Of Phantom Memories
They were sitting together on the bridge side by side fingers entwined like lovers do, her right in his left, her right over whatever was left for him to give. He had lived quite a life into the number his age could sum – been there done that all. Nothing excited him except having her fingers entwined in his.
She, on the other hand, had managed to get out of the mess her dysfunctional life had thrown at her into the number hers could sum up. Nothing excited her, done that, lived through, hadn’t been all there yet. Nothing excited her except having his fingers entwined in hers.
They weren’t concerned about technicalities like excitement or age or place or time or family or backgrounds – they got how lovers got when in love – CAREFREE!
Two years later…
If you could take a good look across the street from a distance, you could see the back of a woman dressed in a floral dress, as you would in Spring. The sun was setting across the horizon over the skyline like a tapestry on a limitless wall. The breeze and her short hair were in full swing. She looked the perfect picture of a carefree woman, if you looked from a distance.
Up close, she was still seated on the same bridge her fingers empty, but curled as if anticipating something, a nervous memory, like a phantom limb, she could feel his fingers entwined in hers. The breeze and the scent still felt the same – phantom memories – memories of a haunting you wanted to get rid of – the phantom that latched on to you and gnawed away steadily at your soul!
It was almost twilight, the time when you would see the sun blending in with the sky or so it appeared. She was trying to blend in with the world but they never really blended well – the world and she. The Sun can never blend with the sky and even if she ends up meeting the sea somehow – it’s only an illusion – they interact but are still far away.
The short walk back home felt far away, on Saturday evenings in particular, in Spring, when the breeze fluttered her dress, and played with her hair, and whispered in her ear things that he used to – phantom memories! It was important to put these away from her head and live. She needed to move on – it had already been two years.
The apartment block was dainty and beautiful, unlike her, she had square shoulders and curves, somehow she was pretty but never beautiful. It was square and cirlces – that’s how she thought she looked – squares into circles. That’s why she felt he stopped loving her abruptly so – grotesque the way she looked to induce such disgust in someone who so loved you. Grotesque it felt when he felt repulsed at the very thought of putting his lips on hers – Grotesque Phantom Memories!
It wasn’t love at first sight. Dysfunctional ones either fall in love at once or never fall in love at all! She fell in love all at once but not at the first sight. She knew that somehow she wasn’t cut out to be in a relationship, and yet she attempted to. And, there she was two years later – hopelessly in love, unrequited, one sided love that she thought existed only in books, or on attention-seeking instagrams or with girlfriends who had a psychological disorder!
How could two months rule over two years? There was nothing rational about how she felt. It was erratic and irrational – her choices, her words and her thoughts when she was with him – the racing thoughts kept their loop going as she kept pacing towards her apartment.
The apartment entry was neat and well guarded with a CCTV confirming that ‘They Were Watching You’ so you were safe or perhaps even if you weren’t and the deed was done – eventually it would be easier for them to find and nail the one who did it – and the illusion of safety would once again be preserved after that exercise – short term memories!
She smiled at the doorman, took the elevator and unlocked her apartment on the 9th floor. The apartment like the building was dainty and beautiful – two rooms, a gallery, kitchen, two bathrooms – 24×7 water – what else did a tiny creature made of square and circles need!
Minimal in decor like the owner herself, she threw away what she couldn’t maintain, she disliked any long term relationship even if they were with things – in fact, she had cultivated quite a distaste of relationships. She couldn’t maintain things, a strong proponent of living life low maintenance not because she was spiritual but because she didn’t have a choice.
She had never quite had choices whether it was with her family, her lovers who kept leaving her abruptly one after the other or her favorite objects that kept disappearing despite her best attempts to keep them guarded just like Phantom Memories she secretly wanted to keep safe in her heart forever.
She hadn’t a choice when it came to cleaning her apartment because she hadn’t the strength to take up chores – night after night she would wake up exhausted – like her memories she would look pretty much like a Phantom herself, pale and weak, a grotesque monstrosity she felt. It was tough to go about the next working day.
