A couple months ago, I found myself at the bagel shop in our old neighborhood. I approached the counter and looked at all the fresh bagels as if I might not order what I’ve ordered every Sunday for the last three years. But before I even got to the front, there it was, “Whole wheat and cinnamon raisin?” He knows my order — well, our order. Don’t cry in Sam’s Bagels, don’t cry in Sam’s bagels. “Just whole wheat today.” Like the bagels, the wound was fresh. It’s been about six months since—well—“Cinnamon Raisin” and I broke up and mildly heartbreaking moments like this occur less and less.
It’s been at least a month since I cried over him while ordering breakfast. I’ve gotten pretty skilled at the quick unsubscribe from the mailing lists of hotels we’ve stayed at. And I almost can’t remember his license plate number. Almost. But the Internet is forever. “Lose my number” really doesn’t pack the same punch as it did ten years ago (if ever, while we’re being honest). In our digital age, you not only have to manually delete my number, you have to de-friend me on Facebook, un-follow me on Twitter, unsubscribe from my blog, my Tumbler, my Instagram, de-link me from your LinkedIn. Actually, no one’s on LinkedIn. But even once you’ve done all that and removed him from your iPhone favorites and deleted his credit card from your Amazon account, he still lurks.
Years of our correspondence litter my Gmail. My iTunes is filled with the mixes that said he loved me before he did. It’s like there’s a comet’s tail of our relationship streaked across the Internet — and my hard drive. Though comets leave behind gas and dust, which I think would be much easier to clean up. See, everyday when I plug my iPhone into my computer to charge, there we are. Hiking in Hawaii. Ziplining in Mexico. Eating drumsticks at Medieval Times. It’s like friggin Club Med. Or like a greatest hits album of our relationship, except not so great to see now. I know, I know, I should just dump those— (beat) toss the photos in some distant corner of my hard drive. But what do you even call that album? 2008-2012? That’s just so tombstone-y.
Here lies our relationship. Should I have been wearing black all these months? For some reason I’m able to consolidate all our emails and shove four years of birthday cards and playbills to the back of my closet. But I cannot bring myself to move these pictures out of my iPhoto. A few clicks of the mouse and they’re gone. I’ve thought about just deleting all the pictures he looks good in, but I’d still be left with that picture of egg white chilaquiles with the knowledge that he was sitting across from me when I ate them. I can’t delete the chilaquiles. Or the floatplane we took to Whidbey Island. Or the opera house in Rome where we saw La Boheme. Yeah, now I’m just bragging. But before you wedge Masochism in between Depression and Acceptance in my grief process, hear me out.
Sure, there are a number of romantical seaside dinner photos that I need not linger on. But there are also a bunch of pictures that I can look at and place in the hours before or after fights. Like the time we fought leaving that New Years party in Santa Monica. Or in San Francisco on his birthday. Or in Atlanta on Christmas. We fought in our apartment and in my parents’ house, in the car and at restaurants; we fought in a box and with a fox, here and there and everywhere. I’m not lingering on the photos that kick up the bad memory dust. I don’t think it’s that productive to focus on the negative. Or wallow. Or listen to any Adele. Though I did catch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on TV recently. It’s such a complicated and beautiful film about a break up. Charlie Kaufman took the title from a line in Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard” which tells the story of a tragic love affair in which the heroine’s only comfort comes in forgetting. And by tragic, I mean her family had him castrated. But in the film, behind all the nonlinear editing and the colorful hair is the age-old question “Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” Or in this case, to have loved but not remembered you had.
I always go with loving and losing. I am a lover. And a loser. Even if I could wipe my memory clear of Cinnamon Raisin like Clementine and Joel did, I wouldn’t. Obviously. I can’t even bring myself to delete these pictures off my hard drive. Why? I just don’t think I’m ready yet. Which is okay. I know I’ll get there, but for now these pictures serve as a chronicle of sorts. They encompass all of it, the good times and the bad. And every relationship has both — Eloisa and Abelard, Clementine and Joel, me and Cinnamon Raisin. I don’t need to delete the good or highlight the bad in order to know that we loved each other, but in the end, weren’t right for each other.
I’ve actually come to see these pictures as 7,000 digital Rorschach tests. Not because they look like bats or vaginas — but as time passes, I see them differently. If you scroll to the top of my photo library, you’ll find a handful of pictures from our very first trip together. We took the Long Island Railroad out to Montauk in late February. Sound familiar? We only stayed one night, but there’s a series of photos of us frolicking on the beach (we had both just gotten first generation iPhones.) There’s this one photo in particular. Cinnamon Raisin, all bundled and knit capped, is leaning down and writing something in the sand. I remember standing there on the beach, hair blowing furiously in the blistery wind. I thought for sure he was writing I LOVE YOU. Or sketching out our initials the way people carved theirs in trees back when that was the thing. Even a misshapen heart would have done the trick. P. Aw, is he writing pretty? E. Pe— Peas? Like, in a pod? N. Pen? I. Oh no. S. There it is. Penis. I used to look at that picture and laugh and shake my head. You silly little jokester, you. But when I came upon it recently, in that unmistakably “Eternal Sunshine” landscape, I had an entirely different reaction. Instead of being charmed by his antics, I was really disappointed. Like (the) bagels, it had gotten stale. I stood there in the cold, on the Eastern tip of Long Island, our whole relationship ahead of us. I didn’t expect anything too grand — just a small gesture before the tide came in. But he couldn’t do it. In a way, this captured moment kind of sums up what went wrong in the end. And for me, and the way I’ve been processing this all over the past six months, the fact that I can even see it that way spells progress. P-E-N-I-S.
You can read more from Lindsay Gelfand on her blog.