Dream A Little Bigger, Darling
I'm not, I think, that haunted by loss. The most essential life skill next to breathing is the ability to move on, and it's something I've gotten a grip on a bit. From friends who've moved to different cities, to people who've passed away, to romantic relationships that blossom and then wither, sometimes over the course of months, sometimes over the course of years: it's all part of the standard package of life. Even people with lifelong friendships, long and fulfilling relationships or stable families have experienced loss in at least some form, and if they haven't yet, it's only a matter of time. Time will, eventually, of course, take everything away from you: your only luck might be that it takes you before it takes them.
Good morning, by the way.
I'll paint the picture. I've been up since seven and typed this at eight. There have been no sounds in my apartment except for the gentle whirrs of the espresso machine. The only smell in the room is slightly burnt toast and the remnants of the aforementioned espresso in a faux-designer glass I once accidentally took from a party. Sunlight kisses every far corner of this apartment; it's my favourite part of living here.
I was trying to find a photo on my computer. I have an archive that dates back a decade. I ran across photos of friends that have since moved away. Slight pang, everything okay. Videos of my father. Slight pang, but that's the one I'm used to by now: also okay. And I'm not one of those guys that deletes pictures of ex-girlfriends. Still okay. I take another sip of that espresso.
I moved back a little bit too far in that archive and I stumbled upon her. It's pretty amazing that I did: there's only two photographs of her and one video, back from a time when videos took up so much space on your phone that you couldn't really afford them. It's exactly seven seconds and it goes like this:
Boy and girl are in a coffee place in Hamburg. They're both facing the camera.
Girl: "Are you taking a photo?"
Boy: "No, I'm not. This is a video."
Girl laughs. Girl hides behind boy's back. End of video.
Ah, dammit. I managed to catch her playfulness and laughter in seven seconds and I don't wanna throw it away. You know what's between her and the present time? Seven years, and every single serious relationship I've ever had. I browsed past those no problem, by the way. So now you're thinking that perhaps I let the love of my life get away: that I just haven't managed to plunge the depths of that feeling ever since, or felt that kind of connection, or any of that good, big, romantic stuff. But the truth is that the girl and I only ever met four times. Two of them here. Once in Berlin. And once in Hamburg. And all of them no longer than a weekend. The truth is that I can maybe spot the shape of her, recall the texture of her hair, or the slight nasality of her voice. And everything else, and I mean absolutely everything else, I coloured in with my imagination, based on a faded outline. And that, I think, is far more dangerous.
In my mind, she's the Cool Girl straight from a Gillian Flynn novel. She's a champion. Sensitive, subtly hilarious, empathic, sexy, fierce, analytical, sultry, dark, bubbly but calm when she needs to be. I think she taught me intimacy and vulnerability. Yeah, okay, that's what I think. But what do I know? Certainly they weren't lessons I ever learned at the time. Only in retrospect do I figure I'm tracing those virtues back to her, but I just have no idea whether it's my memory or my imagination telling me that. And the video isn't clueing me in at all - it's exactly like my memory of her: brief, fragmentary, and with only the highlights.
The years after gave me a proper education on romance and relationships. It had the same kind of intimacy but with all of its additional insecurities and questions; it took sex from discovery to activity, and it went deeper, far deeper, in what it meant to have a companion. Someone who took care of you, argued with you, was honest with you, sometimes ruthlessly so, who took you to family dinners and shared with you secrets that mattered so much to them but less to you, whose only real value was in their safekeeping, and they were such relationships that featured yelling at four in the morning, or hand holding in the car, or falling asleep on an empty beach, or the world's lamest joke that kept you both giggling well after midnight, or post-party cooking, or mediocre work parties, or a playlist playing over and over cause you couldn’t get out of bed and let’s just keep it playing while we sleep, and she’d show the world to you, and that's what it was like to live through life with a mirror.
All of that happened, and it was also lost, and I'm okay with that. The future, of course, is still wide open. But I'm not okay with the seven seconds. Because no matter how much I focus on the image, no matter how much my brain analyses that girl’s face, neck, shirt, hair, eyes, skin, voice, posture, movement, rhythm of breathing or the way she turns away from the lens - no matter how much I realise that the seven second video is nothing like what my imagination built her up to be, that gargantuan fantasy that looms so large, I realise it doesn’t matter. My imagination has left that reality behind. And I get scared because maybe that's the unromantic reason I'm a romantic: I need a fantasy big enough to conquer the old one. That’s unreasonable, and disrespectful to real life’s intricacies, and so very inescapable. Because of course there’s that thought that can only creep up on you in the middle of the night: what if you’re wrong, and it was all true?