Now Reading: Love, Fear, Cameras

Wren Long, October 2023

He broke up with me. Slowly, and mournfully, like a toddler pulling at a band-aid, wincing as glue pulled skin, he left. He was apologetic. He was kind. Even at the end he put effort into setting some example. His mission, he said, was to show me that I deserved to be loved kindly. In the end, he hurt me kindly too.

It was like death. I know, we all know, that we are going to die, but nobody believes it. Nobody spends a lifetime in abject horror about the prospect of its end. If we did that, there'd be no point to living at all. It's a highschool relationship. They're meant to be like disposable cameras. Make memories, develop, discard. That's all they're really for in the end. That's all any of this was supposed to be for.

Then I, of course, at the end of a day at Carowinds, would always hesitate with the last step. My mother with the roll of film safely stowed away, and I with a plastic shell hovering over the garbage can in the parking lot. We have to leave now. We have to drive back up to Maryland. The sun's setting, and Aunt Lisa has work in the morning. We're all tired, and there's nothing more for us here. The last thing to do is drop the camera, but I can't. I had carried it around with me all day. Picture after picture of roller coasters, face painting booths, and cheesy fries, taken with a satisfying click of that particular button. Mom plucks it out of my hand and tosses it. There are other disposable cameras in the world. If you really want, we can buy one from a CVS on the drive back home. I didn't want just any camera. I wanted the one I had made memories with.

That's the risk with new things. Cameras, houses, stages of life, they aren't the same as what you once had. The past is knowable but unobtainable. That's what I worry about. That's what I always worry about when things change; when people leave. I'm scared that no matter what else I encounter in life, I'll never feel the same joy, the same adventure, as I did with whatever person/place/thing I'm losing. So, that's why I insisted on clinging to empty camera shells. Even after there was no film, even after the battery died and the flash burnt out. The shutter got stuck, and it stopped making the funny sounds I liked. I kept it still. It made me happy once. One day, years ago, that camera was my favorite thing ever.

One day, four months ago, he and I danced together in beautiful dresses. We fell asleep to the sounds of old childhood favorites. We laughed with each other. I pressed kisses wherever I could reach him. He played with my hair. Four months ago, he was my favorite person ever. Even though we barely spoke anymore, even though I couldn't feel his hands in mine. Even though our skype calls were growing duller by the week, he made me happy once, so I had to keep him.

He didn't feel the same. Didn't love me anymore. It was poor object permanence, he said. No longer in front of him, the joy of me didn't exist. I guess I get it. It's better this way, probably, hopefully, than clinging to long-dead young love. Dead for him anyway. For me, like anything else that I'd ever loved, I delayed the grief until the last moment.

It was a molded gingerbread house, still sitting, half-eaten, on the dining room table in March. It was aging out of a favorite summer program. It was the orange and black brittle plastic of a ten-year-old, dusty, disposable camera.