Joyland

Vancouver |

Ghosts Can Be Boyfriends Too

by Daniel Zomparelli

edited by Kathryn Mockler

I woke up again, the feeling of empty weighing to one side of the bed. I heard Derek again in the other room, talking to himself.

“Remember that time we went camping and everyone caught us doing it in the forest?” Derek laughed.

The silence answered him.

"DEREK YOU'RE SLEEP TALKING AGAIN." I screamed from the bed.

He went silent, came into the room, apologized and went to bed. This was the fifth night in a row. We had just moved in together, so I wasn't sure if this was normal or not.

In the morning, I asked him if he needed to go to a sleep therapist, but he declined. We spent the morning re-organizing the kitchen. He took breaks to call his mother and to re-assure her that Jesus was not coming to take us away for our sins. 

"No Mom, we were not in church this week," Derek replied. "Mom, I'm not going to church. Just get over it." He hung up the phone.

Derek had previously organized the kitchen, but he placed things in weird spots. Everything was alphabetized. Cereal went next to the Coca Cola, flour went next to the forks, soap was next to the sugar.

"Derek, you can't keep the poisonous stuff next to the sugar."

"Sugar is poison." 

I nodded in agreement. I went back to re-organizing and started moving the pill bottles into one spot. Derek tried to argue with me, but I didn't think it was smart to have random pill bottles everywhere. Some of the pill bottles were unlabeled, and I asked him to label them so that we don't mix any up. He refused to, so I labeled them as the items they were between. So we had a series of pill bottles labeled "bran / breads," "mint tea / napkins," "pringles / protein powder," etc ...

When we finished as much sorting as we could, we ate leftover pizza and watched TV. The chef of the television was going restaurant to restaurant explaining to the family why they should shut down unless they let him help them. One restaurant was a pirate themed restaurant with the servers dressed in costume. The chef turned the restaurant into a bar and grill called "Corporate Bar and Grill."  The owners cried tears of joy as more and more customers poured in. The customers became too much and overwhelmed the restaurant. Money was falling out of their till, and the servers' tips were falling out of their pants. I woke up with Derek asleep on my lap. I shook him awake and we crawled into our bed.

In the middle of the night I heard him talking again. I could hear him talking about how I had moved everything in the kitchen.

“Derek, you’re talking in your sleep again,” I groaned.

Derek turned to me and stood up immediately to get into the other room. He had a disgruntled look on his face.

The night rolled around me, never letting me sleep. Derek was talking in the other room, I walked towards the door to listen.

"I can't say that Show Girls is the best movie, but of course it has its high points."

There was a break of silence.

"No, Naomi Malone is not supposed to represent Socialism, that doesn't make any sense. I guess she could possibly represent poverty and the difficulty of being a woman."

There was a break of silence. 

"Sure, if you like having sex like a blow-up mattress being rapidly deflated."

Another break of silence.

"Are you ever going to forgive me for that? You left. I mean, you were dead. What was I supposed to do?"

I walked into the room. Derek looked at me as if I was interrupting. He got up, walked to the bed without saying anything, and promptly fell asleep.

In the morning we organized the living room. I put out all of my comics and figurines, and Derek followed behind me and put them in boxes.

"I don't want your figurines out. They look ridiculous."

"This isn't just your home now." I grabbed my figurines out of the box.

"Fine. But you can only put out three. I don't want people to think I'm dating a child." Derek could tell I was upset, so he came and rubbed my back, kissed my forehead and whispered, "a very handsome and funny and smart child."

We finished by noon and there was only one box left. I went to open the box but Derek grabbed my arm.

"No, that one is going to my mom's place. We don't need to open it."

"Can I at least see what is inside?"

"No. Just leave it."

*

 That night we went out for the first time in weeks. We started at the nautical-themed pub across our apartment. I ordered a bucket of grog, which was a margarita and beer mixed in a sand bucket. Derek ordered a water. The server said we looked familiar and gave us a free basket of onion rings they called "float tubes."

We moved on to the club down the street, and I drank beer until Derek came back from the bathroom and said he wanted to go to the bar down the street. At the last bar of the night, Derek came back from the bathroom, he was dancing goofily, and I started laughing uncontrollably. He continued to dance towards me so I stopped him, "Derek, since when do you dance this much?"

