Nothing but time and a face that you lose

10 Jun

The other day I gave my phone number to a friend from Twitter (under completely platonic circumstances, not that it’s any of your business). He texted shortly thereafter and I was alarmed to find that his name was already in my phone. (Well, his first name. For his last name, I had written “Tinder.” The Tinder family is well represented in my contacts.) It was funny at first — “OMG I’m screaming” — and then that passed and the panic set in — “Wait, did we…?” — and then, once the memories were sorted, a duller, more lingering sadness — “You’re totally going to judge me, but this isn’t the first time this has happened to me.”

I have never been enough of a drinker to justify the amount of holes there are in my memory. My twenties are the kind of blur you’d usually associate with acute alcoholism, and while I can pin some of the blame on weed, the truth is that much of what happened after I graduated college is just something that I pushed out of my mind or passively let slip away. When I think about how much time has passed since then and I struggle to recall how I’ve spent those years, I feel a little like I’m trying to recount the plot of a novel I read in high school. The basic outline is there, but it’s all jumbled together, mixed up with more recent memories and, frankly, whatever I’ve been watching on TV. Certain parts remain vivid, but they are few and far between.

There are mantras I repeat to myself when the pain over a boy threatens to consume me, but the one that seems to work best is the most honest: “A year from now, you won’t think of him at all.” That’s comforting because it’s grounded in reality, in the verifiable patterns of my romantic history. Because I know that this too shall pass and there will be other boys and if, down the line, I accidentally stumble on a memory of this boy who once consumed my thoughts, I will shrug. The pain will be so distant that I’ll find it hard to believe it was ever there at all. Or, and this is the more likely scenario and the one that sometimes keeps me up at night, I will be scrolling through my contacts and stumble on his name and have trouble conjuring a face to go along with it. He will be as vague and distant as whatever bullshit I dreamt last week.

And with that comfort comes this sharp sense of loss, and I start to mourn something that isn’t even gone yet. It’s why I can’t listen to “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” without a lump forming in the back of my throat (“And all of the time you thought I was sad, I was trying to remember your name”). Sooner than I think, this person who feels like everything will be a complete non-entity. These connections are so tenuous and fleeting that they can be erased entirely. Obviously there are exceptions, people I still think about fondly or with a lingering resentment that startles me when a memory flashes through my head. But there are fewer of those than there are names in my phone that I greet with blankness: Did we ever meet? Did we kiss? Has he seen me naked? Was there some moment of weakness in which I thought, this guy could be the one?

I think about how much easier dating and sex have gotten, how much faster you can make a connection (either romantic or sexual or somewhere in between), and thus how much faster you can move on to another. I try to be a compassionate and open-hearted person. I don’t think of myself as someone who disposes of people easily. And yet, out of self-preservation or maybe just selfishness, I have a shameful number of blank spaces in my past. When I get sad about this (or when I judge myself for being a “careless fucking slut”) I sometimes feel like I’m being too hard on myself. Not every boy is the one that got away: In fact, the vast majority of these people probably faded from memory because they weren’t worth remembering. Why mourn that?

Or maybe I’m not being hard enough on myself. Because god knows I’ve had plenty of unbearably lonely nights where I’ve longed for something tangible to hold on to. How do I reconcile that with all the once potent connections I’ve allowed to slip through my fingers? (And no, it was not always my doing, and certainly these serial ghosters should be more tortured over this shit than I am.) But if I can’t have the real thing, I wish I could at least remember. Sometimes I just want to close my eyes and sink back into the feeling, to experience once again that moment in his arms when I was sure this one would last, even with the pain that went along with that as I felt him pull away. The highs and lows are hard. The absence can be even harder. But I can’t get back to that place. So I turn up the Stars and let the tears come, even if I can’t remember where they started.

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