Pieces of Us
It was raining the night David got into Hartford. A dark and dangerous drive that snaked up slick roads, over and past the cracking snaps of falling branches. He made the drive in silence save for the booming cacophony of the violent thunderstorm surrounding the car. He had tried listening to music but their song had come on. Not their anniversary song, or their wedding song, just one of their songs. He and Stacy had so many songs, perhaps he should stop listening to the radio all together for a while. Now that she was —
The word itself was so flat, so final in its simplicity.
Stacy, David’s wife of nine loving, trying, amazing years, was dead.
Dead, and she was never coming back.
Tears stung at the corners of his eyes, a blur the windshield wipers could not wipe away and David swore, pulling over to wait out his tears or the storm. Whichever ended first.
* * *
David sat by himself, staring at his cell phone a few nights later in the dim lighting of their living room. He wasn’t ready for the bedroom, wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for their bedroom again. Not that either of them had been spending much time there anyway before Stacy’s passing.
When Stacy had died he had ran, leaving the burial arrangements to her family. Things had been bumpy there between them at the end, and Stacy had been staying with her folks for a better part of the year. They had never had kids, it was just them, and somewhere along the line this had seemingly begun to take its toll. It had been him really, he had stopped given her what she had needed so she had started acting out. She never cheated, just yelled. They fought all the time, eventually it got to the point that Stacy had screamed in tear-streaked fury that David was clearly willing to fight over everything but her and left.
“If I’d known.” He whispered into the silent house, tears dripping down onto the screen as he thumbed through old vacation photos of them. Even now he had kept them on his phone. “I would’ve made the time. I could’ve made time when we had time and now.”
He killed the screen, sending it dark and staring bitterly down at his own reflection. He still had all of their numbers on there. Hers, her mothers, fathers, and sisters. Why was he keeping them? What good could come of holding onto all of those text messages? So many fueled by anger and petty squabbles, even worse their sincere little “I love yous” that they would never have the chance to say again?
David choked, an animalistic sort of growl escaping in the act and he furiously logged into his phone, deleting all of Stacy’s texts in one final swift executive decision. Then he went through her family, and her friends, and all of the contacts in his phone that were really her contacts and not his own. He might regret it he knew, but he didn’t care. It was a surgery, a cleaving away of dead tissue so that the healthy tissue could begin mending and going through the motions of healing an unmendable wound.
He stopped, staring down at her contact photo. Stacy was wearing that red dress he had bought her in Maui. David couldn’t do it, one look at her smiling up at him in that dress from a tiny digital square of pixelated avatar and all he could do was curl up with her still smiling his hand and sob himself to sleep on their couch.
* * *
Something familiar woke David up a few hours later and he winced, killing the dim but still far too bright lighting with his remote as he sat up and tried to place that sound.
“Oh.” He muttered, looking down at his phone. “A text mess–”
The words trailed off, silent terror stealing them away from his lips.
It was a text message from Stacy.
David threw it, hurling the phone into the adjoining kitchen, his eyes full of terror and fury as it loudly vibrated a second message alert from its place on the linoleum.
“Bonnie.” He whispered, Stacy’s sister’s name. It must be Bonnie, no way Stacy’s parents would have been up at this hour.
But there’s no service on Stacy’s phone. His brain whispered treacherously, and it was right. It had been cut out last week before the month’s end.
Dead phone. His mind whispered cruelly in that same almost foreign voice. Dead wife.
His cell phone lay silent now, from its shunned place in the kitchen. Cautiously, determinedly, David approached, eying the little electronic envelope with Stacy’s photo and the promise of not one but two unopened messages waiting for him beyond the lock screen.
David had then, an almost premonition of sorts, a terrifying sixth sense that he must never read those messages. It was the same sort of deep primal ingrained knowledge that he had felt as a child hiding under his blankets knowing he must not poke his head out to see what was on the other side causing all of those strange sounds.
Peer into the abyss. His mind offered knowingly.
“Then it can peer back into you.” He whispered, gently powering off his phone.
Part of him was excited, part of him wanted to turn it back on and read her words. However that deeper, more primal part, that lingering instinct from perhaps another time when man truly did battle with unseen monsters was too strong to ignore.
What if it’s not Stacy at all? His mind asked darkly.
Yes. That was what David was most afraid of. People just didn’t go around getting text messages from dead relatives. David had always considered himself more of a man of reason than faith, but he did believe in evil.
He would change his number in the morning, he had been planning to do it soon enough anyway.
