Every Man in Chicago Looks Like My Ex-Boyfriend

BY ELIZABETH KING

When I was 21, my maternal grandma died. I had always remembered my grandma telling us explicitly that she wanted to be cremated. When the time came to go through with this someone told me, “you know, they say that if someone dies and there’s an open casket at the funeral, you let them go and that goodbye is final; but if they are cremated, you will see them in your dreams and people who look like them everywhere you go.” This made sense to me. When my dad’s mother died several years before, I could have sworn I saw her at important functions, like high school graduation. I see my maternal grandma around Chicago, where I live, several times a year. These are usually doppelgangers, but sometimes I think of them as friendly ghosts.


There are a couple exes I’d give anything to see again, in real life or in my imagination. Some of them because we drifted apart after many years and I wish we could be friends now. Another because I miss him terribly, and would probably still jump at the chance to be his partner again. 


My grandmother is not the only person from my past who I am reminded of whenever I step out of the house. My ex-boyfriend, with whom I also had a less than ideal goodbye, seems to appear on the face of every man in Chicago.

There are a couple exes I’d give anything to see again, in real life or in my imagination. Some of them because we drifted apart after many years and I wish we could be friends now. Another because I miss him terribly, and would probably still jump at the chance to be his partner again. But those aren’t the men I see in restaurants, walking towards me on the sidewalk, and driving past me while I ride my bike. I see Ross. Ross, who I dated for nearly seven years; Ross, who cheated on me; Ross, who called me an idiot and a bitch and told me I didn’t deserve him; who told me what to wear, and which haircut I could get. I swear, from a distance, every man in Chicago could be Ross. His likeness shows up everywhere, but his actual body never materializes.


I’d thought I had gotten him out of my life permanently, but there he was, throwing my past life violently at my face when I’d only just started to forget about it.


You could definitely say our relationship ended in a cremation; which is to say it went up in flames and I tried to put it to rest immediately after. Or at least, that’s what I attempted to do. Our time together was nearly a decade of mind-games, emotional abuse, and twisted manipulation. I had been ground down from a rock solid woman into a fine powder. I was broken. But after so much time, a switch in my head flipped and said, “torch it, and don’t leave any evidence.” I told him it was over, that he couldn’t hurt me anymore, and not to contact me again.

But given the sheer duration of this relationship, it became clear it wasn’t going down without a fight. At a bar with my new love interest and a close friend a couple weeks later, I heard someone shrieking my name from across the room. All the blood drained from my face, and for a moment I genuinely thought I was dreaming, because I knew who it was. There was Ross, screaming at me from across the room, demanding that I speak to him again for just a minute. I’d thought I had gotten him out of my life permanently, but there he was, throwing my past life violently at my face when I’d only just started to forget about it.


I do often wonder if the good boyfriends don’t appear to me because those relationships ended more or less how I wanted them to. I knew it was over, I got to say goodbye, and I went home to mourn. As heartbreaking as these finalities were, there was a definite sense of “this is the end.”


The trauma of the relationship and of that last sighting probably has quite a bit to do with the fact that my eyes are semi-constantly tricked into seeing his apparition. Whenever I have a faux-sighting, I am sure it’s him until I’m only a couple feet away from the stranger, at which point my heart-rate slows back down, my brow stops perspiration, and my vision goes straight again. It’s that scary for me—he was that scary.

I do often wonder if the good boyfriends don’t appear to me because those relationships ended more or less how I wanted them to. I knew it was over, I got to say goodbye, and I went home to mourn. As heartbreaking as these finalities were, there was a definite sense of “this is the end.” I could look at them and think, “that’s not my partner, it’s a person I once loved.” Whereas with Ross, it’s as though that terrifying sighting in the bar has made me fear that he could reappear at any time in my life, and toss things into chaos again.

In the two years since the last time I actually saw him, I’ve tried everything short of an exorcism to get these false sightings to end. Sometimes when I see someone who looks like him from a distance, I think: “This time, I hope it really is him. Let’s get it over with.” I’ve considered writing a letter that says only something like, “good-bye forever,” but I have no idea where he lives. I can’t say for sure what, if anything, will put an end to the haunting. My hope is that one day he just simply isn’t there, no longer hiding just on the surface of any man I cross on the street.