Fibromyalgia – yes maybe for the rest of the world – but she knew what it meant. It would be a chore to go to work the next day and work on designing people’s homes, buildings, offices, premises – but she had liked it, one of the rare few choices she had in her life and she had accepted it.
She picked up her clothes lying on the couch, some on the floor, an object or two flung far away in the room, she started grunting and rolling her eyes like you would if your little pet was upto mischief when you weren’t home.
A glass of red wine, a couple of cheese crackers and maybe some spaghetti she had ordered in – that was a regular dinner. No calls and several messages from friends and family that were answered with single emojis and they knew she was alive, for now.
She hadn’t planned on killing herself; always a fighter, but she didn’t quite understand her enemy, who or what she was fighting each night. It usually began around 3 am sometimes as early as 11 pm – but it did begin.
She’d wake up from sleep and start talking to herself, ‘Neil, Neil, Neil, Neil, I love Neil, I want to go back to Neil, that’s the only man meant for me. What a whore, what a bitch what a slut, you need to be with Neil and no one else, he’s the one meant for you.’
There she was again night after night reliving the same thing. At first, they were thoughts, then they became words she would speak out loud, then with any impulse to resist the thoughts she would start convulsing. The body would bend in strange corners, the curves misshapen like a Yoga Guru gone manic!
Finally, her body would be exhausted enough for her to fall asleep into deep unconsciousness, if she weren’t awake the rest of the night.
But that wasn’t the worst, the worst was when she’d be asleep and feel weight on her body almost choking her and doing whatever it seemed like a ‘he’ would do. There was no ‘Me Too’ for her nor the CCTV could catch whatever was happening.
All she could see was a blinding white light forcing her at least once a week.
The next morning a shower, a cup of coffee and painkillers would sustain the illusion that the world is perfect just the way it is. She would smile, smell the flowers, put on her favorite dress and leave.
The episodes first began when she was with ‘Him’. It had been four years since she had last been in a relationship with a man. She had never been in love until Leo came along. And, in just two weeks, she felt like maybe he was the one.
Neil was the closest to being the one four years before Leo came along. He had battered and broken her spirit in more ways than one, but she was a fighter, always had been. One day she called him over to the cafe and told him, ‘It’s over.’
He had loved her as the predator loves the prey giving him the ultimate thrill of a kill in just the right doses, someone you could manipulate and keep caged and convince them they still had free will.
She took whatever was left of her Free Will and walked away. She only needed to walk away and that was the end of it.
Four years later she met Leo online. Those taps that actually ‘click’ for real on dating apps. From the moment she met him, the feeling in her gut grew strong like a storm in her life was about to brew. Her instinct told her to turn around and run away. But it was important to give this a chance instead of turning around and run away.
It only took two weeks for her to realize that she had never quite loved anyway ever in her life. It was strange, this feeling of longing, inside her gut. Their conversations over coffee and walks in the park after catching the last show despite being ordinary felt just right. Her life hadn’t been ordinary, it had simply been what it was – one story after another – she hadn’t a choice in the matter – the ultimate outcome was that she became different.
At first, he liked how different she was. He’d tell her of places he had been, women he had met, why some of them were ‘batshit crazy’ especially the ones he’d met online – funny stories, dark secrets and deepest desires over lost dreams – three spectacular weeks were lived as if they were but seconds. Fingers entwined and short kisses that felt like they lasted forever – nothing had ever felt like this to her before.
With spectacular experiences, you often encounter challenges of epic proportions at least she did.
The feeling in the gut had steadily kept growing worse, the voices in the head grew thicker – racing thoughts, sweaty palms and anxiety at its peak. She would start waking up in the middle of the night, ‘Neil, Neil, Neil – all I want is Neil, Someone please take me back to my Neil. No one can love me like Neil. I love him – that’s who I want.’ That’s all she would mumble as she would wake up in the middle of the night. She failed to understand why she would blurt out something she didn’t feel at all with such ferocious intensity.
