After deleting 139 photos of my ex, my photo gallery looks like I’ve only ever vacationed by myself. I suppose that’s sort of true: Me leaning casually against Hadrian’s Wall; me at Edith Piaf’s grave; me, in an optical illusion, touching the top of the Temple of Kukulkan as if it’s miniature and I’m a giant.
I can barely remember feeling hot that day, in Chichen Itza, or motion sick from the bus ride. I recall those details like an itinerary, like a packing list, like a fact that could also be a lie. Like a movie I once saw while sick with the flu that I later, inadvertently, adopted as a series of scenes from my own life. Memory is like that: Fallible, slippery.
Once I delete the photos of my former husband, he recedes farther into the mist. It’s possible that I really was alone at the Eiffel Tower, smiling as another tourist took my photo, smiling even though I was thinking he might steal my camera. This stranger. This person gifting me a memory that might be my memory or might be a still from French Kiss or Amélie or Midnight in Paris.
I remember all of those movies with more clarity and levity than I recall my own marred trip.
Maybe I was never married at all but was always going through life solo, packing suitcases according to my mood and not anyone else’s idea of what would be prudent. What would be logical. Extra scarves, no hiking shoes. Maybe I’ve always been at home in the quiet — the whistle of the wind at Hadrian’s Wall to keep me company. The mossy creep of sadness in Père Lachaise Cemetery. The sudden arrival of a stranger who offers to take my photo because I stand out in my aloneness, in this sea of couples. I am silent amid the chatter, the bickering. I am a fog horn in my quiet — an emergency siren.
The stranger says “Would you like me to —” and I stop trying to take a selfie with Rodin’s The Thinker slouching over my left shoulder. The stranger smiles encouragingly, eager for this job, wanting to make a mark upon my vacation. “I’m actually a photographer,” he says.
I hand over the camera and stand there, pretending. This is my life, this is what I do, this is how it feels.
Later, when I look at the photo, it’s askew. My eyes are closed. The head of The Thinker, my momentary date, is out of the frame. It seems right, it seems exactly the way I saw it in my mind’s eye.