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Our Nameless Cat | 2017 | Grok Doubleplusungood and Jalad at Tanagra


The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember or pretend you remember.  

-Harold Pinter

Our Digitally Departed

I try to avoid social media because scrolling down its infinitely replenishing page of other people's curated accomplishments and pains is not a mentally healthy activity. Facebook is the petri dish for Fear of Missing Out.

That said, I look to that site's "On This Day" feature to show me a time lapse of where my life was in years past. Mostly it makes me feel better, because I have lived in penury, on unemployment, near abusive neighbors or thirty teenage boys in indentured servitude and no longer do. In my past, I am going through a bad breakup, but it is almost over. I wish I could hearten that younger self, but he was stronger and healthier than I remembered. He lives through this and grows.

What strikes me recently is Melissa. Every day in the digital past, I have watched her growing closer to a crisis. On one of my statuses, I mentioned her in a supportive but vague way. She commented minutes after midnight that it was sweet if it was about her. A little after lunch, she cursed me out on the same status, telling me exactly where I can shove my spirituality. I don't respond to either comment then. In seeing it now, I like the former comment. I want to believe in the best of her.

Later on in my past, I mention how I believe I have lost my oldest friend. Was this the same day that she came over to my house, told me I had to fight for my ex as she did not fight for Stevehen, and, when I would not agree ("I'm a lesbian who wants to sleep with various women" is hard to argue against), collapsed into wracking sobs and so convincingly threatened suicide that I called 911. She immediately recovered to tell the operator I was being overdramatic. The police came anyway, reacted as though I were an abusive spouse, and took her to the hospital, which released her by morning. Since her car was in my lot and I doubted she would care to return for a while -- and because I know my family would want to know -- I called her father and told him. Sounding exhausted -- this was not the first time he would try to bail Melissa out of her problems and it would not be the last -- he thanked me and hung up. The car was gone by morning.

As I recall, she called the next day, telling me she could forgive me for calling 911, but that informing her family was too much. She wanted nothing to do with me for a while. Offhand, I can't remember how we made up. I would warrant that it was no great moment. In all likelihood, she just gave up on keeping me out of her life, because she needed all the friends she could get. Facebook will give me morsels in the coming weeks and month. That will clarify what I was not as bold as to put in writing otherwise.

I have actually lost her now, to her mental illnesses and addictions. She is no longer around to tell me not to write about her troubles, to cut me out of her life because something I said ran afoul of her or her illnesses, but I have no cruelty toward her. I don't want to use my writing to spite the beloved dead. But, though I do love her, I will never again need to walk on eggshells around her. I can be honest as I was not brave enough to be in life.

For months after her death, I send her messages, mostly the things we should say before someone dies but we are scared to be vulnerable or weak, to seem overdramatic. These messages moved toward taunting her, mostly for dying on me. She would not have wanted me to serious, even about her dying.

I stopped writing because I noticed someone had been reading her messages. I respect the process of whoever has access to her account, but I need the understanding that no one alive sees my confession. Once that bubble of intimacy popped, I could not write to her any longer online, even if it felt somehow more real and immediate than writing it on a piece of paper.

I wrote one more message, telling the interloper that they, and not my friendship with Melissa, caused me to stop.

These digital memories keep flickers of Melissa alive for me. Every day, there is a chance I will see Melissa posting on my wall or commenting on my status, even if it was only to heap hatred upon me that day. She didn't mean any of these harsh words, but she reacted to hurt with claws and teeth.

In nine months, for the first time, she will die all over again. The Facebook algorithm isn't yet bright enough to stop that. Maybe it would if her profile was switched to a memorial, but it hasn't been. As far as the site cares, she is still alive, if an inactive member, only a few steps below me.

In this digital world, you cannot die all at once. There is the main event, then a thousand tiny deaths, the gradual process of letting go. Once day, you stand on the edge of a pond they loved, one where you stared up at the infinite stars, and you hardly remember why it affected you so much. The internet, especially Facebook, isn't going to be able to resurrect her. My relationship with her has ended, even if I can still post on her profile. But she can never again unfriend me in a fit of anger.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: 1984
listening: Great Big World

Our Nameless Cat | 2017 | Grok Doubleplusungood and Jalad at Tanagra

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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