Do I have to talk about fear?

  I mean, really…that’s such a rude question. Naked in its directness. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to get up and search for my missing earring. I mean, I definitely had to charge up my computer, but the truth is, in the past hour or so, I’ve been obsessing over where I could have possibly misplaced this earring and, yes, as petty as it sounds, fearing that I will never find it again.

  My jewelry box is full of orphaned pairs of earrings, fondly set aside in the event that their counterpart will magically show up, beneath a folded sheet or in the crevices of a bathroom drawer.

  My fear, I think, is composed of such missing objects, which leave the ghosts of their former presence behind. Palpable, like lipstick stains on shirts whose final traces you can never manage to completely wash away. They echo that particular hue of orchid you were wearing that particular night you can’t seem to put behind you, even though it happened years ago and you should really fucking be over it by now.

  Is that fear…or just  the sentimental tug of nostalgia? Sometimes, remembering makes me miserable but it also renders my life meaningful somehow. Once, early on, my ex-husband wrote me a drunken email in which he said something like, “I am afraid that I will forget everything, and that the mountains of memories we carefully built together will disintegrate and be replaced by new memories. And I don’t want that to happen.”

  I didn’t tell him, but I had felt the terror of that prospect as well, especially when I was thinking of leaving him and a single question came to mind: What about the songs?

What about the songs that had made up the soundtrack of our little life together? Old jazz, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, acid rock, fuzzy shoegaze, outdated Brit pop, and bands I’d first discovered rifling through stacks of vinyl in vintage record stores in my most impressionable years? What about the playlists he had made me? Who had ownership over those now? What about that very first mixtape (well, mix CD) that he gave me five days after we’d met, the one that made me tell a friend of mine, “These weren’t just songs. He was showing me his soul.”

  What about the songs? Would I have to give them up if were no longer together? Would the sweetness of Nigerian high-life music from our trip to Barbados, or the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which we’d decided would be the penultimate song on our wedding playlist, all have to go? And if so, where would they go? Who did they belong to now? To the ghost of our relationship, or to this strange and sullen woman I seemed to be growing quite uncomfortably into?

  I could understand his fear of forgetting, because I shared it. Even months after leaving. It is a strange thing to leave someone you once loved, because you realize that the “once” is a lie. And you never stopped loving them. That love just somehow found its own fork in the road and diverged onto another path, leaving you in its wake, bereft and bemused and left to find new anthems. New earrings.

  All of this will be relegated to the dustbin of time. It will be buried beneath the avalanche of our regrets, our resentments. The impossible dreams of youth supplanted by the bitter reality of adulthood.

After I received his email, I somehow managed to record its essence. But like everything else at the time, it was too painful to keep, so I deleted it. I’m sure that dozens of pairs of earrings were orphaned, as well. But I was too busy speeding into what was to be my future to understand that the ghosts never stop haunting you.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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