Some Subtle Reminders That You Were Once Here

One time we went to an art show because I wanted to see the art and you wanted to see your sister, who you knew would be there somewhere, because she was always at places like that. The venue was teeming with people when we got there, more than we’d expected, and I remember making a face at you because we both liked to joke how much we hated other people, though maybe we kind of meant it. There was something so weirdly romantic about the fact that we could only ever seem to stand each other.

So we stayed close together and tried not to interact with anyone else, but we failed. A few people were handing out flyers and I took every one they offered me, more out of obligation than necessity. You always said my worst quality was my inability to turn people away. That’s why, when one woman in a vintage army jacket stepped in front of me and asked, “Would you like a button?” I nodded instinctively. It said “Art Should Disturb You” or some other cliche and I knew I was never going to wear it, so I stored it in my jacket pocket. “Just throw it away,” you told me, but I couldn’t bear to do it. The button meant enough to someone that they’d created it, and it seemed cruel to treat it like trash.

I think about that night every time I wear that jacket. You’d be so pissed if you knew the button was still there. The clasp is broken now and it stabs me nearly every time I put my hand in my pocket, but even when it draws blood, I can’t bear to throw it away. Not because it means anything to anyone else, but maybe just because it means something to me.

*  *  *

The worst part of the internet is that it always leaves a footprint, and no matter how far away you run, you can always trace your way back. It doesn’t matter how many photos or tweets or status updates I delete — you’re always there somewhere. If I dig deep enough, I’ll find you. And if I spend enough time searching, I know I’ll find us, arms wrapped around each other, smiling like we have the whole universe in our hearts. A whole map of our relationship exists online somewhere; if I wanted to, I could follow the breadcrumbs back to the very first night I laid eyes on you.

But that’s the thing — I don’t want to. There was a time when I would have done anything to claw my way back to the beginning, but I’m no longer interested in the places I’ve already been. I just wish there were a way to burn that path, to smudge out those footprints, to set everything in our pasts on fire. I think it’d be easier to move on if it didn’t feel like something was always trailing behind me.

*  *  *

I got drunk a few months ago and ended up in the apartment where I first met you. I hadn’t meant to. I’d just gone to a party, but then the party shifted locations, and somehow we all ended up there. You wouldn’t believe how surreal it all was. It looked exactly the way it did back then, so much so that I kept forgetting what year it was. I spent the whole night taking shots of vodka and pretending I was stuck in time, half a decade younger and still full of possibilities, waiting to unknowingly run into the person who would change my whole life.

But somewhere by the end of the night, after the party thinned out and someone turned down the music, something inside of me came undone. And I’m not sure if it was because I realized how much time had changed me, or if it was because I realized time hadn’t changed that damn apartment, or if it was because both of those things were true but neither of them managed to explain the most disconcerting realization of all: I was now living in our world without you.

*  *  *

You used to rile me up by doing the most annoying shit. You’d send me badly-edited video clips of my least favorite movies or keep up a running dad joke until it wore so thin I thought I’d go insane. You thought it was hilarious, mostly because you thought my reactions were hilarious — my fuse was short but I was rarely angry, just melodramatic. You had to be careful about it, though, because you knew I might start yelling in public over something stupid if you weren’t. But you thought that was funny, too, so sometimes you weren’t careful at all.

And sure, you never send me videos anymore, and I haven’t heard those jokes in years, but sometimes I see something online or in a book or on TV that reminds me of them and I can’t help but smile. I’d like to think that when you run across things that remind you of them, you still smile, too.

*  *  *

Sometimes I see you inside other people and it scares the shit out of me. They’ll say the most uncanny thing or look at me in a certain way and I’ll swear you’re the one standing in front of me. Sometimes I’ll do a double take or close my eyes for a moment just to clear my head, and when I open them again, you’re never there. The alternating waves of disappointment and relief can be suffocating.

Sometimes I’ll tell my friends about these moments and they’ll give me knowing looks. “I think you have a type,” they’ll tell me. But that’s the thing — they’re not my type, they’re your type. They’re everything you are, all the beautiful and terrible things that drew me to you in the first place, but at the end of the day, they’re still not you. I think it’s safe to say that the worst way to start loving someone is by loving the ghost you see inside of them first.

*  *  *

One time we took a walk through my hometown and I pointed out all my favorite places growing up. As we passed one street, I told you about the little park that was just down the road, the one I’d spend my afternoons running circles around when I was 8. And you just smiled and nodded politely, the way you sometimes did when you wanted to say something but thought you shouldn’t, but a few blocks later you pointed to a different street and asked, “You sure the park isn’t on this one?” After a minute of deliberating, I realized you were right.

“Lucky guess,” I remember saying, but we both knew it wasn’t one at all. I told you all the same stories all the time, and you were good at remembering stuff like that. It annoyed the shit out of me that you seemed to know my life better than I did, but I also kind of loved it.

Anyway, all I’m saying is I remember exactly where that park is now, and I’ll probably never forget, but I won’t go back there because it just makes me think of you.

*  *  *

I think I always knew you were going to leave, so I didn’t bother keeping much space for you in my life. Not physically, at least. I never kept anything you gave me or wasted time searching for mementos you may have left behind. Once you were gone, you were gone, and that was that.

But I guess I underestimated the power of memory, the way it turned my own belongings into something of yours. Like my favorite tube of lipstick that I kept leaving in your bathroom, or the dress I wore the last time I saw you — I can’t even look at them without thinking of you. Even my tattoo still holds your fingerprints from when you’d touch it lightly, curiously, oh-so lovingly.

And I guess that’s the worst part, those little reminders, the things that caught meaning along the way. I think a little part of me will always resent you for turning my life into a graveyard. TC mark

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