It was very hot. The windows were all the way open, at least as much as windows open in dorm rooms, which is not very much since college students started jumping out of them. There was a tiny fan on the dresser humming, oscillating back and forth, but it barely reached me where I lay on the top bunk. I’d run a washcloth under the cold tap before climbing up and pressed it to my forehead, but no matter what I did it was still hot.
I had to fall asleep, I told myself. I had work in the morning and it was NOT work I could walk through in a daze if I was exhausted. I peeled the washcloth off my eyes and stared up into the speckled landscape of the suspended ceiling as though it held the answer. It didn’t. Instead, I thought of him.
In my mind I pictured his body. No, not his naked body, crazy, what do you think this is? More like the curve of his hip when he leaned against the door frame talking to me about which of his staff was being the most idiotic. Or the way I could tell whether or not he had showered by observing whether or not all the hair on the back of his neck laid down nicely or stuck up at crazy angles. I heard his laugh. They say a laugh is the first thing you forget about someone when they die, and I was grateful in that moment that he had not died, and that I could probably get him to laugh in the morning if I really tried. I fell asleep imagining jokes I would tell him, repeating the punchline over and over to commit it to memory.
This is how I fell asleep every night, all through the hot spell.
It’s been almost a year since then.
At this point in the season it’s still cold out. The heater’s on a program and if I stay up later than it thinks I should it stops heating, leaving me to shiver under my quilt. The other night I could’t sleep no matter how I tried. I tossed and turned, rolled myself up like a burrito, but no luck. And then I remembered this trick from the summer; I remembered thinking of him. The ceiling is plaster now but I lay there, just the same, staring up at it and imagining. I could picture the curve of his hip, but it didn’t send the current of electricity through me. I could remember his disheveled hair, but it didn’t bring the smirk to my face. Everything about him was cooling, like the lyrics in the Tori Amos song.
This is how it feels to forget, I thought. This is what forgetting is. Not the loss of the memory. Not the loss of the shape, or the color, or the sound of the laughter. It’s the loss of the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when the memory is conjured. It’s the visceral punch delivered to your gut dulled and sanded to a smoothed over version. And it’s terrible.