He didn't respond, but kept dancing. I tried to get his attention but his eyes were searching the room. I told him we should head home and he nodded in agreement. As we walked home, Derek would stop to shake his butt at me. I remembered how light he was. It always felt like he couldn't touch the ground. I wanted to hold his hand so that I knew I could anchor him to the ground. I always felt so heavy, so it felt like sometimes he lifted me off the earth when we were together.

He slept throughout the night, or at least, I was so drunk that if he woke up I didn't notice.

I made us coffees and brought one to him in bed. Derek had the post-drug sadness in his eyes.

"You were really high last night." I put the sugar next to his coffee.

"I know, it was lots of fun."

"It just felt weird. You looked like you weren't you at the end of the night."

He rolled away from me and ignored his coffee. I went back into the living room to finish organizing.

When he finally woke up, I could hear him talking to himself. It escalated into shouting until I heard a door slam. Derek came running out of the bedroom crying.  

He grabbed his coat and didn't return until the evening.

When he finally returned home, he started pacing back and forth in front of me.

"Ok. So, I know you're going to think I'm crazy, and this always happens but, I need to tell you something ok? And you have to promise you won't think I'm crazy, because everyone always says that I'm crazy and leaves, and I just can't deal with that right now, ok?" 

I assured him I wouldn't find him crazy and would be ok with whatever he had to tell me.

"Ok, so you know that boyfriend I had a long time ago that died?"

I nodded and put my hand on his knee.

"Well, he's still haunting this house. But, like not haunting."

I continued to nod.

"See! You already think I'm crazy! Look at you!"

"I was just nodding." I pulled him into a hug and comforted him. We sat and talked for several hours. He recounted everything from the death, to the first time he saw him as a ghost, and to how he comes back every year around this time to ask him to get back together.

"But I can't do it. I can't date a ghost, but I love him so much."

I gently patted his back. "I'm right here."

"Sorry," he mumbled into his hands.

"What if we just focused on me and you? This other guy, this—er, ghost, he will just have to deal with it. Ok?" 

Derek nodded and rolled his body into my lap.

*

I woke up and noticed Derek's spot was empty. I could hear mumblings coming from the other room. I grabbed my glasses and shuffled into the living room.

"Derek, come back to bed."

"I can't. We need to talk."

"Is everything ok?"

"No. Well, yes. But also, no. Yes and no, if that makes any sense."

"No, it doesn't." 

Derek began to sniffle and his body started to shake, which meant he would begin crying if I didn't calm him down. I rushed to his side and rubbed his back until he stopped shaking.

"I— I need to leave you."

I stared blankly at him.

"I am leaving you, for Jared."

I stared blankly. 

"We've been seeing each other, in secret," silence was my only response. "It's been something I didn't expect. Can you say something, please?" 

I paused to calm down, but burst out, "Jared isn't real! If you want to leave me, just leave me. Don't fucking make shit up about ghosts."

"YOU PROMISED YOU WOULDN'T CALL ME CRAZY." 

"I never said you were crazy. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have phrased it like that. I just don't want to leave."

I calmed Derek down, and I asked if Jared could come into the room and talk to the two of us like adults.

"He can't just float into the room like some sort of fairy, he's a ghost."

"I'm sorry, I don't know as much about ghosts as you do." I said, uncertain if I was being sincere or not.

The conversation went like this: Derek and Jared talked for a few hours as I watched. It was at three in the morning when I suggested that we try a relationship that involved the three of us. Derek's eyes were glowing. He loved the idea. I was hesitant, but it was only a ghost. Not like we were getting into a three-way relationship with a poltergeist. 

Jared moved in. Derek opened up the box he was keeping hidden from me. It had all of Jared's items: his toothbrush, his cardigan, a necklace, some old notes. We put his things out and even made room for him in the bed. We started to set a place for him for dinner, and like clockwork, when I left the room to go to the bathroom, his meal would be eaten and Derek would be cleaning up after him.

I was hesitant at first, but dating a ghost had a lot of upsides. Jared would sneak off into other apartments and tell us exactly what the other neighbours were doing.

Whenever either of us were upset with a coworker, Jared would be the first to agree to haunt them for the evening. 

One evening I came home with a Oujia board, excited at the gift for Derek, but it only made Jared very angry. He said it was insulting to ghosts and that I was probably "ghost-racist," or whatever Derek tried to translate that term as.

