How T.J. Rankin said goodbye to his ghosts

T.J.'s story first aired at Out of the Loop season 3 in July, 2020.

So, everyone has a place, right? It’s that special kind of place that’s just yours — not home or work. You can have one or several — it doesn’t matter, just as long as it matters to you. The Foundry is one of my places. It’s a coffee shop just a couple of blocks from where we’re filming today.

I did lose it for a time though. You lose a lot of things whenever your fiancée tells you that they’ve been with someone else.

We were together for three years starting in 2015. We were inseparable, always at each others’ houses or at Ground Zero Comics on Fifth Street or at the movies or at — yes — The Foundry, because then it was our place.

We didn’t do anything significant like debate philosophy or solve world peace. We just drank coffee and were us. But then 2017 came, and it was hard on both of us. It’s 2020, 2017 — for both of us separately and as a couple.

In January, she decided to move to Florida for her job, and that was really hard. It was tough, but I thought we were tougher. “That’s just a drop in the bucket,” I told myself again and again.

January 15. 2018 1:00 a.m. in the morning: I called her.

📷 courtesy T.J. Rankin

“Do you still love me?

“Tell me, is there someone else? It’s him, isn’t it?”

I don’t want to know, but I need to know.

“Have you been with him? How many times? What do you mean you don’t know?

“By the end of the month, I want the ring back.”

After that, I lost so much. The material things, I got those back, although I should have asked for the PlayStation 4 back. I did get the ring back though. I sold it, paid it off, and I have a really good credit now, thank you.

But the things that matter, I lost that. Three years of memories, poisoned. The second family, relegated to strangers. Self-confidence, energy, rational thinking — gone. Add to this big pile of things that I lost The Foundry.

For two weeks after we broke up — two weeks that felt like two years — I wouldn’t step foot in that shop.

A lot of people describe their exes as skeletons in the closet. I like to imagine she was more like a ghost always there on the periphery of my vision lingering on. I was always looking over my shoulder, even though she was hundreds of miles away, wondering if she was there.

Her name was popping up everywhere in books and movies. A mom would get onto her kid; the kid would have her name.

📷 Jamie Maldonado

Finally, the day came. No coffee, no sleep to be a rational, functioning human. I had to go to The Foundry. Now, I work at the library, so the shop is just a block away, right past the Fair parking garage. It might as well been a block through hell the way I acted. You have never seen a grown man more afraid of a coffee shop.

Anyway, I went and after that, it was a little easier to go. Every time I would go in, I would plan my exit strategy. I would do a sweep of an area. There’s a hipster there, a college student there. Oh, there’s the one Bible study in every single Tyler coffee shop. But never her. And I would sigh with relief.

But you know what the worst part was? That little pang of disappointment that I didn’t see her. The worst part of being cheated on is still being in love with someone you absolutely hated.

Two months after that, my friend invited me to attend Bethel downtown. That’s the church right above the coffee shop. I started attending there regularly, and then I started attending a men’s Bible study at the crack of dawn there.

In many ways, that cream-colored building was now mine more than ever, but in other ways is was still haunted by the past. Still checking those exits, still looking up every time the door opened, still looking over my shoulder a month after things fell apart.

📷courtesy T.J. Rankin

I started seeing a counselor. One session, the fear of running into my ex came up, and she decided to indulge me.

“So, what would you do if you did run into her?”

“I would leave, would rather let her win than have to deal with her.”

“You would let her win? Win what?”

“I don’t know. The territory, the satisfaction of taking The Foundry from me.”

“T.J., if you think the right thing to do for yourself is to leave, then absolutely leave. But I want to make one thing very clear. That’s not losing. She’s the one who left. Tyler is your town. Bethel — that is your church. The Foundry — that is your coffee shop.

“Whenever she walks into the door, she is not taking anything, because it is already yours.”

I had to stew on that one for a couple of months, but you know what? She was right.

There are a myriad of reasons why people break up, but in my opinion, cheating is probably one of the worst. I’m guessing probably some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. It destroys you, it’s embarrassing, it takes so much from you.

📷 T.J. Rankin

You gain a lot of new things in time. For instance, a beautiful blue eyed girlfriend who I met at The Foundry, by the way.

But you do get some of the old things back too. They don’t have to stay lost. You can let the ghosts continue to haunt you and frighten you away, or you can let the ghosts fade. I’m not trying to diminish the pain of being cheated on, but the pain does recede if you let it.

And you can take back what was always yours to begin with.

T.J. Rankin has lived in the Tyler area all his life. When he isn’t serving the patrons of Tyler Public Library, he’s either reading ghost stories or watching a good movie. T.J. is a burgeoning storyteller, a member of the Tejas Storytelling Association and the Blueprint Toastmaster. 

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