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I wish I could filter out all the things I don’t care about. But that’s terrible, isn’t it? I should care. Shouldn’t I?

They make big posters and banners and they scream, “black lives matter!!” and I don’t care. “All lives matter,” I whisper. “Everyone matters,” I whisper.

He writes, “Je suis Charlie,” and he doesn’t know what he’s saying. He doesn’t understand anything. Neither do I, but I don’t care. “Je suis moi,’ I whisper. “Qui etes-vous?” I whisper. I’m trying to teach myself French. I’m trying to understand without listening.

She yells at me because I take a picture of my Italian dessert in Seoul. She teases me, asks if I’ll share it on Instagram. “Of course not,” I say. “Not anymore,” I whisper. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes I just want to share everything with you. Do you? Voulez-vous?

I was in love with a black boy when I was young. His skin was like chocolate. I don’t remember his name because he moved away, and I don’t remember anyone’s name. I wonder where he is now. I wonder if he speaks French. Who knows? Je ne sais pas.

They hate war, say it’s terrible. They hate bombs. They won’t talk about it, they filter it out. Everything is black and white. The gray color is too difficult. No one knows what gray matter is really about. I miss Psychology class. I learned a lot back then. I think I have forgotten everything. What good is a degree you don’t remember? But it still might get me a job somewhere. Peut etre.

I stay up too late. Too early. What timezone am I living in? My own, I guess. How do you say that in French? “Ma propre, je suppose.” That’s nice.

I want to write you a book. I remember this one time my friend said to me, “If you write a book, I’ll read it.” And that was a great thing to say. So maybe I’ll write a book for her, if I ever think of anything good. But maybe I should learn French first. It seems important. How do you say that? “Il semble important.” That’s nice.

I want to talk to all the people who I disagree with. I mean, it seems like I disagree with them. They march around upset and screaming, waving banners, blaming each other. They scare me. I don’t know if they would talk to me. I don’t know if we could get past our disagreements. Isn’t that sad? Tragic. Terrible. Lonely.

Je suis seul. I know that one. I like it because seul is a lot like Seoul and I’ve been to both places. Loneliness seems like a wonderful and terrible name for a place, doesn’t it? N’est-ce pas?

Hello. Who are you? Will you tell me? What do you look like when you’re all alone? Who are you? I don’t care about anything else. I won’t tell anyone your secrets, I promise. I miss you. I probably do, anyway. Even if I don’t know you. Isn’t that fucking stupid? Maybe you think it is. It’s not really true, because it’s impossible. Maybe I learned about this kind of logic in Philosophy classes, but I don’t remember any more. Merde.

I’m very bad at endings. I remember once I took an online Theater class, and I had to write a play. Just a short one. And it was about a family, and I don’t really remember what they said to each other. But students in my class commented on my play, and I remember they said it was too happy. There was no tension. It was too circular. Everything happened for a reason and the end was like the beginning. Do you think life is like that? Tell me. “Dîtes-moi!”

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time — wait, no. This is real life. Let’s start again.

The one that got away. What a great catch. These sentences are fishing metaphors. They also, when girls I know tell me love stories that have these as the plot lines, seem to be magical, romantic, mysterious, beautiful. What could have been. If these phrases were movies we’d see soft sunny filtered images of smiling beautiful people in fields of flowers. But no story is one sentence long. Only distorted memories begin with Once upon a time

The one that got away is a complicated tale. Maybe “one” is actually many. Maybe this isn’t even a Rom-Com. Maybe the one is someone’s father. Maybe it’s someone’s dream.

I love people because they are so complicated. If you dig deep enough everyone has a story; everyone is still writing it as they go along, just like me. Just like you. Good stories are always complicated. Good stories are hard to tell. Good stories get sliced into tiny pieces and boiled down to What could have been so we can try to share our stories with other people. We use words and we use pictures. We have Instagram (that comes with the soft sunny filter), and we have Polaroids of our grandmothers when they were young.

Our stories will always be incomplete. Memories fade or change so that every morning we are remembering and living a slightly different life. The people we love die or fade out of our lives in different ways, and the houses and cities we grew up in get torn down or repainted, or they stay exactly the same and our memories of them change so they end up feeling different just the same.

I have a Polaroid picture of my grandmother. She is not young in the picture, but I am. We are sitting together on the steps of her back porch some sunny Spring day in the early ’90s, a bright green apple in my hand and a grin on my face. I do not remember this story. My grandmother died when I was four. But luckily there are more pictures, more sentences from the story of her life.

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Loving people and their stories is dangerous, of course. It’s not romantic or mysterious, though sometimes it seems magical, and often it is beautiful, at least for some of the time. People are like our memories, in a way. They change unexpectedly, they surprise you, they make you cry. The worst thing of all is when someone abruptly leaves your life when you were still writing your life stories together — cliffhanger forever. And if you don’t fully understand that person’s story, and your own story is still uncertain, how do you tell someone else about it, even if they care to listen?

The (other) one that got away. 

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No matter how hard you tried in the moment to not take anything for granted, it always seems like you did, afterward, because no amount of good memories or photographs can make up for the fact that they’re not with you anymore. The feeling of missing them feels stronger than whatever happiness you lived while you were with them, and it goes on, unlike your unchanging memories. And all of this piles up, and all of the time you’re apart piles up, increases, and eventually the time it’s been since you’ve seen them is longer than all of the time you spent together. And the little caricature of them in your memory changes, and surely they have, too, and you wind up having a memory of no one you’ve ever met; a stranger in your mind and in reality.

Nothing but togetherness will ever fix anything. People change together and apart and yearly or monthly or daily updates are not enough to hold onto any relationship. You must be together, see each other, touch each other, laugh with the same air. Everything else is distance, everything else is change, everything else is an extension of what use to be, carried across lakes or mountains or countries or years.

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I don’t have photographs of any of the most beautiful moments of my life. At the time, I either didn’t have a camera or didn’t believe I should take a photo of that moment or both. Now all I have are beautiful memories, beautiful photographs in my head of you looking at sunlight reflecting off a lake or you laughing at me or her and him and me creating a semi-circle of friendship in the middle of a smattering of drunk people at a party. Sometimes I wish I had pictures of those moments. Sometimes I understand why other people want to take pictures of everything, every moment. But there’s only so much storage space on an SD card, only so much room on the walls of your home or bedroom or staircase to hang photographs. Memories blur and fade but they can still be much more powerful than any attempt a camera or photographer can make at recording a moment in time.

And maybe in a year I won’t remember what it was like to watch you watch the sunrise. Maybe I’ll forget what my feet looked like and felt like covered in dirt and sand from Lake Huron after a long day of shoe-less trekking. I’ll forget, and you’ll forget, and my children or great-grandchildren will never see the photograph that I hung only on the walls of my mind.

But so many other moments have been forgotten. Cemeteries are full of those who watched the sun rise and set over the centuries; full of people who didn’t feel the need to snap a picture or open Instagram to capture something they felt was beautiful or important. They just lived it, just watched, just appreciated the moment and let it slip, keeping that photograph in their mind until another moment took its place.