Thursday, September 2, 2010

Confronting My Ghosts - David Nugent

Confronting my ghosts

By David Nugent
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date First Posted 01:00:00 11/15/2009

After our breakup, I poured my heart out in a letter and sent it to his parents, who were devastated. Then for five years, I denied it ever happened.

LAST WEEK I SAW A ghost. It was scarier than the spectral ones because this one came from deep inside my heart.

Nearly six years ago, I’d hurt someone in a manner so profound, so hurtful, that in the ensuring years I’d done everything possible to bury any memory of it—every photograph, letter, gift, any evidence that the relationship had existed. And once I’d done that, I went ahead and proceeded to try and forget I’d ever known the person at all.

Yet ghosts not dealt with have an uncanny ability to come back and show themselves.

So, little more than a month ago, in the balmy outdoor setting of a Manila restaurant. I recognized someone—my ghost. And it scared me.

He was a med student I had met while meeting a business contact at a Starbucks. We talked. There was instant connection. We started dating. I was older, an executive in a large holding company, the proverbial “golden boy.” We thrived on drives to Punta Fuego, crazy trips to Boracay, spas and great meals. He often had all-night duty in a hospital and when I left the office I would pick up food and run it to him.

I was in love. Big love.

But we would fight a lot, usually over the dumbest things. It also didn’t help things that I was someone who was fundamentally incapable of loving. I’d become a deeply unsettled, unforgiving and inauthentic adult.

Frankly, I was in no shape to make a decent partner for anyone. But I didn’t know that though. In my clouded mind then, I was rarely at fault.

Dream trip

I flew to Boston where he’d been finishing a module in a large hospital. Then ensued a great classic New England trip—luxury hotel on Boston Commons, drive up Cape Cod to Provincetown and down to a white-glove Fifth Avenue hotel overlooking New York’s Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. Then Los Angeles and Disneyland.

It was the kind of trip you take when you’re in love. But when we got back to Manila, troubled ensued. The same patterns to which we’d navigated murky waters created a tsunami of degenerate proportions. To this day, I don’t quite remember the exact reason, but we had a terrible row. And then he left.

But instead of looking inside me, instead of processing everything, learning from it, and trying to be a better person, I did exactly the opposite.

One of the things relationship therapists tell you to do after a breakup is write a letter to your ex, put everything your heart and mind feels and pour it out onto paper. And then, put the letter in a drawer or safe or a shredder.

Yet I couldn’t do that. I wrote an entirely different sort of letter. I wrote his father, who was virulently anti-gay and deeply conservative. My missive described who I was and the lengthy and pricey cross-country trip I had taken their son on.

It explained our breakup in detail and my outrage at its ending. And it closed with an awful coup de grace—a demand that his parents reimburse me for their son’s portion of the trip.

And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, I did the penultimate. I faxed the letter.

His parents met me in their offices the next day. His father and I had a heated exchange. His mother was gracious and understanding, as she has always been. Eventually I did admit that I really didn’t want a reimbursement—I just wanted to hurt him.

But my admission and apology meant nothing—the damage had been done. I’d destroyed a father’s relationship with his son, and put all their family at risk. What I’d done you never do in the Philippines. What I’d done is something nobody should ever think to do.

I understand it has taken years for my former partner’s relationship with his father to renew and rebuild.

And then I did something even worse, but to myself. I spent the following years trying to forget it ever happened.


Some months later I met someone and threw myself into a new relationship. But despite the nearly three years we were together, it came to naught. Not just because we were just mismatched. It was doomed because of who I was then.

Hence the nearly two-year journey I’ve been on. It’s been a long process. Slaying demons of anger, hurt and pain is not easy. Being truly honest with oneself can be terrifying initially, but then exuberantly liberating and informative. Learning that the race to be happy is not a race at all.

Happiness is that which descends on those whose minds are settled and whose hearts are unburdened.

The lessons have been extraordinary. Forgiveness is everything. It is love. It’s not merely the act of forgiving a certain misdeed. Forgiveness takes an understanding that says, “Forgive what I did in the past because I know that you need that forgiveness to deal with yourself. That if you don’t forgive me, you can’t confront it and move, and neither can I.”

Ghost came home

So last week, sitting at a nearby banquet outdoors, I saw him for the first time in over five years. To my great surprise, he greeted me warmly and as I prepared to leave he asked for my number. Later that evening I texted and invited him for coffee. He was in the house within minutes. The ghost came home.

I’m so glad it did. For the first time I was able to say everything I should have said properly then, but this time with real honesty and conviction and vulnerability. What had started as a ghost story became a story about forgiveness. About love.

For two brief days we connected. I learned how this person had grown and built a deeply satisfying life for himself in America. And I told him about the journey I’ve been on and why.

My bitter tears revealed the pain I’d kept hidden as a result of burying my guilt. Even more than that, the arching paean of remorse and regret for what might had been if I were only a better person then.

He told me at one point, that once we met, he wanted to spend a little time with me so that I’d realize that all was finally good between us—because he wanted me to know that he had forgiven me, truly. And that I should forgive myself, and finally move on.

I can only think that his actions last month spoke volumes of his graciousness, the testament to how well he’d been brought up by a great family and to the gigantic capacity of his heart.

We eventually said goodbye. A little bittersweet yes, but a deeply enriching experience to come full circle.

I look in the mirror now, and the person I see is someone I like. He’s older. I think he’s a bit wiser. He’s not the person he once was. Thank God.


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