My New Year’s resolution this year: to delete your Facebook account. I had already planned on doing this before your mother called. That’s what I’m telling myself.
‘You owe us that much, James,’ your mother said.
‘We wouldn’t even bother to ask you, it’s just her father and I don’t know how these things work.’
‘So, you’ll do it as soon as you can? In the next few days?’
‘Yes,’ I lied and hung up.
That was three weeks ago, and your Facebook account is still very much in existence. Your mother hasn’t called since, she probably hasn’t even checked. For a long time, I wasn’t sure I could go through with it but now I finally feel ready.
I’m at my laptop, your page brought up in a hurry. Those hazel eyes stare back at me from beneath your home-cut fringe. I always told you it suited you so well. My arm is curled around your waist. We look happy, I thought we were. If I had known then our happiness was one-sided, I might have done or said something different to change things, but you never told me. This was just like you; you were private and never liked to share secrets.
‘Smile,’ your best friend Samantha told us.
‘I don’t think I could smile any harder,’ I said. You giggled and this was good. I squeezed you tighter. That was three years ago.
The day after, you uploaded it to Facebook. I made sure to like it, so did all our friends. You were so self-conscious. I wanted you to understand how beautiful you were.
‘I need to go to the gym,’ you said later.
‘You’re not serious. If you go to the gym, there won’t be anything left.’
You looked at me. ‘Don’t be an ass.’
I’m certain you believed I was lying. To me, you were perfect and although you weren’t a size three, you were twenty-five, after all.
‘But don’t you think it’s great Sam is so thin?’
‘She’s thin alright, but she’s got a face like a horse’s arse,’ I lied.
You laughed at this and I thought I had gotten through.
The next photo is of an earlier you, sunbathing with your girlfriends in southern Spain. You’re squinting and looking through slits at the camera. You look girlish and innocent, your stomach flat as a washboard. This was the image you taped to the full-length mirror on the back of our bedroom door. “Ideal Me” you christened it. I always laughed when you said this, you were twenty-one, a baby really.
‘Do you think I look better there?’
You were tying up your hair. My reflection smiled.
‘You look like a kid.’
I could see your face tremble and morph in the mirror. I came over and hugged you. You stayed in a mood all day.
The next one is your twenty-fourth birthday party. I’m in this one, smiling vacantly at the camera, my hand on the back of your chair. This was the day I met you. We had a mutual friend, of course. Sam was a nice girl and the sole reason I went to your party was because she invited me. I planned on asking her out. That was, of course, until I saw you.
You told me your name and I nodded eagerly. I had never dated an older woman before. I was a year younger. You gave me a once-over and smiled. We added each other on Facebook immediately. I knew you were a keeper when you weren’t scared off by my profile picture.
‘I don’t use Facebook much,’ you told me. ‘I’m a very private person.’
I grinned my stupid grin. I was a private person too. I knew how you felt. We had found each other.
I laugh when I see the photo you took in Italy, just four months after our first date. I’m reclining on the balcony with ice-cream dribbling down my chin and giggling like a teenager.
‘You look like Dracula.’
‘I vant to suck your blood!’
You gave me one of your pity laughs.
It took me months to live down that photograph. Even Sam said I looked idiotic and she always had a soft spot for me.
‘There’s me with the family,’ I say to no one. You and I are squeezed between your parents. No brothers or sisters. You were an only child. So am I. I got on fine with your mother. Not so much with your father. He is the type of man who watches football and guzzles beer of a Saturday. I laughed at his jokes but never joined in.
Your parents thought I was a catch. I told them their daughter was the catch not I. They shrugged their shoulders and laughed. I never understood that laugh.
Your mother cooked lasagne. Family recipe, she told me, even though I am almost one hundred percent certain you were never Italian.
‘It’s fantastic,’ I said through mouthfuls. ‘Really fantastic.’
‘Yeah Mum, it’s great,’ you said, spooning another helping. Your mother threw a suspicious glance in your direction and glared at your plate. She frowned. I didn’t want to get involved, alright?
I overheard her lecturing you later. ‘You should try Zumba; it’d get rid of all that blubber.’
I stayed behind the door and heard you sniffle. We left soon after and you remained silent all the way home. I tried to hold you later, but you said you wanted to sleep, so I let you. I woke to find you measuring your waist in front of “Ideal Me”. I sighed and turned over. Damn feminine insecurity, I thought and fell back asleep.
