Feeling inspired by Etgar Keret lately, so I wrote this. Thanks for reading!
I wasn’t sure what was happening. The tears didn’t feel natural; they were not the tears I had cried the day before, at least. Yesterday’s tears were shed so freely, so deep into the stacks that I might have been all alone, tucked between an odd alcove near a riot-proof window and a shelf of outdated psychology journals. Since picking up this work study job, I have learned all the best places to cry in the library, from the service elevator (only accessible by library staff), to the most secluded desk in the quiet study, my face pressed against the cold, scarred wood.
Today’s tears were reluctant tears, jammed up inside my eyes. As hesitant as they were to be born, that didn’t stop my body’s other functions from *wanting* them to surface. I parked the book cart outside a bathroom, relieved to find it empty. Standing with my nose pressed against the mirror, I tried my best to avoid scrutinizing what I saw, but my tired and slouched posture, the premature lining on my face that hadn’t been there when I left for college, the puffiness in my eyes, were enough to release the hot, painful tears from their prison.
[This post is an homage to my college creative nonfiction classes, where we were asked to write a string of sentences that all begin with “I remember…” It’s such a great exercise to get you in the mood for writing, especially nonfiction. The exercise is based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same title (1970). Feel free to comment your own I remembers.]
I remember the dusty hayloft and rickety ladder, and the abandoned pile of horseshoes found beneath the hay.
I remember the adult-sized tricycle Natalie gave me before she died. I pedaled it up the hill and down the small gravel path that led to the cell phone tower, where I sat and watched the sun rise.
I remember when the chain rusted and snapped and the brakes stopped working and how I took the bike back to Natalie’s house in the middle of the night without telling her parents it was me who had it in the first place and how I never went back there again.
I remember bokchoy in oyster sauce, and sneaking kisses while his father watched the Peking Opera on the couch.
I remember inerasable red rings around our mouths from drinking fruit punch from plastic jugs in the sweltering heat.
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t know the dead man, but it would be the truth to say I can no longer remember his name. Too many nights filled with foreign smoke and strong drink. Too many days scratched away listlessly. But I know it’s still down inside me somewhere, being chewed up and digested again and again.
It’s been buried so many times, on the tip of my tongue in the pitch of nightfall, but never fully exposed. Maybe it will surface one day, as these things often do, when least expected.
I have wondered why I forgot the name. Before his death he was someone I saw a lot—you couldn’t say I knew him, but he was definitely a constant. We worked at the market for a couple months anyway. A friend of mine said it best over drinks, as we sat next to a shelf of nameless corporate nobodies at some long-forgotten bar in the legal district: it’s easier to forget a face that wants forgotten, he said. That was at least five years ago—my dog didn’t get hit by the bus yet, we had a president worth having, I had more hair. My god. What is five years but an endless and terrifying chasm that has the potential so suck away your very lifeblood?
Both he and the dead man now share a common denominator: both absent from my life.
It was an impossible year to be alive. The great forces at the wheel continued onward in unyielding procession; water fell from the sky, dried, and was carried up again into the clouds. Our tears were no longer among the water that the forces carried on, because we forgot how to use them correctly. Some still made it by, like when we would cut onions, or when we stubbed our toe on the radiator during a midnight trip to the icebox, or when we would laugh so hard at a comedy club that they would leak out and we were unsure why. Those went up with the water the same as always.
But when our loved ones died we no longer felt the tears cloying from the small space inside our heads, the well where such things are kept and extracted when needed. No longer were we moved to such extremes. This is because death had come to define our existence, little by little, year after year, since the internet had cast its hand in death’s favor. Each night, we would plug in to our hivemind and revisit the deaths of the day in unison, sending virtual candles to the ones we never knew and eulogizing the ones who stood and vague beacons on the outskirts of our periphery. Condolences thoughtlessly given to the families of the departed, and as a response – just a virtual thumbs up, no words necessary. No tears as our eyes glow by the light of the screen.