One day I’ll understand why I did it, reverted to the life I had, pretended I’d wanted it, that there weren’t pieces of me previously – my shirt buttons, shoes, elastic and stitching – that were all after you, ready to pinch you, shrink you in hot washes, seal you in packets and watch your breath collect as condensation in droplets at the bottom of bags. You made me forget the world ended as it ended around us and I never called your authority or questioned you having it and we didn’t need escape plans: I practiced balance with my yoga daily and I stretched you out on sleeping bags as my child slept and you said you’d play a part, you’d be a person I might need and you’d touch me when I asked and you’d have a flashlight handy and you’d walk me in the middle of the night when I needed a piss and you’d hold my unwashed hand on the way back, ready to own every inch as god watched. You’re dead now.
I looked for you but you were someone else. Your name was the same, uppers and lowers in the right places. The photo couldn’t lie the way some do: I’ve seen a professional go to work and smooth broken skin like custard.
You reminded me of islands in your absence. I was the water and the land and the lighthouses and lifeboats; you were somewhere else.
None of my tools mattered, weren’t solutions like prayer is in some sectors or helplines can be for right problems. My words fit crosswords but not the hole in your lip or your nose bridge or your left hip, more prominent than the right.
I imagined ransoms and a man search and a bot crawling through pages, lists, numbers, parsing your constructions.
My cursor didn’t pop on your name, didn’t flash your profile. It sat simply, like the internet did in the nineties, and you became Benjamin Allen, the next one.
Jack says, “After a while you start drawing conclusions, finding connections in the strangest places, seeing one thing as another, knowing you’ve had that conversation, understand what someone’s like from a sentence, and skin’s a simple cover and clothes dress you up, but ultimately, it’s easy to figure out everybody and, eventually, you can’t tell the difference.”
I ask, “So me. You could replace me? It’d be a simple process to put me down and pick up another?”
“Not exactly,” Jack replies. “I just get this feeling lately, watching films based on historical fiction, and I can’t tell the difference, genuinely, don’t know which ones are based on fact and which ones are made up and I wonder if it matters or if ultimately, everything’s someone’s imagination, even this moment, is like another person’s dream or a line in a book or a lyric or an example of how people aren’t always what you imagine.”
But Jack’s exactly who I pictured, from the shade of his hair to the cracks in his soles. He’s exactly the person I picked before I was old enough to speak, before I knew the point to any of this, before I wondered if there was one.