You’re leaning sideways in the next one. I’m supporting you. We’re both far too old to be in a nightclub, but you said you were tired of staying in every Friday night. Shortly after Luke snapped the picture, someone tapped you on the shoulder while I was propping up the bar. He asked for a dance, you made an excuse, so he called you an ugly slut and laughed in your face.
I returned with a rum and Coke and a Cosmopolitan. Your eyes were melting. I asked what was wrong. You wouldn’t tell me, so I brought you home. In the night, you gave me an account of the dark stranger and his untimely comment.
Things began to change then. You dyed your hair blonde. You started doing crunches. You bleached your teeth white and bought a new wardrobe. After a month, I barely recognised you. You weren’t the awkward girl I fell in love with three years before.
‘Don’t you think I look better?’ you asked.
I flicked to another channel. ‘You look great.’
You smiled your searchlight smile and we went to bed together.
One of the final pictures in your album is of you alone. I snapped it on direct orders. You’re standing with your hand on your hip, like a teacup. Everything is fake, including the smile.
‘I just don’t think you should get any more surgery.’
You looked at me. ‘And what would you know? You’re not a woman, you don’t understand the pressure we’re put under.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Okay.’
The thing is, as far as I can remember, I never put you under any pressure. And you never seemed like the type of girl to take notice of the matchstick models in Vogue either.
Maybe this happens to all twenty-eight-year-old women, I thought, maybe they all begin to feel ugly or unwanted or unappreciated.
I wanted to appreciate you. I wanted to notice you, so the next image is a selfie of us together at a fancy French restaurant on Dawson Street. The meal was more than I could afford on my writer’s salary. Still, I wanted to treat you. I fingered the ring in my pocket, hoping everything would go just right.
You started an argument over loyalty, I tried to quell it with reassurances, but you became enraged and called me names. This hurt, so I put off marrying you.
The last image in your gallery is another portrait. Looking back, I can tell the light is gone from your eyes.
You went to bed haggard, the sand man seemed to have forgotten you. You kept me awake all night with whispers of spare tires and bingo wings, things I found hard to comprehend. You had become hugely paranoid and believed I intended to ruin you. We soon got you sorted with pills, though. Then, you seemed to rest.
Every day, you weighed yourself.
‘I’m like a hippo,’ you said one Saturday morning. ‘I’ll bet Sam doesn’t weigh anywhere near this much!’
I looked out the window and sighed. My replies didn’t matter anymore, so I stopped offering them. I dressed, threw on my winter coat and went to the shops. I bought up everything I knew you liked, or rather, everything you thought you needed; almond milk, low-fat butter, calorie-free yoghurt and enough rice cakes to feed China. I thought the latter tasted the way a Cornflakes box might, but I kept my opinions to myself then.
I went to the barbers afterward, there were more than ten ahead of me. I waited and read my own column in the newspaper. I was gone for three hours.
I came back and packed everything into the fridge, in the order you liked. I took the roses from the boot of the car and crept down the hallway of our apartment. I eased the door open and found you sleeping. It was half past one, but I suppose you were allowed your rest.
I set the flowers in a vase and cooked our lunch, shouted your name. You didn’t answer, so I went back and shook you. A trickle of blood escaped your lips. I looked at your nightstand. The vial empty. The first thought which came to mind was the clichéd way in which you had taken your own life. The next was to call an ambulance.
Now, your mother has tasked me with deleting your account. It’s not right, she’s told me, to keep a dead woman’s account active. It’s not like I ever posted anything. To see your smile, your date of birth and the name of the village you grew up in is surreal but comforting.
There is no virtual afterlife, so everyone keeps reminding me.
I haven’t cried since your funeral but as I hover over Delete Account, my eyes begin to water. I enter your password and double-click. Your account gone forever, and my New Year’s resolution accomplished in its first week.
I don’t bother to back up any of the photos, they’re all there, catalogued in my mind already. They document our time together, just four years. In all that time, it never struck me as odd that your favourite novel was The Bell Jar. I suppose, towards the end, you saw me as Ted Hughes, but I never wanted to betray you. I turned to Sam because months before you ended your life, you had already gone ahead and deleted yourself.