She stared down at the neon green speech bubble itching for a conversation with her, prompting her to tap it with her index finger, the finger on which the nail polish always chipped faster than any other finger.
She looked through the names that flashed back at her... sweet Claire from her yoga class in Tampa, shouty Kelly, her high school friend in Raleigh, dimpled Sachin, a friend of a friend in San Francisco. The list rambled on as if narrating her life back to her - where she had been, who she had been.
But none of these people had anything to say to her. Zero new messages. Not even a forwarded meme.
“Mission Accomplished,” she whispered to herself; words she wanted to verbalize mostly to mock herself. Sometimes she needed to say things out loud to herself so she actually listened.
It had been a yearlong quest to get lost. She had left San Francisco sometime around then to move halfway across the world and start over. But starting over didn’t mean rebuilding another life in her new chosen place. No new routines, coffee shop habits, hair salons. She meant to get well and truly lost. Be unreachable. Unfindable.
Why? Years leading up to this mission, she’d joke about it with people. “I really think I could be a hermit on a mountaintop with no issues,” she’d say. People would argue back, “you would miss people wouldn’t you? Come on, ultimately everyone wants to know they matter to someone.”
What people didn’t understand was that mattering was an anchor; a weight that made sure you never made it to the water’s surface, suffocating right beneath it instead. For you to matter to others, they had to matter to you and you had to make that known. There was no altruism in the whole thing.
There were people she had loved, loved still. Yet their presence in her life never mattered more than a short while. They came with seasons, to wither her away and bring her back to life, but she preferred to live with her memory of them rather than the three-dimensional version who could alter her memory in any way. She liked maintaining caricatures of people from her life; chubby Amir with the glasses that were too small for his face who sat near her cubicle at her first job out of college, Shania who’s impeccably penciled-in eyebrows did little to distract from her too-big nose that crested her too-thin lips, but did distract her at her last job. People- their faces, scars, quirks, stories- interested her only up until she had her caricature. She was like a cartoonist who draws the outline and then fills it in slowly as they create the backstory for the warrior princess navigating the rough seas, or the orange fish searching for his father.
Once she had the image, she was ready to move on.
A little over a year ago, it dawned on her that while she moved on from people, people hadn’t moved on from her. Not that she was somehow so unforgettable. It was just that people were programmed to expect the niceties of the regular check-ins, the “How is life? What’s new?” the “Are you married yet? When are you expecting your first child?” Questions to which she had no interest in having answers. But if she didn’t ask, she felt their ire, their exasperation toward what they saw as a discarding of the norms that bind friends and acquaintances.
This realization had let her to ponder her disappearing, becoming well and truly lost. This wasn’t some sort of experiment like faking her own funeral to see who would show up? This wasn’t so she could find out who really cared when they couldn’t track her down. She didn’t want to be tracked down. The idea that nobody in the world could say they knew where she was or what she was doing was inherently gratifying. The idea that she couldn’t be described in relation to anyone else- not a wife, not a mother, not a friend, not even a coworker, or a classmate. Nothing in relation to anyone; no possessives attached.
She had started with loose acquaintances, never responding to their messages, ignoring them enough to offend their ego and for them to write her off. Then came the challenge of those who were harder to shake - family, recent friends, childhood friends. For them, ignoring wasn’t good enough. For them, she needed a cover story. “I need some time away,” she said, “just need to clear my head and get some space.” Some is one of the best words in the English language. Intangible yet comforting. You can use it in any sentence and feel you made an effort to explain without doing the hard work of providing meaningful detail.
That “some time” had stretched into weeks and months. People who checked in with her got the same answer. She never reached out to them. Slowly the check-ins started decreasing in frequency. Before long, they all but disappeared. Even those who believe they have a right to your presence in their lives can learn to live without it, if you remove any use for yourself in validating that they matter.
The morning prior to tapping on the neon green speech bubble, she had gone for a morning dip in the ocean. The current of the Indian Ocean weighed her body down but her heart was free. Free of wanting or needing anything from anybody. Of anyone wanting or needing anything from her. It was every bit as liberating as she had imagined. In the morning gold glow, the turquoise wave crests gave her complete anonymity. No one would find her here. Maybe no one would even think to look. There was a moment there she contemplated not resisting the ocean current, perhaps using her newly found freedom as a sail for the ocean to take her where the wind blew. From lost on land to lost at sea.
Once back ashore, she dug for her phone on an impulse; suddenly an urge to check in on who was looking for her. Zero new messages stared back at her. “And they say it’s hard to achieve your new year’s resolution,” she smirked.