By Abby Petersen | Staff Columnist
I saw my kindergarten crush almost 10 years later bussing tables at a Pizza Ranch in northwest Iowa. He stared at me, his mouth lax and his eyes fuzzy as he tried to piece together who I was. I knew it was him before I read his nametag. I used to chase him on the playground during recess, pebbles pouring into my shoes like water as my feet slapped the ground. He screamed and giggled, always faster than me.
I turned back to my pizza before he could recognize me. We didn’t know each other anymore – even if we were friends on Facebook. There was nothing to talk about.
The day I got my first cell phone I texted the boy I had dreamed of marrying since sixth grade. We were in high school then and I had to click each button on my phone two or three times to get to the letter I wanted. I counted each text I sent him – he only had 250 a month.
I grew up in the dawn of handheld technology. Where half-truths were sent via text with a “haha” or an “lol” at the end to soften the blow. Where those text messages turned into conversations and then, abruptly, were done, as soon as one person decided to toss their phone on the couch.
Now, with the swipe of a button on my green iPhone 5c, read receipts turn off and I can disappear whenever I want to. Or delete the message altogether, as quick as blowing out a candle.
We live in the age of ghosts. Where people we used to know show up in the “needs love” column on Snapchat and friends are only as good as how high they appear in the chat bar on Facebook. Sometimes ghosts show up beneath them or in the newsfeed – until we press “unfollow.” Children of the age of ghosts have invented plenty of ghostbusters. We live in an age when sending the last goodbye is embarrassing. Responding too soon or too often is sure to earn you a ghost. The boxes and triangles of Snapchat have become the ultimate game of cat and mouse. And we are all someone’s ghost.
Ghosting, the art of disappearing wordlessly, is as simple as tapping the power button when we read something we don’t want to. It’s as simple as closing the laptop lid. As simple as clicking “block.” It’s a sharp, smooth knife that leaves jagged wounds.
Last week on Valentine’s Day I sipped a mocha at my sister’s house while memories of ghosts flitted through my brain. The ex-boyfriend whose texts I stopped responding to. The friend who disappeared mid-conversation and never came back. The boy bussing tables at Pizza Ranch.
So today, fellow ghosts, turn off your phone for a spell. Sit down next to a brother or sister ghost and sip coffee together. Care enough to reply and dare to have the last word. Watch a movie with your roommate. Open the curtains. Read a poem by Wendell Berry. Take a walk in the woods. Be more than a ghost. Be a human. Be a friend.