I’ve heard people say that when you’re about to die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. But this death was of a thing, not a person. And the memories rushing in were what I was left with that following Saturday afternoon when he walked into my apartment, kissed me on the mouth, sat me down on my bed, and with my hands in his, he told me it was over.
It was more than I could comprehend. Some days, it still is. I find myself searching for him on the sidewalk and in my mind. And once I start rummaging through those old microfilms of memory, it’s hard to make myself stop.
Suddenly, I remember the recording.
I make documentary-style radio pieces, and am prone to recording sound a lot—not always with fancy gear, sometimes just with an app on my phone. And I record a lot, always with an ambitious plan that one day I’ll do something with it. I usually don’t. But for me, to hit record is to feel alive, to be moved to capture the times and places when I am happy and inspired—so much so that I want to take the moment home with me, so that later, I can go through my cherished collections like shiny pebbles brought home from the playground.
A few weeks before the big breakup, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the operating system on my iPhone. I was annoyed because this meant clearing 3 gigabytes of valuable podcast space, or the other sound files I had cluttering the corners—the mother I’d followed through the European gallery at the Met, trying to discuss art theory with her young daughters in front of Monets and Renoirs; a particularly beautiful busker on the 2 train; a snippet of conversation, mostly filled with laughter, from my grandfather’s birthday celebration last year (it was a little late, the family was a little drunk). None of these files are recorded particularly well—you can barely hear the action above the jumbled ambient noise and the sound that clumsy fingers, surprised to be recording, make when they grip a microphone. Call me sentimental, call me a sound hoarder, but these little bundles of ones and zeros bring a smile to my face.
So I’m carefully combing through my portable catalogue to determine what I could live without, and that’s how I found it: 34 seconds of something called “drew dog beach.” I pressed play.
What you’re hearing might not sound like much, but for me, listening to this clip transports me to a place with weight and dimension and color. It’s mostly me trying to get my microphone-shy boyfriend to talk. To tell me what he feels in this moment when the relationship is new and everything seems right and beautiful. He’s laughing at me because I’m being ridiculous, although he was always a man of few, well-chosen words. And then the kiss. He probably kisses me to get me to stop trying to make him talk. I guess it worked, because that’s where the recording cuts off. But it’s a sound so sweet, and so genuine. In an instant, I smell saltwater, grass, and his shampoo. I feel skin and the late summer air and the feeling of not being afraid to be completely myself in front of someone I care about.