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JUST A THOUGHT: The Inventory (and Etiquette) of Forgetting

By Rachel Shope

The problem with cutting someone out of your life is that it’s not a quick or clean process. It takes time just to accept that your relationship—romantic or otherwise—is causing more harm than good, and once that acceptance sinks in, the actual ending of things almost always tends to draw itself out. You take your decaying connection with both hands and wring it out like a washcloth, trying to squeeze out the very last suds of feelings.

Then comes the bulk of the work: cleaning out the room in your mind where the person you evicted used to dwell. It is a tedious job. You start with the obvious things: pictures, text messages, saved voicemails, birthday gifts, movies you saw together. You collect them and put them in a heap on the floor. Then you have to go smaller: songs they turned you on to, notes you exchanged that you folded up and stuck in your pocket, the purple ink pen they gave you because they remembered that purple is your favorite color, a shell they found on vacation once and carried back for you. Toss those into the pile, too. Scour the corners. Knock down the cobwebs of memory. Put it all in the middle of the room.

And then what?

This is where you fumble. This is where the process of emotional eviction seems to look at you blankly and shrug as if to say, “It’s up to you.” It would seem like the easiest thing to do would be to light a match and set it all on fire. Forget it. Burn your mind clean. But you see in the heap reminders of why you kept this person around for so long, and so you hesitate. You debate. What rules of etiquette apply here?

Is the person in these saved pictures to blame for your heartache? Can you justifiably direct your anger at the person who composed these text messages (the good ones, before things got nasty)? Is it fair to rid your memory of the friend who stumbled home with you at 5 a.m. and reminded you not to drunkenly shave your legs again in the process of moving on? How much do you owe the somebody you used to know after they have abandoned you, leaving a malicious stranger in their place?

Maybe it would be best to rid yourself of all of it; rip it all out at once, like waxing an eyebrow. Remove the good stuff, too—the follicles of the intimacy you shared. Untag yourself from pictures on Facebook and Instagram. Delete the songs from your iPod. Swipe left on your entire texting history with them. It would hurt at first, but then it would be gone. Or maybe you keep a few things for yourself, as evidence that you are not delusional. See? They weren’t always like this. We had good times once. Maybe you keep the good stuff, but you fold it up and store it somewhere hidden. Out of sight, out of mind—until you need to defend your choices to yourself. Maybe you put it in storage and get rid of it little by little, until the entire experience is eroded and smoothed over. There is no proper protocol.

And maybe, most likely, there is no proper protocol because it doesn’t matter what you do with the detritus of you relationship. Whether you obliterate it or preserve it in a glass case makes no difference because, if you’re having this debate at all, you will never be able to forget. By the time that you have enough “stuff” to ponder keeping or destroying, every aspect that you ever knew of this person has been burned into your mental hard drive. There will always be something that triggers a memory, good or bad, when you are not expecting it. A song will come on shuffle at a party, or you’ll find the two of you together in the background of someone else’s picture, or you’ll hear a line that reminds you of a bad joke they once told. There is nothing you can do to prevent that.

So collect the relics of your time with them. Take inventory of what’s inside that room in your mind. Acknowledge it. And then close the door.

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