It was a brisk winter day, much like today, six or seven years ago around this time of year, about two weeks before Valentine's Day. I'm in awe of my math right now, but it must be correct. I've been at my current job for five years, and remained at my last one a year or two before changing after it happened. Six or seven years. Wow.
Anyway, she had moved to Massachusetts after losing her job. We had kept our relationship a secret for almost two years and when the boss realized he had let my girlfriend go, he was seriously walking on eggshells. I didn't think much of myself or my abilities at the time, but looking back I realize I was fulfilling at least five different job descriptions in a small struggling company, and getting paid about a third of what any one of those responsibilities was worth. He avoided me for a few days, and then one day gave me some music CDs out of the blue. Like THAT would make up for it. Still, one of us had to work, and as I said, I had little faith in my abilities. I didn't think I was good enough to do better yet, so I held on to what I had.
She meanwhile struggled to find work, even with a Master's Degree. She was a few years older than me and BRILLIANT, and I think that in a way helped discourage me from just quitting. If someone like her couldn't find work, what chance would I have? She was unemployed for an entire Summer before the opportunity in Massachusetts presented itself. When we first started dating, about a few months in, she spoke casually about moving to Seattle. I told her I didn't want her to leave; she told me she loved me. This time when she told me the news I was torn. If I didn't want her to leave before, I REALLY didn't then. But I knew how hard it had been and I felt like I stood in the way of her dreams once. She was so awesome; I was nothing. I didn't deserve her, and she didn't deserve me holding her back. She would have stayed if I asked her to, so I didn't.
We adjusted. I bought a used car with good gas mileage and visited her every other weekend. I didn't have internet access yet at that time and phone calls were expensive, so we only spoke once or twice a week, a radical change from several times a day. Some weeks she came back to Long Island to visit her mother. On New Year's Eve I went to see her, and we spent a magical evening in Boston. A museum showed a variety of independent films. A string quartet played in one auditorium; a jazz ensemble in another. We made our way through the city from place to place, eventually making it to the water to see the fireworks by the old historic ships. It was probably the best New Year's Eve of my life, and the last time I'd ever leave my home on that night.
Valentine's was fast approaching. She was an inspiration, and gave me a reason always to continue to develop my fine art skills. Graphic Design, especially the grunt work I was doing out of college, was a far cry from the creativity I wanted to develop and express. Mind you, I was never cheap on gift-giving occasions. I hadn't had much experience with women but I knew that for all the skimping I do for myself, this was one area where money could not be a consideration. I bought her jewelry, and chocolate, and roses, and books, and music, and more as supplements, because I knew art wouldn't be enough. That stuff was easy. The real labor was the paintings and drawings I gave her. Probably the best of these was an 18” by 24” framed charcoal portrait I had drawn of her the previous Christmas, so I was planning to top it for Valentines day. Down in my basement studio, I had already penciled out the drawing and masked out a heart shape, within which I would paint the two of us in Gouache, a water-based medium similar to watercolors but applied opaquely. Time was running out and I wasn't certain I would finish in time. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the least of my problems. Not only would I never finish it, but it would remain taped to my drawing table in a studio I’ve yet to use again.
One weekend, she was staying with her mom again, and I went to visit her. Which brings me back to where I began.
It was a brisk winter day, much like today, six or seven years ago around this time of year, about two weeks before Valentine's Day. Her mom's reception seemed lukewarm, but I didn't think anything of it at the time, or the fresh baked tray of brownies in her kitchen. She asked if we could drive to the beach. It was chilly out, but not snowing though it would later that day. She loved the beach, and it was one of the things she missed about New York. We went every chance we had. I drove her to one of our favorite ones and after a long walk it was time to drive her home. It was a Sunday, and she had to drive back before the impending snowstorm hit. I opened the door for her and she got in my car, and as I walked around the back I popped in a breath mint, since I was expecting anything but what awaited me inside the car. My “where do you want to go now?” was greeted with a “we should talk.”, and it was all downhill from there.
Some things should be private. A lot was said, and I made a lot of arguments through the tears. I reached in to the depths of my brain, quoting things I didn't even know I knew. She was an intellectual, and book smart, so I hoped that i could reach her through literature. When it was over and the battle finally lost, I drove her home and apologized for giving her such a hard time. She told me not to apologize and said I was eloquent, and she apologized and I told her not to. Everything about our relationship up until that “we should talk” was perfect, and I told her as much. I thanked her for two and a half years of things I'd only dreamed of. I had all but given up on ever finding love, of having someone love me back. She wanted to spend time with me. She listened to me. She actually liked what I had to say. I could be angry with her for that last hour, or grateful for the hours in the years before that one. My life was infinitely better for having known her, and though one could argue if we'd never met I wouldn't know what I had missed, I still would never give it up. After brownies and prolonging our final farewell, I followed her to the highway and saw her off, asking her to call me when she was home safe. My parents came home to find me a wreck, bawling on the couch with a tear stained classified section. I was looking for another job. I thought staying in a place that fired her had done us in, or that she saw no future with someone with no money. But I couldn't think clearly, and it would take another year before I finally got out of that place. I remember once while putting together a portfolio for an interview in those dark days, I thought about how poetic it would be if I slashed my wrists with the X-acto knife I was using. I wasn’t actually considering doing it, but the thought crossed my mind, a fantasy of a lovelorn artist ending his existence with the tools of his trade. It was stupid. Anyway, I never saw her again, though we spoke a few times, once when she got home that evening, and another time after I'd read her grandfather had passed away. Once I got an internet connection we tried to remain friends and e-mailed back and forth for a year or so before one or the other of us stopped writing, and it just ended.
Is this depressing? It's not. I've moved past the point where I look over old photo albums or read poems and letters she'd written me. I've considered other girls. What prompted this reminiscence was watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I won't ruin it for anyone(I know Jerry had some good observations about it a while ago), but I will say that if I could erase the painful memories of losing someone so precious to me, if that was an option, I wouldn't do it. Our mistakes and our past makes us who we are, the good and the bad. Pain makes us appreciate pleasure. We avoid mistakes unless we’ve made them at least once. At the grave site of my mom's cousin, the funeral director shared with everyone something that happened at her own mother's funeral. Someone turned and told her she should be happy, and when she looked at him with pain and confusion he explained, “You're in pain because you loved her dearly. It wouldn't hurt so much, if you didn't have a special bond with this person. You had someone in your life that you had a special connection with, and that's a rare and precious thing.”
If the technology in the movie existed, if I could erase my ex-girlfriend, would I? Could I? Should I?
I would NEVER do it.