May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
April 3, 2009
Jesus called this morning. I gave him your number so that you would have someone interesting to talk to.
You can almost see her typing those lines, taking a break from automating a text search or building a Java application. You can almost see her, beating keys, manically mousing, then stopping for a moment. She composes one of her crooked notes, midmorning missives, to rouse you, remind you. You read—Jesus called this morning—and you know this is your lover.
Nine years since your high tech babe wrote her last lines of code, since she pulled her last all-nighter writing poetry in base two. Nine years since your ocean paddler mama rolled her kayak down the hill to the beach. You stayed in the yard, read a book in the sun. She never returned.
Nine years—plenty of time to go through her things. But you are slow and time is never plentiful. You are still disposing. Today the computer. But first, a quick scroll through her files, a glance at her outbox.
I gave him your number—What elicited his call? You do not know. You were expedient in disposing; you did not read every entry or any of the incoming messages. Your goal was to empty a space, recycle her computer. No dawdling, no getting lost in that first-generation Pentium. Just move it out, and move on.
Stored in that room, silent, disconnected for years now. You lugged the components, one at a time, through your house. You stopped in the entryway, coordinated cords—mouse to CPU, CPU to monitor. Her prized monitor, predating flat screens, ten pounds for every megapixel. Then you sat, and felt the cool tile (more precisely, slate, part of your post-death remodel, yes, slate, cold hard slate) through the fabric of your trousers. But you stayed seated, your last chance to learn something from this electronic behemoth before hauling it off to the recycling center. You could not spend all day in that entryway as you had passed days reading her journals that first summer. It was time now. Just give yourself an hour or so to clean up this hard drive.
Someone interesting to talk to—What did you miss? You do not know. Efficiency precludes knowing. Time to hurry. Erase these files; dump these programs—the animation of the kayak roll. Gone.
Not really gone. Just hanging on a layer of hard drive waiting to be discovered (like the SUV that hung off the edge of your road yesterday evening). Or rewritten. Perhaps the hippie boy who processed your computer donation sits reading now—Jesus called this morning. Maybe he is scanning the notes you did not read or replaying the kayak roll, marveling at her cool Java applets. Perhaps, in addition to upgrading motherboards, he has perfected his high brace. This unkempt, hairy young man, like the ones she paddled with, he might appreciate the wry observations of the techie girl with the lopsided smile and the killer brace.
(The woman and her SUV held up traffic for hours. The scenic drive interrupted. You wonder if the SUV fell all one hundred fifty feet down the rock wall. Or maybe the Chuckanut sandstone held it through the night. You did not read the news report closely. But you know you were home when it happened, perhaps dining. And you know the SUV is gone now. Its two tons of smashed steel await recycling. Perhaps a new life as a Mini. Or, if it sank into your sacred bay, oysters might colonize the carcass, transforming fenders into shiny beds.)
Nine years ago you sat in your wooded yard and read every line of every journal. The older ones she kept in boxes in the garage. The newer ones you tripped on as you wandered through your haunted house. After reading each, you placed it in a bookcase opposite your bed. The twelve-year-old’s diary at the left of the top shelf, next to it the sixteen-year-old’s excitement about kissing a girl at summer camp. Then the nineteen-year-old’s reflections on AA.
Her last trip to southern Africa spent years on your nightstand. You memorized the hostel in Johannesburg, her imprudent strolls along colored streets, pedaling through Zimbabwe, changing her money at one of Bob’s Take-Aways; the ferry across Lake Kariba, backpacking on the Cape. Where she missed you. Yes, you memorized southern Africa—where she missed you.
(The woman died. The scenic drive was interrupted for hours. Your new lover forced to detour on her way home.)
Still you dispose. Recycle her computer. No landfill for this motherboard. No grave for these ashes. No Chinese children will mine the mercury weighting your memories, the silicon encasing her musings. You pay for this recycling. And you rush to recycle—after nine years.
(Only a year later and your neighbors have forgotten the SUV and the dead woman. Her daughter entered kindergarten, a family friend escorting the motherless child to her first day of school. Has her father saved everything so that she might wear her mother’s coat to her first day of college? Or has he recycled, moved on?)
