Note: This post originally appeared on We Poets Show It, a blog celebrating different forms of art. Recently, that website was forced to shut down. So, in an attempt to keep this story in the VN mythos, it has been recovered from the Internet Graveyard and re-posted here for your (maybe) pleasure.
“Nearly every artifact has a story connected to it, whether it be a hole in a helmet or a belt that a medic carried around with him as he treated the wounded on the beach.” -Stephen Ambrose
I often mine old stacks of cocktail napkins with memories scribbled in blue and black ink. I’m looking for inspiration from some word or phrase or maybe a drawing crudely sketched in the low light of a bar at night. I’ve told a number of these stories already, and I still have many others to tell, but this isn’t one of those stories. This is something else.
Last night while flipping through old napkins and pages in old journals, I found this page with one line of writing that is different from the rest. What it says and the story behind it is infinitely less important than what it signifies, though. This is an accidental artifact—words scribbled in my journal in a script that is foreign. These words belonged to Jane.
Jane was the one that hurt, not because it ended but because of how. She was the villain hanging from the cliff—the one who reaches out for help only to pull more people down with her when she falls.
When Jane moved out, I looked for something to burn—a picture, a shirt, a note, a shopping list. I wanted to hold something in my hand that proved that she had been real, and I wanted to destroy it because that’s how people deal with pain. We set fire to the libraries of memory. We burn the artifacts stored in the museums in which we live—our apartments, our homes.
For those who care, this was a running joke that we had for a while after we started dating. Her office mate thought I was harassing her when we first started dating. I guess it was because Jane was generally acknowledged as “out of my league” for whatever reason. Maybe it was true. Maybe it wasn’t. At any rate, the idea of me “stalking” her was our cute, months one-through-three joke.
And I hadn’t thought about it. For years. And all I can think of now is the night that Darwin and Mike came over and how much I wanted to turn up the music in my apartment that was too big for one man, and let the memories burn. I wonder why I didn’t just burn that journal, which is in so many ways a memoir of Jane-induced self-doubt and heartache. For pages I try to convince myself that I’m not a broken man. For pages I tried to convince myself that Jane and I would make it, that if I could just fix something about myself, I could save it.
But none of that was ever true. Jane and reality are two things that I have a hard time fitting into the same thought. She never seemed quite real. She was a doll, an act. Her stage make-up was thick, her laugh loud and forced. And when she moved out of our apartment, she was careful to take everything that we had bought and created together with her. And so, I hadn’t seen evidence of her existence since then. But there, scribbled on the wall of paper in the cave of an old journal are her words.
I’m beyond burning memories at this point, and I could never bring myself to burn (another) page of my journal. It is interesting, though, how we carry these old artifacts with us, sometimes for years, and we may never know.