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The Whole Of Me

Alex Sobel is a psychiatric nurse living in Toledo, OH. His writing has appeared in publications such as Electric Literature, The Saturday Evening Post Online, Dark Matter Magazine, and Hippocampus Magazine.

***********Editor's Note: Triggering (themes of abuse)************
Mark is dead for three months when he starts contacting me.
The texts come when I'm in the middle of something, half asleep, driving, a meeting at work. I feel the vibration in my pocket, know it's him.
The texts are short. He tells me hello, tells me he misses me, asks me how I am.
Hope you're not still mad me, he says.
I ask him questions: how are you doing this? Aren't you dead? Why won't you leave me alone?
I'm here, is all he says in reply. I'm still here.
Go to see someone, my mom says when I tell her about Mark, the texts, how he haunts me. You need to start getting over him, a therapist can help with that.
Help with seeing a dead man? I think, but I realize the metaphor, Occam's razor and all that, the simplest explanation. In this case: don't blame the man who died for what he's done, that's complicated, that's messy. Instead, blame the victim.
Blame me.
Sometimes I scroll up in the text chat. An entire relationship documented, three years of ups and downs.
No, no. That's what I said when Mark was alive, to my mom, my friends, back when I had them, before I forced everyone out, everyone but him.
I would say that there were good times and bad, just like any other relationship. I blamed myself for not being able to tell the truth to myself, nonetheless anyone else.
I'm dozing off in front of Netflix, feel the vibration.
Just wanted to say I miss you, he says.
Did you ever feel bad? I ask. Or did you just want to control me?
A smiley emoji, the expression feeling distant somehow, as if to tell me that this is something I could never know, like I'm a child asking about sex or politics.
I'm still here, he says. Always.
When I go to close out Netflix I see that the account still has both of our names on it.
I delete his name, hyperventilate until I fall asleep, blissfully dream of nothing, of no one.
Why don't you delete the old text messages? the therapist says. Being asked to give a reason feels like an attack, like I'm being asked to wipe clean everything he did to me. I want to ask why my trauma is my proof, why my abuser can die but my pain gets to live forever.
I don't know, is all I can manage to say to the therapist. I just don't feel like I can.
Not yet.
I play a phone game sometimes, birds flying across the screen, obstacles to avoid. I used to play it to relieve stress when sitting in waiting rooms, when unwinding before bed. Whenever I play it now, Mark's texts interrupt, crowd my peripheral. It gives me the urge to lose on purpose, to explode in a puff of smoke over and over.
I want to say there's a breakthrough moment, a singular realization that changes everything.
But it's slow. I start responding less. Not even on purpose, I just get busy. Work picks up, I start talking to friends more, the ones who I'd been cut off from. So, I barely register Mark's name on my home screen, just a name among names.
Even with the thread still there, he gets slowly pushed down underneath those other names, my friends, mom, my boss, my new boyfriend.
With it, the reminder fades, but never goes away. Why he was an abuser, why I didn't cry at his funeral, why I still can't stand loud noises.
But no matter what, he'll still be gone.
When it hits me, flooding back, pain in deep, waves, I tell myself, like a mantra, something to be repeated until habit:
He's gone. He's gone. He's gone.
And then one day, it doesn't seem like such an insurmountable task, the way through clear, like it had always been there, like I just hadn't looked closely enough. I pull out my phone, find the thread with his name. I'm still here, I text him, then block the number, delete the thread.
It's not the end, of course. But after, as I go about my day, I still repeat the words in my head, a new mantra. One that isn't about him at all, one that claims me for me, one that keeps me for myself.
I'm here, I think, taking a step forward, then another, then another.
I'm here.
I'm here.
I'm here.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 31st, 2022


Author Comments

It occurred to me how impossible it seemed to completely remove abusive people from your life when they're on your social media, in your emails, on your streaming accounts. These all act as reminders that pop up when you least expect it, almost asking you to go back to the way things were. And with this, I couldn't stop thinking about how the decision to leave someone behind isn't a single decision, but a series of small choices, something continuous.

- Alex Sobel
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