You have no time to ponder now. You must make space for a new lover. And as you contemplate that task, you wonder how one goes about doing such a thing—making space—for a new lover.
You wander out to your garage. Her kayak sits in its rack; the life jacket, faded red, hangs from a hook. The wet suit rolled up in a net duffle, not the one they cut from her, no, the winter suit. You still use her paddle, meditating on the nicks in the woven carbon fiber blade. The bicycle, you offer for sale. A small concession. You cannot think too long on this. You return to the computer room. What else might be recycled?
The new lover will use this room to mosaic, not write code. She will lure you with lipstick and dancing, no notes about Jesus. No animations in Java, just colors and unfamiliar patterns. Some days painted toenails. And always those eyes.
You keep moving through this process, always moving. The computer recycled, now you open boxes—identifying what is necessary to keep, and what you must recycle, alienate. The twelve-year-old’s diary? Time to become pulp again. What about the twenty-year-old’s therapy journal? Has its time come? Are you over the revelation of your dead lover’s ingenuity?
Why pay a therapist fifty dollars an hour when I can analyze myself in a three-dollar blank book? I have more brains than most PhDs.
You find so many sentences that win you all over again. Better not to read them. You will never get over—this lover, this dead lover—if you keep reading. Be expedient. Find closure. Move on.
(They say she seized; the SUV took its own course. And then there was nothing for the child to hold onto. No certainty. No mother. Nothing conclusive.)
Though you lack faith, you are not entirely modern. You know too much to believe in endings or closure. Death goes on. Afterlife? Perhaps, though you never will transcend skepticism about that one. No deathbed conversion in your future. But afterdeath? Yes. You live in this space. You are always moving—around, through, but never past. You inhabit afterdeath; it holds you close like your dead lover no longer can.
Afterdeath is death’s due. You laugh. You brood. You will read these journals again. You have not yet memorized the passages about kayak surfing in Australia, the feel of the South Pacific pulling her down as her kayak flew above the waves, or the strange mix of sadness and freedom as she learned of her mother’s death an ocean and a continent away—now I can die too. Sometimes I worry about traveling or kayaking, that I might die—but now somehow I can. You raced through these passages that first summer. You did not read closely enough—to absorb every wave that threw her, every kangaroo boxing match that tickled her, and those moments she missed you.
You know she plotted a round-the-world trip. That she was glad not to have been in that hospital emergency room when the do-not-resuscitate order was enforced and her mother’s emphysema-scarred lungs slowed. That she wondered how long you would tolerate her frequent and extended absences. That she planned to master Java. To perfect her roll. Because you know these few things, because the stacks of journals remain, you can give up that hard drive. You can recycle. But you will not know closure. As you will never know your dead lover.
(Does the child still remember the texture of her mother’s hands? The melody of her favorite song? Does she cling to every photograph?)
You will read these journals again. Because the kayak roll is animated. And Java is secure. Java is multi-threaded. And Java is object-oriented. Will Java let you speak to her again? Can you commission a Java applet that will allow you to ask her—
What did Jesus say when he called?
Someone said it takes five years. That was after the first year, when you went back to work. A kindly administrator warning one of your colleagues, It takes five years to really get over a partner’s death. Did he say partner? Friend perhaps? They can be so squeamish in their professions of support. This man who would not let you say queer in the university catalog, this man who carved his proclamations with paternal affection: did he say partner?
Not lover; that is for sure. Not lover, not the woman whose breasts weighed on you. Not the woman you pushed into. Not lover. Maybe friend or partner.
You return to the room, perhaps a moment for contemplation. The computer is gone; you have made empty space. Still you hear the keys and the manic clicking, like those nights you awakened to her frustrated cursing. A line of code misbehaved, freezing her mid-algorithm. The computer is gone. Why has no one told her ghost?
It takes five years.
After nine years you release the notes hanging on the edge of a hard drive. And cool Java applets. You see the animation over and over.
Java is robust.
(Perhaps in ten years the girl will wear her mother’s coat.)
Debra Salazar teaches political science and studies the politics of the environmental movement. In her spare time, she ruminates about death, insanity, and modernity. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.