Her behavior at work had changed, she had become the ‘resting bitch faced face’ at the office. She started feeling empty inside day after day. The moment she’d speak to him, she would light up inside but something was blocking her joy and her tongue. She kept on becoming more and more incoherent. There was little you could make sense of what she was saying.
It had become a ritual, an ordinary ritual, she would fall asleep at night after texting him, ‘Good night.’ And, the bad night would begin. Just like other days, she texted him and fell asleep on an ordinary Tuesday. That’s when she saw the nightmare – one of those she hadn’t got used to just yet.
She saw a creature made of white light that hugged ‘Him’ tight while he soundly slept in his bed latching on to the left hand side of his body. And, she woke up seeing how the creature entwined his body as he lay fast asleep. It appeared that insomnia was about to set in her life. Insomnia was never his problem – it was hers. That’s what she wanted – no problems for him – only for hers.
The feeling in the Gut echoed, ‘Something has changed. He has changed.’
She called him within minutes, a sleepy voice replied, ”Yeah I am okay. But you don’t seem to be. Are you alright? Was it another nightmare? Don’t worry. I am heading off to work early today. Will speak to you later. Take care. Mwahh”
She knew in her gut that something had changed. The gut feeling was hardly ever wrong.
Later first became hours then days then weeks – he had grown distant. She had become more incoherent, frantic – all she could see was the creature hugging him tight when he slept.
She was losing her mind. He figured out that maybe she really was and each message he had to reply became a chore, an annoyance, irritation – something difficult – you don’t date to complicate your life. And, he grew distant.
The feeling in the gut had now progressed to the lower back, toes, arms, neck and the back of the head. Like an electric current, the impulses had reached her jaw – the joints of the jaw – the hostile take over it seemed was complete.
She kept trying, always a fighter, to say one thing but ended up saying another. He wasn’t there either, life felt empty. The creature would sometimes appear in her room some nights – the white light in a dark shadow – throwing things off the table – and so she learnt to sleep with lights on. She learnt to sleep imagining she’d fit perfectly into his arms – and how they had felt safe once upon a time.
She convinced herself that she was just imagining things and it felt real because she was delusional and hallucinating but as long as she could go about her life it didn’t matter. By this time, nothing did.
That’s how life progressed or regressed for two years and now she was back in her apartment having wine, cheese crackers and spaghetti for dinner. A quick shower, replying to messages and falling asleep.
The night was one of the worst nights, the creature appeared and forced himself on her like he would, and said ‘Neil loves you, you should get back to Neil.’ Just then, something ruptured or maybe a wall fell down with a thump, or perhaps there was an earthquake somewhere.
She held the light in her hands as tightly as she could and with all her might pushed him away flinging the creature far off to the wall above her table – things fell. And the white light disappeared in a flash literally.
”What the hell was that? He is real, the creature is real. I haven’t lost my mind.”
She called up her colleague, a sort of friend who was also a close neighbor, to come over right away.
Sue and her boyfriend AJ came by the apartment in less than twenty minutes.
”Are you okay?”
”Yes I am.”
”What happened? Did a thief break in?”
”I don’t know something happened and I need you to check for me whether it’s real or not.”
”What!! What have you been smoking girl?”
“No. I am serious. Please both of you need to see this.”
“Umm okay,” said an apprehensive Sue while motioning to her boyfriend that she’s Cuckoo.
The bedroom was a mess. The table off the wall was broken – the glass items now shards.
“Can you see that?”
“What boo? There’s nothing there.”
“What?! You mean you don’t see this broken table and this mess?”
“Nope. I don’t. Okay seeing your face. Sorry, Boo, we were just messing with ya!”
AJ adds, “You have the worst sense of humour doll. Yes, we see this fine mess. But how did that happen?”
The date was March 30, 2018. She made a mental note – it was the day when the miracle happened – the creature was real!