I died in my sleep last night. When next I awoke, we were living in a stranger’s photograph. It was the summer we spent in Townsend. Love was exploding into our lives, making us feel as tall as the mountains we were ascending. We were background fodder in a photograph of a family from Wisconsin. A crisp mountain breeze swept the ridge below and blew your hair into my face. It tickled, we laughed, and our lips became locked in a forever-kiss as a biker from Montana snapped their photo.
I’ve been so lonesome since you went away. I used to wallow in your absence in the days after your departure. Our empty home would listen like a passive deity as I practiced saying all the things I never said, hoping fate would orchestrate one more chance. It never did.
But as your lips pressed firmly to mine and we felt that exact kiss at that exact moment for a second time… you evaporated like a thought bubble in a motion comic. The watercolor mountains wept and faded into nothing. I fell out of frame into the abyss below. Swirling waves of obscurity carried my body ever deeper, as though the entire world were draining itself.
Rock bottom was a twelve by eighteen photo of Pensacola Beach and my trunks were already on when I hit. The artist was a photographer from Oregon. She visited twenty-three beaches before finding her shot. We never knew she was there.
A burnt orange sky on the horizon clung to its last bit of blue. The tide had come in to feed on leftover sand castles. Your head was on my shoulder. You told me I had the memory of an Aquarian and tied a string around my finger. I promised it would never happen again. Time washed the red right out of it, but I died with it around my finger. Even death, the absolute clean slate, couldn’t force me to forget.
A new me stood within the old that you knew. I wanted to plead, and beg you not to let me off so easy but our beach melted into the Persistence of Memory. Our bodies dissolved into sand as well fell through the contours of an hour glass. I felt the nothing around me convulse and then expand in every direction, creating a dark room of shared memory.
Thousands of pinholes, suspended in space and time, opened themselves to me. With my prying eyes, I could see contained within each, a living memory of frozen snapshots. You and I played a walk-on role in every scene. A Laotian couple caught a glimpse of us passing through Magic Kingdom. They were aww-ssshucks posing with Goofy when we crossed the bridge into Adventureland. You were twenty-five years old and it was your first visit. Our excitement glowed in the afternoon sun.
Through another I saw an early Christmas morn. A father had taken a picture of his six-year-old daughter riding her first bike. You and I were on the front porch of the apartment. I had just surprised you with Max, our first puppy. He had peed all over your favorite blanket, the one with the holes for your toes. My head was thrown back in a fit of laughter. Max was licking your disgruntled face, tearing away any shred of residual anger. He always loved you the most.
I’ve spent eternity with you since last night. We shared a good life, you and me. I know it wasn’t all ups. But the downs, well, they never wallowed in ruin, did they? You asked me once if I believed in Heaven. I still don’t know when or where this undiscovered country exists. But maybe… maybe the lesson here is this: Heaven is how love looks at you when no one is watching, and Hell is not paying attention.