The first thing we need you to do, Mr. Barish, is to go home and collect everything you own that has some association with Clementine. Anything. We’ll use these items to create a map of Clementine in your brain. So we’ll need photos, clothing, gifts, books she may have bought you, CDs you may have bought together, journal entries. You’ll want to empty your home–you’ll want to empty your life–of Clementine. And after the mapping is done, our technicians will do the erasing in your home tonight. That way, when you awake in the morning, you find yourself at home in your own bed, as if nothing has happened–a new life awaiting you.
–Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
When I was a kid, in fifth grade or something, my grandfather had a stroke. My fifth grade brain couldn’t comprehend what that meant–that his brain temporarily didn’t get enough blood, which would lead to some of his brain cells dying, which would significantly change the man that I knew. My grandfather was a hell of a man. He had great Alabama sayings like “I’m gonna get your nanny-goat.” He took long walks around the neighborhood every weekend morning. He told the most wonderful stories that, even as a kid, I looked forward to.
He had worked hard his whole life, and he was enjoying retirement. Then, one day, his body decided it was time to shake things up. He would never be the same man. He would struggle to remember the names of people in his stories. He would get frustrated. His social filter was different, and he cursed more. He was more abrupt. Meaner. I loved him still, but it felt different. He wasn’t the man I grew up knowing. That man said goodbye before his body actually stopped working. This isn’t really about him, but I needed a way to jump off.
We–me and you–used to talk about doing each other this favor where one of us would never let the other live without proper mental faculties. If my brain started to go, I would just want to die. And I asked you to help me do it. I think on some level, that’s what love is–not just asking the other person to be at the end, but trusting the other person to know when the end should be.
Endings are tough in whatever shape they come to us. Every ending is a little death–sometimes expected and sometimes unexpected. A stroke will sneak up on a man in his recliner and erase parts of his memory. A conversation will start during a Netflix marathon–not designed to end it all, but designed to rock the boat. When endings begin with words, the first words are never the last. It’s just not that easy. Not for me.
People react differently to endings. Some people claw and scratch and fight to hold on to every scrap of what used to be. Not that those people are fighting the end–we know we can’t fight the end. But they want the memories. They want to remember the stories. They want to remember because to those people, anything worth ending is worth remembering. In some way.
But there are others who want to erase. And no one can blame them for that. I don’t hate people in my past who have tried to erase me because I have also tried to erase people–packed their things up into boxes and shipped them away or piled them up on logs and burned them until the ashes of those memories floated away on the wind.
If you haven’t seen it, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about this guy, Joel Barish, who is having all memory of his ex, Clementine, erased. She erased him first, and then he decides to erase her. There is this doctor in town that does this procedure. The audience gets to watch him navigate his memories as they start to crumble around him. He is very self-aware in the memories, and in those memories, Clementine is aware of what is happening, too. Over the course of the movie, he stumbles across happy memories, and he wants so badly to remember them, but that isn’t how it works in the movie. It’s all or nothing, and when he realizes he has some memories he wants to keep, it’s too late to take it back.
This isn’t the best way to write about what we were and what you were to me. That will come later, maybe. And this isn’t the place for apologies or for very personal revelations. But you have always been a part of this–always were a part of this. And I wanted to say goodbye to you here, even if you never see it.
And for the people who stumble across this–because I won’t be posting it in the usual places–I know it’s fragmented. We’ll get back on track next week.