It’s been thirteen years since I threw that old red flip phone across the beige-carpeted living room of my first apartment in Albuquerque, startling the white rabbit I lived with, who hopped away into the bathroom and hid behind the toilet.
The memory erasure worked, for thirteen years. But after watching that viral video on repeat a hundred times, standing in my bedroom, late to a Zoom meeting with coworkers I’d never met in person, watching that little white spaceship above a dark gray, grainy sea, it started coming back to me.
I knew it was a spaceship. I knew exactly what it was, and I didn’t know why at first, but I knew it had something to do with hurling a red flip phone across the old apartment that I lived in when I first moved to Albuquerque all those years ago.
I’ve remembered more, the last few weeks.
Sitting at the doctor’s office, double-masked, waiting for an MRI, and a flash of someone lithe and smiling, dancing, winking at me, a man I knew intimately and imagined being old with, but couldn’t for the life of me remember what his name was now, or where or when I’d known him… or why he had those all-black eyes, that gray-brown skin, that silver suit.
What the fuck. I thought it more and more as little snips and pieces swirled back to me. Dropping something very similar to acid on a hillside where a hundred thousand sentient buttercups turned to look at me, and I asked if they were real or if it was the drugs, and you said, “they’re Ginshagalagamaal, they live in sunny places. