emotions were that close to the surface, I didn’t think I could dam them in if the level got any higher.
So, naturally, I saw ghosts.
For one thing, every older man of a certain age – and dressed in a certain way – was my father.
Oh, my father’s still alive. And still living in town. And I did see him (and still do) periodically when he’s shopping there. But at first, I didn’t. I just thought I did.
Every older gentleman in jeans and a lightweight jacket and some sort of baseball-style hat – my dad. I can’t count the number of total strangers I almost spoke to before realizing that no, they only looked like my dad because they were rows of produce away with their backs to me and my father doesn’t even have a jacket that color.
Or a beard.
They weren’t him. But for a moment, they were.
And then when he really came in, I had all sorts of other emotions swirling around that bubbled to the surface…but that’s another post, maybe, some day.
Anyway, besides my dad ghosts, there were others.
People who looked familiar. My brain – already overtaxed – would rush around (in my head, where it couldn’t scare anyone) looking through every classroom I’d ever been in, trying to bring a name to that face. Was he…? Was she…?
And along with the facial recognition thing came the quick back-in-time feeling. If it was (or looked like) someone from elementary school, then BANG, besides being an incompetent fake cook at my new job, I was also EIGHT YEARS OLD. Or, worse, ELEVEN. Or, even worse, ANY AND ALL OF MY AGES IN HIGH SCHOOL.
Not only was I an incompetent fake cook, but I was also legally too young to be working there, plus awkward and shy, plus I had braces again! And pimples! And hair that wouldn’t hold a curl!
AND, (yes, there’s more) – some of the people I saw were (or looked like) friends of my parents. Couples or halves of couples who used to come to dinner parties, or belonged to the Rotary club, or the Garden club, or something. They had more wrinkles, yes, but they were out and about, shopping, chatting with friends and neighbors “Oh, fancy seeing you here!” Smiling.
My mom should have been there, too.
I’d see women of her age, vital and…doing. Participating. Living.
Mom was at home.
It’s a long story.
But anyway, many ghosts.
Ghosts of people.
Ghosts of emotions.
Ghosts of what ifs.
Ghosts of whys.
Those first six weeks were exhausting. Most of that – okay, all of that – was my own doing. My own letting go of the reins and letting every anxiety and insecurity I’ve ever had race wildly through the streets, past the strengths and mental defenses I’d built up over time (who were currently feebly trying to wave the out-of-control stampede into a corral).
What kept me going was, simply, that I really liked my job. I was getting to do something I loved to do.
So I survived. And people I worked with were encouraging and critical but never mean (like the cartoon versions in my head), and I managed to battle my own WRONG thoughts and get to where I could eat a bit more often.
And here I am.
I’m happy to go to work. I get to cook stuff!
I still have bad moments, but I learn from them and I can laugh them off.
But I still see ghosts.
I suppose I always will.