* * *
Oddly, it worked. David kept the phone off and bought out his contract, upgrading to that latest model he had been putting off buying (why not?) and calling up the friends he actually planned to bring with him into this new post-Stacy part of his life.
All deaths and births put things in perspective and David was ready to try and press on, in the hopes that work and time would help heal the ache of loss.
David was a professor of Sociology at the University, and part of his course was covering the mentality of social media and how it has changed, and continues to change modern society. There is a mindset of overwhelming security when one logs onto to a network. You do so from your home, comfortably, protected by not only physical distance and shelter but the crisp clean design of the network promising a neatly kempt system ever further between you and that online world. Then you have a whole slew of options from your best face (literally or constructed), clever names, and areas of mutual interest where you can be certain to avoid conflict as everyone there is exactly like you. However, even if you can’t avoid conflict, your personal body is in no real harm. Thus, guarded by all this armor you now feel invincible to take on whatever opinion you may feel and verbally battle for it to the death. Anything from Saturday morning cartoons to basic human rights in countries you yourself will never even go on to visit. It’s easy to gather a mob when marching comes without fear of physical repercussions and the assurances of thousands of like-minds.
There was another thing about social media, your profiles often stayed open after your death.
It bothered David, as he sat there at his desktop, staring at the shrine that had become his dead wife’s network page. Thousands of strangers sending digital stickers, photos of flowers, and memes of inspiration. It was terrible. Tacky, fake, and terrible. David wanted to vomit, but more-so he wanted to beat himself, beat himself bloody at the fury that he hadn’t the first clue what his wife’s profile password was to end all of this.
A ding cut out in the study, and David looked down to see a little pop-up bubble from Stacy on the instant messager and he read it in the split second he acknowledged it without even meaning to.
David stared, pale, shaken, both horrified and broken by Stacy’s message in the same exact moment. Of course it was, that was the last time they had been truly happy, the last time he had been truly romantic.
Stacy: “It’s okay, I love you too.”
David cried out, logging out furiously and into Stacy’s account with her haunted password of promise. Of course it took and with a wet pained sob he hit delete, assuring the network that yes he was fucking sure he wanted to deactivate, before collapsing uncontrollably into his keyboard and sobbing himself off to sleep once more.
* * *
Morgan stared at him, his dark hands slightly paled as he clutched his mug in a light sweat. “Wow, that’s some shit.”
Morgan was David’s longtime friend and a dean in the Science Department, David had figured Morgan would assume he was cracking up but now from the look in his friend’s eyes David was even more afraid to see belief. That meant it was real, he had known as much, but still had been hoping for something simple. Something curable with a pill and perhaps a few sessions with Dr. Miller, not that he was actually being haunted by his dead wife.
“You know black people, we don’t mess with that shit.” Morgan finally spoke up intently. “If Sarah died and sent me a text message, photo post, whatever, you can be damn sure I’d have smashed every last piece of technology in the house.”
“I’ve seriously considered it.” David replied, taking a sip of his own coffee just to have something else to focus on.
“When you think about it though, think about all the things we leave behind?” Morgan stated, setting his own mug down on the desk. “Well if the Native Americans believed cameras steal souls then the average teenage girl must be stealing her own soul five times a day. With mirrors too, that’s a two-for-one soul loss right there.”
“Come on.” David groaned.
“Now, imagine what they would think if they knew that not only are we storing every memory from the mundane Tuesday night out to our children’s first steps not only in pictures, but even in full length moving videos. Kept out there, in the ether, long after we die for anyone to re-live.” Morgan went on thoughtfully. “And not just the outer experiences, our thoughts, our emotions, we spend a third of our lives in a digital reality where we are constantly leaving pieces of ourselves. If you have to burn the things a ghost left behind while they were living to put them at peace, well… good luck with that. It’s a shock any of them can find peace with so many pieces of themselves still floating around in living circulation.”
David swallowed, a parched dry choked act. “So, what do I do then?”
Morgan shrugged. “I dunno, video chat her?”
* * *
David sat there in the dark of their bedroom, his laptop open but afraid to turn it on.
Maybe she would find peace on her own. Maybe this wasn’t even Stacy but some data-woven digital ghoul from the ethernet.
He didn’t have to decide tonight, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere. Or maybe she would. Maybe if he ignored her like the monstrous noises outside his blankets as a child she would actually just go away.
Or maybe he actually wanted her to stick around, online relationships weren’t as passé as they once had been. Maybe this time he could actually keep the romance alive.
David sat there in the dark, his finger lingering before the door that was the on-switch to his laptop, and waited.