Half of my life was on the East Coast and the other half has been on the West Coast. When I recently spent time with family at the very opposite end of the country, I found I walked pretty comfortably between the two very different environments. It had me wondering, what if? What happened to those other lives or choices I could have made?
When discussing books with a friend, she brought up the term “ghost lives” she had read about in a book. I found the idea of ghost lives really intrigued me. Does it refer to a different version of me living another life? Or is it more like energy or echoes left behind from strong emotions or passions? If the latter, there is certainly a room or two where I left my mark…
In The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, I encountered a different version of ghost lives. Here, the protagonist, who is severely depressed and undergoes electric shock therapy, finds herself circulating through three time periods. In each, she is a slightly different version of herself with mostly the same circle of people around her, though they too are slightly different versions of themselves. While impossible, as the title suggests, it is curious thing to consider.
The book began in the autumn of 1985, a key period in my own life as it was when I made a major life decision to move far from home. While the move was a bit daunting without family or a job, I was ready for the challenge. All these years later, I am still happy with that choice. When I wonder occasionally if I have a ghost life, I am curious as to who she might be. Is she a thinner version of me, this resident of Manhattan? Does she spend more money on designer clothes and still go out and about? Still smoke cigarettes? Does she just look at art instead of create it? I’m guessing that perhaps camping, hanging with the horses and big gardening projects are not a part of her life.
And, if there’s a version of me in NY, why not one in London or Paris? These ghost lives can get pretty complicated.
What I did observe in Greer’s book is that none of the versions of Greta was without life issues. Our environment may reshape the problem somewhat but the essence is the same.
What would have happened if I had stayed or made different choices? I don't really know. I do know that I enjoy visiting old friends and family, but when I think about all the friends and life experiences I would not have had, I’m pretty glad I've moved here.
We are who we are no matter when or where we live...though, if there is one, I wouldn't mind visiting my ghost life in Paris!!