I never know when the urge will overtake me.
Something will happen– I’ll see a name pop up on social media, get a notification from an old email– and then I’m down the rabbit hole. I’ll sign into old accounts and start uncovering a past that I forget I didn’t want to remember to begin with.
It’s innocuous at first. Old job applications and embarrassing emails to former bosses when I was in college. A few exchanges between friends. The memories are often funny and ridiculous. It is fun to be transported back.
Then, I see a name. The Big One. The one that rips me to shreds when I do not expect it, and terrifying memories pop and crackle behind my eyelids like flashes from gunfire. It hits me right in the chest and, for a moment, I cannot breathe.
I do not want to waste time nor anger on him. I just want to grieve and move on.
This day, though, and not for the first time, I begin typing the name into Facebook and search engines.
What happened to him? Where did he end up? Why am I looking? Maybe if I can put him into some kind of current context, I can staunch the flood of memories that runs through my veins. I find very little– a few research papers he published, a mention of him in a club– and one picture that I dare not open, because the face in the thumbnail is enough to make my stomach drop.
I close my eyes. Close the windows, I beg myself. You don’t need to do this anymore.
I can’t tell you why I do this, but I wish I knew how to stop. As much as I will myself to forget, I know a part of me will always bear the mark; a burning red thread woven down my spine, through my belly, will always live there. No amount of time will ever make it go away. It will wear down, slowly, until it is barely visible, but what happened will always be stitched in.
And yet, even if I were to unstitch myself, there would be a permanent hole where the thread– wound of the sights, smells, and images I’d rather forget– once was. I’m not sure which is better.
It’s surprising and not that, even with my skilled internet sleuthing, I cannot find him. It’s strange in this day and age for anyone to be unfindable on the internet, yet he was a self-described “misanthrope” (I had forgotten that until I saw it in one of our final email exchanges) who mocked social media, even a decade ago when it was still new and exciting.
I, on the other hand, am very findable on social media. A quick search of my name will usually land here, or to some other profile with pictures and life updates. It’s a part of the job, in some ways, and I honestly really enjoy connecting people with online. That’s what I tell myself, at least.
But there are times, like now, when I am clinging to the sides of a dark well that echoes his name at the bottom, that wonders if he ever remember me the way I do him. Does the image of my face, my smile, my eyes welling with tears, sneak up on him the way his does to me? Does he round a corner and hear my voice whisper, “Boo!” into his ear, a spectrum calling him down a dark well of a different kind?
He never acknowledged anything after. Once, in the months after, I would get angry and bold and send a text message saying, simply, “I hate you.” It was the only time I had allowed myself to be openly bitter. I still have his number burned into my brain, even now, but he was an adult (hadn’t he also been an adult when it happened?) and never responded.
So, now the thread hangs there, and I wonder if the other half is wound into him. Does he feel it sometimes? When he does, does he search for me as I have? Does he gingerly, slowly, type my name into a search bar– each clack of the keys asking, “Are you sure?”– and see my smiling face– now molded and thinned out over the past twelve years– on his screen?
As much as I hate to admit it– I hope that he does. He slipped silently out of my life, but I will not afford him that luxury. I will not go voiceless. If he remembers me and looks for me, my face is there, my smile ringing like a bell that will not be silenced.
Maybe one day I will find out something about him but, for now, all I am left with is his name. I search, let myself whisper it quietly, and close my eyes. The thread starts to burn. My eyes start to sting and I feel my chest twinge. I let myself cry, try and heave it out of me. Instead, my breath is bitter and hot in my throat, his name fouling me from the inside out.
I force my hand to my chest, rub my heart, and try and drown out the bitter, festering taste of his memory. I remember my mother’s hand rubbing my back wordlessly as I cried. I feel a friend’s hand squeezing mine. I picture the man I love and the men I loved before and after it happened. I inventory every kiss I had or body I touched, special in that I had choice, in that I willed them into existence. I think of all these things and, slowly, the memory burning inside me slowly cools down.
Maybe one day I will be able to remember without needing to look, or notice the thread slipping through me, shrug, and move on.
Maybe, one day, I will no longer see the name and feel my body burst to shrapnel. I will breathe deeply, easily, and let it go.
Maybe, one day, I will be able to say his name without my breath turning bitter, but instead taste communion wine, stinging, but softened with forgiveness and redemption and mellowed as it brewed in my heart.
Maybe, one day, I will simply move on.