After Sam dies, pieces of him embed themselves in every man I date. He splits into a million, disparate, meaningless parts and these unsuspecting men are hit in the blast (a sliver in one’s wrist, a shard in one’s cheekbone). At greasy bar tables I find splinters of Sam in men I’ve just met—the way one takes my hand and rubs my thumb with his, the way another eschews social media, loves Doritos, hates politics. I know how trivial these splinters are, on their own.
Often I think of how Sam used to imitate men on dates to make me laugh. It was a game we’d play, out at restaurants. We’d pretend to be two people on a first date, and he’d perfectly exaggerate his role—slightly insecure, trying to impress, spewing false bravado. I’d comment on the menu, or the weather, and he’d nod maniacally, his eyes wide and eager. “Yeah, totally, totally! I totally agree.” Then he’d gulp nervously, wipe imagined sweat off his brow, dissolve me into giggles.
When I meet Ravi I find Sam in a single fragment—his love of the Southwest, where Sam lived when I met him. It’s superficial, banal, but I hold onto it like it will save me.
“There’s something about the terrain,” Ravi says, on our first date. “So alien, so beautiful.”
“I agree,” I say, now the one nodding vigorously. “There’s nowhere like it.”
“I would move there tomorrow,” he says.
“Me too,” I say.
In fact, I never really wanted to move there, less than thrilled to leave my bustling life in Boston for rural Utah, though I had decided to make the move to be with Sam. Only in his death do I think I always longed for the red rocks, the spilling mountains. Like so many things I forget what is Sam’s and what is mine—do I love Salinger’s short stories or did he? Would I like Ethiopian food if he hadn’t? Do I really like the Southwest? I try to contain his personality as I contain the things his body left behind—his clothes, his laptop, his notebooks. They all still whisper to me from my closet, singe my fingers as I sift through my dresser drawers.
I cling to Ravi like I can access Sam through him, like Sam will sprout from him and emerge, there all along. After a few months, Ravi and I drive from Las Vegas through Utah to the Grand Canyon. I sob as we pass the town where I would have lived with Sam. I can almost see his old apartment building, can almost see us through the window there—clinging to each other, wrestling, laughing in bed. Ravi pats my knee, half-heartedly. We break up a week later.
With David I think I have truly found Sam’s double, his ghost. On our first date I can’t believe the way he laughs, looking off to the side, nodding his head as if to say, “I’ve never heard anything so true.” It is just like Sam. And when he takes a small notebook from his front shirt pocket to scribble down some small reminder, I think of Sam’s own notebook still in my closet, waiting for me to read it in full. Later, when we undress each other, I recognize David’s pants as Sam’s—the same exact brand, the same color, nearly the same size. Navy blue, all-terrain slacks, the ones Sam wore the day before he died. I think they have made their way from the bottom of my dresser to David’s body here beside me, flown through the streets and materialized for me alone. I shut my eyes and it is Sam’s body beneath my hands—slight, smooth, with just a scattering of hair below his navel. I open them and it is David’s chest hair, his tattoos, his eyes, his lips.
David lives in Sam’s imprint, now, even as I box up Sam’s clothes, store his laptop away, stop touching his books, move David’s things in beside my own. David can feel it, living in an imprint. I imagine it’s a difficult feeling to ignore—a slight dampness on my shoulder as he slides his arm around me. When I ask, he says he doesn’t mind.
Sam isn’t always around. I try to banish him from the house for David’s sake, and sometimes I succeed. Sometimes David and I lie together in bed and it’s just the two of us, quiet and spent, my head on his heart. I picture Sam downstairs outside, smoking a cigarette, waiting patiently for us to finish.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Kristina