Untethered: Ghosts of Friendships Past

“Wait…are you going to be around for Christmas?”

My ears perk up when my friend who lives up the street says this. We’re drinking peppermint hot cocoa in my kitchen after a volunteer meeting.

“Yeah, I am!” Does she want to do something?

“Can you watch the kitties?”

“Of course! I’d love to.” I don’t miss a beat. That would’ve been embarrassing.

***
In the shadow of Mercury retrograde and also the holidays, which I’ve written about being hard enough as is, I’ve been confronted with a lot of new information about people from my past that has stirred up a STEW of feelings leaving me not wanting to be alone, and yet, circumstances have left me staring down the holidays as a solo celebrator.

There’s something that stings, that tastes a little metallic, about going through a grocery checkout line with a 12-pack of Diet Faygo Cola and a single microwave meal while contemplating the fact that the woman who once fired you along with an entire theater staff — for doing insubordinate-y things like pushing back against white supremacy culture internally — has a show premiering in January. While I text the aforementioned friend about wondering whether I should show up to the green room party like some kind of off-brand Maleficent, I also tell her about the crushing weight a recent friend hang left lodged in my stomach.

***
A note I took late one night earlier this month reads:

“I found a pack of cigarettes from last winter in my coat when I put it back on the other day. I never check my pockets before retiring a coat for the winter. I’m not sure many people do. The discovery sent me back through time like a stone off a slingshot.

It was a different time, a different brand, a moment where I was distinctly miserable. Still, I had a ring on my finger, and I had someone to spend my winter nights with. It feels like I have an infestation of shadows, now, like they’re spreading around the house like mold.”

***
So, there she was, blue hair and little dog. I wave and make my way over. We’re at a warm hole-in-the-wall brewery with wooden tables. They famously allow dogs indoors, which is why I suggested the spot, so this Italian greyhound princess who wears little sweaters can join us. I hadn’t seen her since before my breakup in June, and having dogsat this little one several times, I did miss her. I’d also been unsure about whether I’d be welcome to rekindle this friendship, but F had been extremely clear: She valued friendship with both me and my ex, and she was not going to take sides.

It’s funny, the kind of symbolic weight someone can hold in the course of events in our lives without ever knowing it. F (and the little dog) were the last two people my ex and I saw together as a couple. In fact, it was the fight after leaving F’s place that ultimately led to the breakup, to my finally calling it. Seeing F again was a kind of closing of the loop, and also, a way of moving past her feeling so defined in my mind by that moment in time.

So, it naturally came up pretty early on in the conversation that we hadn’t seen each other since the breakup. Without much prompting, she shared, with emphasis, she had heard “allll about the breakup.”

“All about it?” I was a wee bit taken aback. I think I looked it, too. She went on to explain, again, that she wasn’t taking sides, that she valued her friendship with me, that she knew breakups were hard on both ends, including the end of the person who initiated the split. She also went on to explain all of the ways my ex had been a good friend to her, which I was aware of. If I’m interpreting what she meant by that, it was to note for me why she’d been willing to listen, maybe also to signal to me that she understood perfectly well that there are two sides to everything.

Deep down, I knew my ex probably wouldn’t hold back when it came to sharing whatever she wanted to with mutual friends. Having confirmation of this suspicion was something completely different. Of course, I expected her to talk to her close friends, the ones she’d known for years who’d been her friends since before I knew her, to her therapist — I was talking to my sister and my therapist, after all — but to hear F had been the recipient of enough detail that she would hold her hands up and shake her head, that was a knife finding its way into the meat between my ribs. Like scurvy, it reopened old wounds I thought were scarred over. Since that hang, I’ve had the sensation of being a doll whose limbs are becoming unsewn, a dissociation from my body, from my sense of self.

The hang was good, honest, fun, deep, but the revelation hung over me the whole time. I confessed to F that she was the only mutual friend who’d been “more” of a friend of my ex who’d maintained any kind of contact with me, that it meant a lot. She asked me outright if I’d been feeling isolated. I cried at the table, over our winter spiced beers, but then recovered as best I could. The little dog sat in my lap.

