Phantom Limbs

It is pretty much universally agreed that as we age, our circles diminish. This is simply part of the deal we’re forced to sign when we draw our first breath, when we open our eyes. The people we love today will not be the people we love in five years, and the people we love in ten years will not be the people we loved five years prior. The people you spend most of your time with today could be gone tomorrow. The exceptions are very few.

This is particularly evident at my current juncture, the early 20s. Exiting high school, exiting college, entering a new city–there have been plenty of exit points for even those I considered to be the sturdiest pillars within my personal architecture. Once load-bearing walls, they’re toppled and supplanted by self-supplied scaffolding. The toppling can be done by either party. Sometimes it’s teamwork. The names come to mind as I type out the words.

We outgrow, we are outgrown, we evolve and see the evolution of others as devolution. Sometimes with bitterness. What’s best for them is something that includes no room for you, and what’s best for you includes no room for them. As one of my favorite writers, Kent Russell, puts it: “human beings are not meant to go hand-in-hand the whole stretch of the way.” To attempt to override this is to be doomed to fail.

So we diverge, but with so many social media outlets available to us (the term social media is a pollutant–as is what the term represents itself), the people we disconnect ourselves from remain present in a new and empty abundance. We see their pictures, we see their Snapchat stories. We know where they are, who they’re with, and how many hours ago they were doing whatever it is they felt compelled to share. We are kept in touch without contact, and we are kept this way in real time.

This can make us very sad, in a happy sort of way. As I said earlier, as I type, names come to mind. I see these people looking profoundly happy–and I am reminded that these people are beautiful. I am reminded of when their beauty was a part of my life. I see photographs of these people smiling and am happy to see it, to remember times we may have smiled with each other, to know that they are smiling now, sitting next to some people I’m completely unfamiliar with. To see somebody happy is a beautiful thing. To see it after you’ve made your exit–that’s still beautiful, but there’s an undertow of melancholy dragging that beauty out to darker seas.

The social vestige of a snapchat friendship or a mutual Instagram follow serves as a reminder that these people are happy without you–and in our selfishness it often feels as if this happiness is almost contingent upon our absence. To not be included makes us wonder if they were ever happy when we were still in the picture. The sadder and truer fact is that our absence isn’t even a factor. And yet we look to these people we once shared ourselves with, people whose most intimate secrets we know and who know ours in turn–and it’s just a digital photograph on a screen. In this reduction, they are almost amplified to a higher frequency in our brains than when we knew them in the flesh.

It’s a nostalgic and anonymous voyeurism. I can stare at people smiling without me for hours, and though that smile might’ve only lasted for the duration of a photograph, to me it lasted hours. You miss people. Your circle shrinks, you are supplanted where you leave your void. You witness all of this when you really shouldn’t have to, but to delete somebody, to unfollow, would send a different kind of message. But sometimes you want to because everybody else is fucking smiling, and here you are, after your exit, not. Staring at a phone alone in your bed, on the train, at your desk, on the toilet. Living a full and eventful and promising life, but without these people you were once so bonded to, who you still have a phantom limb of fondness for.

These digitized smiles of others never die, and like we said, they exist because you’re not there. Or at least that’s what you tell yourself, because at least then you’d be important in some sort of way.

The concept of the clean break is dead. Before we learned to live the way we live, if a friendship was cut off–because of whatever reason–it was cut off. There was no Facebook to stalk. That was it. Now, there’s so much more than just Facebook to look at, to “keep in touch”–but like we said, in a contact-free way.

I will admit that this felt like something I had to write, though I’m less than pleased with the product. It’s got some good lines, but overall it doesn’t get across what I’ve been trying to get across. Which is fine. It’s a blog. But as I was eating my lunch these words came to mind, and as I did my dishes I had to stop halfway through and type. Some form of outline would’ve helped, but I’m just dumping stuff out here, which is important to do sometimes.

To refer back to Kent Russell, there’s an interview I listened to where he’s asked about his social media presence. He doesn’t have any, which is pretty unheard of. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I believe it was something along the lines of that it’s hard enough to be a human being already, let alone one on Facebook or Twitter, whatever. Like I said earlier, they’re pollutants. You have access to things you don’t need to see–and you’re depriving yourself the “clean” part of a “clean break.” Sometimes you need to let things go, let them die. A lot of the time, these things are people. As I said, we outgrow and we are outgrown, there’s no sense in wasting your time in the voyeurism of lurking behind your screen, staring at somebody who’s frozen and looking at a camera, not at you.

 

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