“There are so many people we could become, and we leave such a trail of bodies through our teens and twenties that it’s hard to tell which one is us. How many versions do we abandon over the years?”
You exist in the minds of others. You exist in twisted and bronzed and sun-bleached forms. Because memory’s a sieve, leaking feelings and details until only pebbles large enough to run between thumb and forefinger remain.
I remember you.
This happens often now that you’re wintering in your hometown. People will do double-takes as they look at you from ten feet away, eyes squinted, head turned just enough that they could spin away in an instant.
I remember you. You went to Brighton, right?
They are not always confident when they tack on that last part. They are teachers and parents and students. You wonder what they think about you. I’m not here for good! you want to shout across the t-shirts racks, as if it is somehow shameful to end up in the same place you were raised. As if the only way you could claim dignity was by leaving.
I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days?
You never have a good answer to that. Because you both know what you are doing–you are restocking the Techwick t-shirts that are suitable for most outdoor sports, but will they wrinkle shoved in a suitcase for a three-week trip to South Africa? No fucking clue. You don’t say that, though. You tell them about Lake George. You use the term “outdoor education,” which sounds palatable in suburban America because it includes the word “education.” You make it clear that you are not in this town forever, and that someone else will eventually be arranging the Techwick.
I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind.
You wear a nametag but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that names are really unimportant, that they encapsulate blood and sinew, feelings and thoughts, and that’s what really matters. What really matters is that you are a bunch of indescribable moments and buzzing atoms and that people will remember you the same way they remember that one particular rainbow over that one particular Walmart parking lot.
I remember you. You went to Brighton, right? What are you doing these days? God, I’m so sorry, but your name is totally slipping my mind. You broke eight minutes for your 2k time, though. I remember that.
You talk with the former boys crew coach, and some distant, buried part of you swells when he mentions your 2k time. Because you were the best. The best by far. You remember lining up in the small asphalt lot by the bank of the Genesee–girls and boys teams–in order of fastest to slowest. Boys were on either side of you and that moment remains treasured in memory because gender didn’t matter; you were still one of the motherfucking fastest.
Sometimes you forget that you were an athlete. That you won medals. That you raced with the University of Rochester team in the summer because you could hold your own. That you would come home with skin dangling from your palms and Spandex plastered to your shivering body from the rain.
That was a different you, and the strangest thing about living in this city is confronting shadow versions of yourself, the you that’s only alive in memory.
What no one ever tells you is that it’s OK to leave people behind. That not everyone deserves a place in your ripening future. That it’s OK to be the nameless rainbow above the Walmart parking lot, a singular moment captured without depth, without acknowledging that two minutes later the light had shifted and the rainbow was gone.
I remember you.