Reminders of the life I once lived haunt me like a tormented ghastly evil spirit. It seems like — on a daily basis — I am faced with someone from the past who either hates me for what I’ve done or was a direct participant in my out-of-control life. And every single time I see someone, it rattles me.
More often than not, I simply pretend I didn’t see them and subtly go about my business. But I see them. Every single time, I see them. If prison taught me one thing, it is to always be completely aware of my surroundings. And although I was never in a situation during my 25 months of incarceration to need this particular skill, it is a skill I honed nonetheless. I see everything, and I never forget a face.
The other day, I was doing a friend a favor, running an errand for him. And at the place he asked me to go, I crossed paths with a nurse with whom I’d had an affair while I was working as a Case Manager at the county department of mental health (my first real job out of college). We were both married to other people at the time of our affair.
I, of course, pretended not to see her, but I knew exactly who she was in the millisecond it took for me to glance at her and glance away. But after she passed me, she doubled-back, pretended to look out the window, then double-checked that it was, in fact, me.
I’ve become exceptionally accomplished at not allowing my emotions to show in public. I merely played it off and left. I don’t know if she told anyone who I was or how she knew me (or anything, for that matter), but the point is, I saw her and she saw me.
It certainly was not the first time and it certainly will not be the last. I’ve crossed paths with numerous ghosts of my past — most have gawked, but a few have spoken up. But here’s the thing: In the rare occasion in which someone has spoken to me, it has been a positive experience every time. Recently, I ran into a teacher with whom I taught at Wichita East High School (and who still teaches at East) at a deli. It was actually the second time we’d run into one another (the first being at a grocery store) and both times were polite, cordial, and positive. In fact, during this most recent encounter, I was happy to give her a copy of two of my books, Life Noir and After 3PM. I don’t know if she’ll ever read either one, but it was nice to be able to give them away to someone who seemed genuinely interested in my wellbeing.
This is the price I pay for returning to the town where I hurt so many people and ruined my life. I will always sit in corners of restaurants, scanning the crowd for more ghosts of my past, praying no one will see me, praying no one will recognize me. Admittedly, I really should be encouraged by the few positive interactions I’ve had (and, more so, I suppose, the complete lack of negative encounters), but no matter what, seeing these glimpses into my former life always fills me with a deep sense of melancholy and regret.
So what do I do? Move? Leave town? No. My family is here, my roots are here — this is where I belong. Perhaps I’m deserving of the torment I receive when I venture into the cacophony of people residing in my hometown. But regardless, I am left with one lingering question: Will it always be like this?
It’s been nearly a decade since I committed my crime. When will the torment stop? Or, more appropriately, will the torment ever stop? I am haunted by the past — haunted by the ghosts of who I was and what I did with so many others.
The ghosts of the past will probably haunt me forever. But they do not haunt me with fear or terror — they haunt me with self-loathing, humiliation, disappointment, and regret.
Whoever coined the phrase “No Regrets,” actually meant “No Conscience.” Well, there are days when I wish my conscience would just shut the fuck up. Because all-too-often, my conscience whispers to me, “Do you see her? Remember what you guys did together? That’s was pretty shitty.” Or my conscience will say, “Do you see them? They know what you did. They know you’re a criminal. That’s pretty shitty.”
And the self-loathing cycle perpetuates itself.