See a photo of them on Facebook. Stay there, examining that smile. You wonder if it’s forced. Maybe someone just said, “Hey, look happy! For the sake of this picture!” And so they did. A little too well. You used to trace those laugh lines with your fingers. You don’t know what their skin feels like now. You wonder who the other person in the picture is. Whatever, you don’t care.
You do care.
You keep scrolling.
Look at an old album with them. Same smile, when things were good. You used to be so good. You would sit in silence, drunk off each other. You didn’t need anything, really. Just one another. People said things were complicated and life would get messy. But it wasn’t. Not then. It was just two people, sitting next to each other. Enamored with the very thought that they could kiss and touch and sit there. Together.
Get off the computer. Shut it completely off. Step away.
Start looking in your closet for something warm. You are suddenly even colder when you remember how you’d talk about how impossible it would be to freeze together.
“We get naked and huddle for warmth, I mean, just scientifically speaking. No other motives.”
Stumble upon a piece of clothing from them. Maybe it’s a shirt. Boxers. That oversized sweatshirt with holes in the sleeves. You forgot you even had it. You could have sworn you threw it out. Or returned it. Something.
Without even thinking, smell it. Hope there is still a trace of them. But it’s nothing. A lot of what you once thought is now just that: nothing.
Time is washing away all the things you once knew better than your own heart. They were a map you had studied every night. You knew how to get home in every possible direction. Path. Secret tunnels and hidden gems. Now, you cannot remember how they even smell. Or where they are.
You don’t know them anymore. They’ve lived months, years, many years without ever telling you about their day. So many days you’ve had apart. You recount the milestones in your life they weren’t there for. They don’t know what you do. They don’t know who you have become.
And that’s when you realize it.
You can’t actually miss someone you don’t know.
We miss the memories. We miss feelings. We cling to nostalgia and those moments when things were hopeful. Back when things seemed possible. It’s bizarrely romantic to miss someone, or at least claim we do. You could spend a whole lifetime missing someone, or convincing yourself you do. But you don’t even know them.
You can’t miss a stranger.