***
When I came back home from the brewery, from having my insides poisoned with knowledge, I shut my front door, as you do. I locked it, as you do, and the bells on the handle stopped their jangling. I stepped into the kitchen to take off my coat.

And then, to my absolute horror, I listened to the door open and shut, complete with bells jangling. My jacket stayed on. I grabbed a weapon and looked around the corner. Nothing looked amiss. I checked the door. It was locked. I checked the rest of the house. No one was there.

With my heart beating in my throat, I texted a friend. Play “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” for Bill, the Boomer man ghost who lives with me, they said. I did, and the doowop playlist that ensued made for some slapstick music to be haunted to.

***
I’m also, famously, not a stranger to mixing ghosts and all things horror in with the holidays. And, as memories keep swinging back into my line of sight, I’m forced to remember horror was central to my former relationship. Not the most recent one — my recent ex-gf didn’t like much horror, only select pieces. The relationship before this last one.

We both loved horror, and we both were talking about, discussing horror from a queer perspective in the early 2010s when every new movie we unearthed and absorbed into our intra-relationship discourse felt like the revelation that it was. I received House of Psychotic Women as a gift and appeared in an interview in the written portion of my ex’s MFA thesis. The holidays were no exception. One year, while living in the Bay Area, I took us to go see The Winchester House, but on Christmas Eve, lit up with Victorian-style Christmas trees. At one point, the electric system got overloaded, and the tour was plunged into darkness. Someone screamed.

I got called a twonk recently (complimentary). It reminded me of two twonks who were once couple friends of my ex and I. One of them was obsessed with Black Christmas, the 1974 version where the lesbian stuff is subtext. But that was what we had! We had subtext, and we watched it to mark the season. When this pair of couple friends with the same name, we’ll call them C&C, didn’t speak to me ever again, not once, after the breakup despite being friends for seven years, despite my being friends with C1 prior to my being in the relationship I was in, I was devastated. But I should have anticipated it. My ex had laid a lot of groundwork prior to our breakup, talking about me in so many ways I didn’t realize — because what kind of person in a relationship would badmouth their partner to mutual friends? I also shouldn’t have been that surprised because C1 and I did once have a temporary friendship breakup that was precipitated by a heated disagreement over our interpretations of The Bad Seed. I should have probably seen it coming, but it still hurt, nonetheless.

C1 hailed Black Christmas as the first American slasher, but there’s actually one before it, and it’s a made for TV movie starring Jessica Walter.

I watched Home for the Holidays (1972) for the first time last year after hearing about it on a podcast. You can currently find it on YouTube. It’s the right amount of twisty and contains very little actual gore, but is also the kind of deep, sonorous voices that actresses carried in a certain era. Four women, sisters, return home to their ailing father who’s convinced his much younger (new-ish) wife is poisoning him. Everyone is catty, dad included. And then, instead of being some kind of murder mystery, we just…get all slasher-y! It’s a missing link in the chain, a precursor to both Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and also a little reminder for me that we really don’t ever know the whole story of something, of what was actually “first,” or of what led to something happening, not usually. It’s also a reminder, if we’re on our Being Grumpy About Old Enemies Shit, that sometimes shitty people, like C1, are wrong and stubborn and more interested in validating whatever they’re interested in preserving in their worldview than any kind of truth. And then there are people like F who know that things are always complicated, and that you can value people as individuals, even if their relationship doesn’t work out.

I’ve got plans tonight to watch either Black Christmas or Home for the Holidays with a friend. It’s a toss up. But, either way, it’ll be a new little memory, something that I hope eases the soreness a little bit.

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Nico Hall

Nico Hall is a Team Writer for Autostraddle (formerly Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director and For Them's Membership and Editorial Ops person.) They write nonfiction both creative — and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret longform project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 229 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Nico, i love your Untethered series and hope you keep posting! I feel and feel seen in this content. I am not haunted, but am solo this holiday season. I’m glad you have friends you can choose to spend time with. I’ll probably celebrate the Solstice somehow, but haven’t quite figured out what i’ll do for the rest of the month. Cheers to making new memories!

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