I occasionally wonder about if or how our constant recording of things shapes our ability, or lack there of, to move on from them. In less than two centuries time we've moved from only the affluent leaving behind their images (in painting or statuary) or ideas (in writing), then to daguerreotypes to Polaroids to Twitpic and Facebook Timeline. And I don't think any of it is inherently good or bad. But they're new things to consider in terms of how and when we look back, how we heal, how we move on, and how we let go.
But that's global and "we" and anthropological curiosity. Let me put it in the "I."
I used to use Gchat incessantly at work at Penn because my time and talents were underutilized and I was bored. After a while (and some promotions, and some managerial interventions) I stopped using it. So, just based on statistical likelihood, four years later most any search of my inbox will call forth an automatically archived Gchat conversation with Joey, some of which will be five years old this year. Almost half a decade. That's (on September 28th) how long ago we met. And he's been dead almost three years now. And still he comes to mind so often that it's crazy.
I'm not very good at remembering dates and anniversaries, unless there's a peculiar reason to, and then I'll never forget them. When Joey met me and was appalled to be flirting with a twenty three year old, he expressed hope that I'd soon be twenty four. "Nope. Haven't even been twenty three for two whole weeks yet." All of that to say, I'm not good at remembering them consciously, but something in me is incredibly attached to the date, because around an anniversary of his death or birth or our meeting or, as I experienced this past holiday season, our breaking up, I will find myself agitated, moody, sad, or otherwise just off without realizing why.
This year when it happened, I had a sneaking suspicion. I hit my inbox and searched for a particularly hurtful phrase (which I still remembered exactly) from a particularly hurtful email and, what do you know, it was the four years to the day after he half broke up with me, by email, and then left to volunteer with PAWS, knowing that he wouldn't be reachable after doing so. After his death I cried, wrote letters, forgave, and asked forgiveness. Which, as it turns out, doesn't keep something deep within me from mourning or hurting or being so fucking pissed off that I would absolutely belt him across the face if he were to be resurrected tomorrow.
That funny knowing-before-knowing again this week. A TV show reminded me of an argument we had about his smoking. He was leaving shortly and was going to smoke before he left. I told him not to since he was about to leave anyway, and I didn't want to kiss him goodbye right after a cigarette. I told him I wouldn't. He smoked, and I wouldn't kiss him. In my recent remembering I thought of myself as having been straight forward, him telling me that his friends took his side and called me tedious, and me being sure that I had disagreed with them and him at the time.
Well, today's inbox search for a board related event email turned up the Gchat about that evening from November 2007. He called me puerile. And I was profusely apologetic. I was simpering. I was pleading. And, I was absolutely disgusted looking back at it today. I was mad that years later I want him to come back, sit down, talk about how we treated each other, apologize, and move on. Thus I decided that I don't want to feel shitty on a given day and wonder what fight we had what feels like lifetimes ago and I deleted every chat and email. Gone. No more record of what happened between us, other than what I carry with me.
I had very few things of his after he died but I remember being very angry that I chose to donate the one shirt of his I had, after wearing it a year or two, and then not having it in my closet and not remembering donating it, and feeling like I'd lost a piece of intentional closure. Eventually it turned up again, and I gave it away with intention and that was that. The only thing I have now is a fax he sent me one day at work. I actually hate what the fax reminds me of, but in and of itself is nice enough. I kept it because it's handwritten (albeit an electronic copy of handwriting) and it felt like the one thing worth saving until I myself die.
Incidentally, I now keep one handwritten thing from every person I love. Sometimes it's just a label from a Christmas present. Sometimes this year's card stays and last year's gets tossed because neither say anything profound and both have the same signature, and it seems to make sense to have the most recent copy.
I think more than wanting to hash things out with Joey, I would like him to see me four years older and wiser, self actualized, with an education, no longer wasting my talents. That he could be in a relationship with me when he was, that he could relate to me then, spoke as much about where he was as I. So I can be mad about how he treated me, and I can be mad that I took it, but we were where we were. You know, that whole thing about every relationship in your life being a mirror and us just having love/hate, love/hate, anger, frustration, and saying the cruelest thing possible to win the last word. We both did. For better or worse, much of the person that I've become and am proud of came out of knowing him.
And, there's the part of me that is so, so, so relieved that he is not here. Relief, mixed as it was with profound grief and anger, was part of my reaction to his death almost immediately. It meant no more. No more not talking to him; suddenly it wasn't even an option. No more him inevitably coming back into my life. No more me falling for his charm. No more apologizing for things I wasn't sorry for. No more apologizing for things I was sorry for. No more doing things that made me feel like shit. No more queasiness and anger and frustration while I watched him hurt himself and others. Plus, what if somehow his living meant I didn't grow? Or what if he lived and I grew and he didn't and he couldn't be happy for me or proud of me? I wish we could be proud of each other, and friends, but his being dead means there's no risk either that somehow I could still be terribly hurt by him.
I think I've always been waiting for the part where the grief was gone. When I could talk about it cleanly. When I wouldn't have to talk about the relief that his death provided so that people wouldn't think I was a terrible person. While the mourning has long since passed, I realize that the grief never will. I think knowing that is part of what made it both easy and necessary to delete all those old things. Reading them will only make me sad or angry, while continuing to move in the best direction possible from the sum of experiences of my life so far is my best bet for love, joy, and fulfillment. I will die loving him and I will die hurt by him and I will die angry with him. But, I don't need to look back. I've learned the lessons that I could; retrospection now is just opening old wounds.
Today's New York Post
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