A few days ago I visited the new Natural History Museum of Utah at Rio Tinto. Dinosaur bones, stuffed birds, beaded moccasins, time lines and murals of soil stratification, an ant farm. All the good stuff. Usually these kinds of places remind me how insignificant my existence is – how vast the cosmos, the incomprehensible math that conceives of time, the millions and billions of things in all their various forms that are living and dying at any given time. Sometimes feeling insignificant is comforting to me; it’s a relief to know that whatever may be weighing on my conscience, the schedules, the bills, the loneliness, wouldn’t even register on the timeline, wouldn’t make the sidebar of a history book, doesn’t affect the turning of the earth, the changing of the seasons or the evolution of a species. Sometimes feeling insignificant is horrifying: will I just pass from this earth and not even register on the timeline? How can I make the sidebar of a history book…any book? Does my life carry any more weight than the teeny lives of those tiny ants?
This time my visit made me think about relics, specifically, how averse I am to the relics of my relationships.
I’m guilty of staying in a relationship long after its expiration date. My exit strategy is always labored, uncertain, awkward. But once it’s over, it’s completely over, done, and I make quick work of anything remaining that might remind me of the other person, our life and time together. Into the trash go the photos and notes, to the Goodwill any shared purchases, furniture, household items, matching jackets. If he doesn’t want it, I discard it. I live in fear of opening a drawer or cupboard to find a lingering memento, a project, a scrap of paper with his handwriting. I get obsessive about purging the remnants and can go to extremes to wipe the slate clean. Many times I’ve changed apartments and twice I’ve moved to another state just to escape the burden of reminiscence.
But, unfortunately, it’s an insignificant portion of a relationship that is represented by material stuff. It is the non-material bits and pieces, the sights, the sounds and the smells of “us” that is the essence of who we were together. Those bodiless things, despite my best efforts to ignore and avoid them, cannot be abandoned. Those are the relics, the leftovers, that are the quicksand of my landscape.
During the day I can easily go about my life, unfettered by the weight of remembrance and my past. This may seem totally out of character, I do have a blog about love and dating, so I probably come across as fairly sappy, living in a dream world, wistful and longing for a better place and a better time. That’s not how I’d describe myself: I’d say I’m mostly practical and pragmatic, a realist and somewhat cynical. It’s the rare movie romance that doesn’t make me roll my eyes and grit my teeth: the forced sentimentality, puh-leese. I am not the girl who has been planning her dream wedding from the time she was born. In fact, I can’t think of anything that would make me feel more self-conscious than flouncing down the aisle in a giant white dress in front of a bunch of people. Honestly, I’d rather die.
But, after every day comes a new night and with it, brutal insomnia. I rarely make it through a night. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock and it begins: the relentless clockworks of my brain, the anxiety of muscles, restless nervous worry and then nostalgia creeps, like frost, into the cracks. Into the tiniest spaces, the smallest flaws, it penetrates, it spreads and expands, nearly imperceptibly, and makes them bigger. Soon, even the sleekest façade is laced with the varicose veins, the ropey anchor lines: the pain of memory.
Into the quicksand I slip, into the reliquary of nostalgia. It houses, like a museum, our dusty specimens. Spontaneous road trips. My forehead resting between your shoulder blades, my arm resting in the hollow of your hip. Cooking dinner together. Waiting for you to come home. You kissing my eyelids and the tip of my nose. Countless hours in the used book store. Taking a hike together. Messages on the machine ending with “love you, bye.” Reading out loud. Living room dance parties. Late night Chinese take-out. Early morning coffee. Singing aloud in the car. Inside jokes. Watching movies on our crummy T.V. Signing Christmas cards with both of our names. Your hand on my knee, me in the passenger seat. Your arms. Your eyebrows. Folding your clothes. The sound of your old car pulling in the driveway. My cheek on your chest. All those songs. Staying up too late talking. Love letters. Squished up together on the tilt-a-whirl. Hiding my face in your shoulder at a scary movie. Wearing your t-shirts to bed. Your silly notes on the grocery list. And the sound of your breathing in the middle of the night.