The holiday season has begun, and I had a birthday just as Thanksgiving week began. Every birthday brings its own ghosts. I have enough of my own, I know. There are memories of other cities and other times, of lovely young companions from the past. Memory is a dangerous thing, after all. It's too easy to live inside memories, too easy to be trapped by them. Joan Didion has made a career out of pointing out that memory is always a trap, and that only selective amnesia enables one to go on with life.
A friend wrote once of a Christmas Eve where she was aboard a train from Chicago to Syracuse, listening to her iPod and sobbing helplessly in the upper bunk of her sleeping car. She was traveling away from one lost affair to a city where there was still the remembered pain of another. Another friend told me once that she'd spent empty nights wandering through Montreal, looking at her reflection in shop windows and wondering who this ghostgirl was, asking herself what--- in a short story, in a film ---this girl had lost.
Year's-end is a season for ghosts. Kisses on New Year's Eve, hotel suite weekends in a city lit up with Christmas lights, the ritual of parties and gifts... All those things are ways of dealing with ghosts, with the memories accumulated during a year. Year's-end offers a set of rituals for romance, but there's always a hint of desperation. That kiss on Christmas Eve, the stroke-of-midnight kiss as the crowds cheer in Times Square, the coatroom kiss at the party--- they're done to exorcise the bad memories of a given year, to drive away the ghosts of loss and solitude.
There are lovely girls there reflected in shop windows, lovely girls in long coats moving through the winter night, beautiful girls across a table in a restaurant--- and there are kisses implicit in their presence. As there should be, of course. But each one of them is a ghost for another year, just as you'll be a ghost in their memories. We haunt one another, and we haunt ourselves.
That's one of the things to remember as the year gutters out.