Jared and I never talked, but we had a great translator, and I could usually tell where Jared was because Derek would lock eyes with him. The way he intensely stared at one position in the room almost made it possible for me to see Jared, as if a silver outline would form. Derek would be more than happy to communicate between us two. We only fought a handful of times when we were concerned about who was taking up more of Derek's time.

The first time we tried a threesome, it was awkward. Derek kept shifting me, saying that I was sitting on Jared. I felt a cold breeze against my skin when me and Jared were pressed against each other. Sometimes I just sat back and watched as Derek weaved himself with Jared. I could almost see the outline of Jared through Derek. Sometimes it would just be Jared and me, but Derek would direct us on who was where. We were never very good at being together without Derek, but we both tried to make it work. Derek would start yelling, "you're both not even trying, you're on the opposite sides of the bed," and on occasion "you look ridiculous, you're just jerking-off the air, Jared is over here."

One evening we went out. We were at the nautical-themed bar. I had drunk too many slogs to go anywhere, but Jared wanted to go out. Derek promised me we would go home. When we were walking home, he sped up and I yelled at him to wait for me. When I caught up to him I ended up walking too fast, and he yelled at me to wait for him. He rushed past me and turned left into a dark corner. He didn't come home for another hour. He crawled into bed and mumbled an apology. Then Jared rolled in around 5am, and Derek apologized for him. 

When I woke up to make coffee Derek was already over the counter taking a bump of coke. "You're not supposed to be doing cocaine to wake you up in the morning."

"Why not? It has the same chemical effects as caffeine." He stared at me with a look of complete confidence in what he was saying, "It's just the conservatism of society telling you that one drug is better than the other."

"I—er, I never thought of it that way." I took a small line, and it quickly woke me up.

Soon we were going out every other night. The same routine would happen. We would be heading home and Derek would disappear into the dark. He would sneak into bed, apologize, followed by Jared, and he would apologize on his behalf.

It was one month later when Jared's dinners stopped disappearing during my routine bathroom breaks. Derek looked at me, frowning.

"Jared isn't eating."

"Does he not like my cooking?"

"Maybe. He's been really mad at me lately."

We continued our routine, but the dinners continued to go uneaten. Derek would leave them their overnight. For a week, he left the dinner there to prove a point to Jared about how rude he was being. The food grew mold, while ants and fruit flies made the meal a home.

I woke up in the middle of the night. The bed was empty. I could hear yelling in the living room. Derek was screaming.

"What did you expect?"

Silence. 

"I can't!" 

Silence.

"I know you can't just find a body, it's impossible. I'm trying to understand you, but you're asking too much from me."

Silence.

"Because I love him too much."        

Silence.

"If I did that, how am I supposed to know that this is where I would end up, and then I would lose you and him."

Silence.

"I just don't think I have it in me. I can't do it."

I snuck back into bed. I was eavesdropping on a conversation that wasn't meant for me. When Derek came back to bed, I made the extra room for Jared. Derek stopped me and cried. 

The next morning I made the three of us breakfast. Derek split Jared's food between us, then calmly stated, "he left us."

I looked up at my figurines. In the center was Harley Quinn. I looked at her grin, the way she held herself. Poison Ivy standing next to her. I shouldn't have felt so abandoned and rejected by a ghost, but it was just as painful as I remembered heartbreak to be.

That morning I went to the comic book shop. I picked up as many new comics as I could and even picked up several figurines. When I got home, I put them out. Three figurines didn't feel like enough. I always felt safe seeing them around, protecting the home. Heroes who would fight for justice even when justice never fought for them. I waited for Derek to argue with me about the figurines, but he didn't say anything. Every morning I would wake up, and put out another figurine until the room was covered in tiny replicas of human beings in bright clothing wrapped tightly around their muscled bodies. Derek still refused to recognize their existence, like they were an audience of ghosts for our relationship.

A month later, Derek left me too. It was in the evening. He disappeared with just a bag of his clothes, but left behind Jared's box of items. He left without a note, never called again, never tried to reach out to me. I didn't reach out to him. Something told me there would be no point.

A month after that, I found out from a friend of a friend that he was living in Toronto. He had a new boyfriend within days of arriving, already moving in with him.

I wanted to tell him that the day after Derek left, Jared came back. I could tell because from then on, the leftovers from dinner would disappear in the night. I put out all of his things from his box, intermingled with my figurines. I think he liked this because after I did this, the Ouija board was put out on the counter with the planchette pointing towards "hello." Now we're trying to learn to speak to each other, without Derek to translate the spaces in between.