Friday, December 11, 2009

Missing Persons

About four weeks ago I lost my phone.

To be more accurate, I woke up to discover that I'd left my phone sitting dangerously close to my fountain drink on the coffee table, and the condensation from said drink had bled all over said coffee table, enveloping my phone its destructive moisture.

That's the longer, more dramatic way of saying I lost my phone.

Apparently, when you get a new phone, your old phone has to be able to stay on in order to transfer all your old numbers into your new phone. So along with losing my phone, I'd lost all my old numbers as well. No matter. I would simply put up a notice on Facebook announcing my dilema and asking all my friends to text me their digits.

I think I've managed to get a whopping 5 of those old numbers back in the ensuing weeks.

I'm a loner by nature. If you watch me, you'll see I'm mostly observing. I tire quickly of too many people, and I usually cut out early. At the very least I'll recede into the shadows. I feel a little sad about all my lost numbers, but something stops me short when I think about reaching out directly to the few people who never responded to my mass call.

I think perhaps it's better I just let them go.

When I was a kid, I used to circle the blacktop alone at recess. I would walk around the perimeter thinking, singing songs only I could really hear, lost someplace else. I had one friend. I don't even really remember what we did together. Mostly I just remember being alone. I liked it. And I could provide the myriad reasons why I pushed myself to gather all those phone numbers and ritualistically hang on to them long after each of those relationships had simply ceased to exist in real time and space for no apparent reason, but I already did that. Years ago. With my therapist. To tell those stories now feels kind of silly.

Besides, they're the same reasons anybody does anything outside of his or her character. Shame.

I couldn't think of how to explain the shame in any way that didn't sound trite until last night while watching an episode from season one of Mad Men. In the episode, Don Draper's long lost brother shows up out of the blue wanting to rekindle the relationship they'd lost many years before. The brother, Adam, had no one left in the world. Don, wanting to shut the door on his past completely, gave Adam money instead of a relationship and asked him to never come back. I cried. I cried because Adam seemed to be a tacked-on person, a person who was floating alone through a life where no relationship ever really stuck. And I cried because I realized that for so much of my early life I felt the same way. Tacked-on. Was I a loner by nature, or was I a loner because I'd become comfortable with the fact that I received no empathy or understanding from my peers and would have to take care of myself? I don't say that with any anger, and I don't point to a lack of understanding as proof that I am somehow more complex or genius than anyone else. I was simply an anxious and inward person, and I couldn't ever seem to properly translate my insides to those on my outsides.

So I set out to surround myself with people to prove that I was okay.

Yesterday my boyfriend asked me how I knew the person to whom he was sending an e-mail inquiring about a job. I replied that I knew him through an ex and old friend. As soon as I said that old friend's name--one of the many old friends whose numbers are now gone--I felt a pang of nostalgia and loss. It would be easy enough to contact him directly through e-mail, but something stops me. While I will always think very highly of this person, we just don't have any reason to continue having a regular relationship. I feel that pang of nostalgia and loss whenever I think of any of all the people I've lost--when I pass the places I used to party with people who now seem like strangers, when I think about the days working with a team of like-minded individuals who've now been flung to the farthest corners of the country. I was at a bar where I used to work the other day having dinner when I ran into one of the old regulars. I used to sit for hours with this person and drink. We used to make plans to go to the strip club together. We had each other's phone numbers. And standing there talking to him, I couldn't even remember why.

The other day a new friend and I were talking about age. He said that growing up meant being able to recognize that life sucks and being okay with that. And in a way I think he was right. At some point we have to recognize that more ends are untied than tied, and we'll never be able to tie them all up. There are people who at different points in my life have made it clear they felt abandoned by me, but my disappearance was never an easy thing. It felt cold, but what was the alternative? A constant stream of messages implying that we should make plans to catch up soon--plans we never make, let alone keep?

I don't think I've been able to translate how all of this makes me feel properly. This piece feels messy, mostly because this situation feels messy. I think about different people as I drive through this city and see monuments to excellent evenings and lost, lazy days. I think about me when I was 18, 20, 21, 25, 27. I think about the people I knew when I was 18, 20, 21, 25, 27. I think about the feelings I had at those times in my life that will probably never be replicated--and I think about how they've been replaced with new feelings. I cannot square all of these things away, and I relish that feeling of not being able to completely put my finger on where everything goes. Almost all of the people I've lost just slipped away. There was no catalyst for an ending. There wasn't even an ending. Just a slow fade and then the screen goes dark.

Until they occasionally pop up in my Facebook feed.

I don't want to give the impression that all relationships lack permanence. There are people I just seem to keep on knowing. There are people who I seem to know in my bones. There are people I can lose track of for a few months but always know. Whenever we talk it's as if we were always right there. I suppose my messy feelings about everyone else come from a desire to keep them special. I used to fear being forgotten more than anything else in the world, and I don't want anyone I've ever cared about to feel that way.

So I guess I'll just have to always remember, at least a little bit. Even if I can't call any of them to tell them I do.

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