“When love is gone, where does it go?” – Afterlife, Arcade Fire
I moved out of the home I created and shared with my husband and stepson 283 days ago. The passage of this particular period of my life was not something I had planned on keeping tabs on—it was 283 days ago I lost the family I had come to know and love for 10 years. It was 283 days ago I began to remember what it was like to sleep in a bed by myself. I used to be scared of the dark. Now that I’m alone, I have nothing to be afraid of anymore.
It’s my computer that does the math for me.
Calculating and emotionless, it reports the new total every morning when I jiggle the mouse to wake the system into action. When I do this, a little Warning! box appears on the screen telling me it’s been x number of days since I last backed up my computer to the network.
The network my computer is referring to was set up by my then husband and consisted of a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) box, which contained daily snapshots of all the data contained within our computers as well as all our music files. This way, if there were ever a fire, earthquake, flood, alien invasion, we could just grab the One and within no time, reboot and get our lives back online. Obviously, if the world went to shit, then all we really had was a fancy-looking zombie bludgeoning tool. Who really cares anyway about the pictures I took in the cloud forest of Ecuador when the surviving population is fighting off brain-hungry corpses?
283 days ago my world did go to shit.
My home network connection was abruptly cut. I had to pack up and go. The NAS box remained with my ex—his life continues on. His data is routinely backed up, preserved. I’m alerted to the threat of losing “me,” or more accurately the version I was 283 days ago, on a daily basis and yet, I don’t bother to change my predicament. One, I simply haven’t taken the time to learn and two, the threat feels empty. What do I really have to lose now?
Preserving the data that had at one point compiled my entire existence feels meaningless. I can’t restore what was, 283 days prior. Those photos, letters, budgets are from a lost time and only serve as painful reminders of what can’t be recovered.
When I moved out, I left a lot behind—physical objects with happy memories tied to them. The IKEA couch we trucked back from Montreal in a beat pick-up and got stopped at the border for, the patio set on which we would laugh and sip martinis during warm summer afternoons, the stereo we would listen to on those Saturday nights when we couldn’t wait to play that next song for the other, the rug I danced on when my stepson and I held DJ Dance parties in the basement, the chalices we drank Bloody Marys out of on our wedding day.
I can’t touch those objects anymore. I won’t ever sit on that couch again. I’ll hear the same songs over new speakers. I’ll dance on different surfaces. Not the white rug with the faded stain from where one of our kitties threw up a hairball, but another one. Because I will continue to dance. And there are more patio sets on which to enjoy martinis.
Perhaps that’s why I don’t bother to back up my old computer. I simply bought a new one. So much of me wants to move on. To recognize what the past was and wasn’t, and forge a new future.
It’s fucking hard though.
My present mind is so much like my old mac. There are memories stored, experiences, information, that are not in my day-to-day consciousness, but take up space regardless, impacting performance and responsiveness. I refuse to hit delete.
It’s the closet full of old shoe boxes filled with memorabilia, trash bags of outdated clothes, framed prints that no longer fit my living space. All stacked on top of each other, unused, but yet, too important to discard. Occasionally I make happy discoveries (I had no idea I even took that picture!) and frequently, I uncover painful ones, too.
If I could take a bulldozer to the closet, I would. But I can’t. Not right now.
I used to joke to my ex that my brain was like the corner of my desk at the office. I have stacks and stack of papers piled up. Some important, others not so much. Over time, if I didn’t have to rifle through them to pull out information or pay a bill, then I could eventually recycle them. Time would be the judge of their importance. My hope is the threat of losing those memories, feelings, moments will no longer be relevant to my current state. I’m already living on the edge with my computer, right? Not backing up my hard drive—so free and loose.
The little warning on my computer pops up to report it’s now been 284 days. I stare at the number processing what that signifies.
. . . . .
What does it mean to lose someone you love? Whether through a divorce or break up (as in my case) or through a death, where does that love go? There is a part of me who wants to answer that question. Break it down into variables and constants, and solve it like those math problems assigned to me in third grade. “Five people, a gazelle, and a lion must cross a lake and there is only one rowboat. . .”
And there is another part, the part of me who simply doesn’t want to think about it. Because applying logic to feelings like love and loss diminishes what makes them emotionally powerful in the first place. They are ever-changing. Organic. Personal. Transformative.
Lastly, there is the fear. It creeps in at night and prevents me from sleeping. It’s the fear of finally knowing what I did lose and will never get back. The permanence of it all is suffocating. Even if I wanted to bulldoze the closet full of shoe boxes, I would choke on the dust.
Over the past 283 days, I’ve listened to Arcade Fire’s Afterlife on repeat it seems. “When love is gone, where does it go?” Those lyrics swirling around in my head. There isn’t a single time I have listened to that song during this period that I haven’t broken down into tears.
Seriously, where the fuck did it go?
I can lose my keys. Shit! My keys. WHERE ARE THEY? I HAVE TO GET TO WORK!
(Probably in a coat pocket.)
I can lose my train of thought.
(What was I talking about? Oh who cares.)
I can lose a sock. Leaving the other matching pair to hang out on its own in my miscellaneous clothing bin, never having a purpose again, ever.
(So damn sad. Someone probably made a dog chew-toy out of the other one.)
I’ve lost at cards. At bowling. At lacrosse. (My opponents felt those wins.)
I’ve been at a loss for words.
I’ve lost a cat. (Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.)
283 days ago, I lost the love of my life.
Where did it go?
I keep waiting for the reply to my question. There isn’t one. Not that it doesn’t exist. I’m starting to wonder if it’s just not that simple of an answer.
Both to love and to lose are different experiences for everyone. And even my own personal experiences with them and my feelings about them keep shifting on a daily basis.
I want to remember. I want to forget. I want to hold on. I want to let go. I want to save every last piece I can. And I want to burn it all down so there isn’t a single item left to salvage.
I haven’t been able to reconcile those feelings. I’m not sure I ever will.
Instead, I wake up in the morning and jiggle the mouse on my computer and note the passage of time. Some mornings it makes me sad. Others it feels like progress.
I had recently listened to a Love + Radio episode titled Greetings from Coney Island. In it, the narrator describes losing her fiancé unexpectedly. He passed away the weekend they were to be married. She spoke about the loss in a way that resonated with me. Her losing this man she deeply loved—the sadness, the emptiness, the pain—she knew those feelings would never fully go away. And indeed they hadn’t as she progressed with her life, found a new partner, and learned to love again. She said she just got better at managing them. Better at managing the loss.
I am managing. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s getting easier. With each day, I get further and further from the initial blow of losing a significant part of my life. 284 days of recovery. Of making new friends and rediscovering old ones. Learning to forgive and to let go. Remembering how to feel like me again.
I still don’t have the answer to where our love went. Maybe it didn’t go anywhere. It just got tucked away into a shoe box in my closet. I can’t help but ask the question, though. It’s been such an essential part of how I’ve coped with the loss. Sometimes there isn’t an answer or the answer changes or I’m simply comfortable with not looking for one.
For now, though, I’ll wake up in the morning and jiggle the mouse. I’ll note the number of days. And the count will continue.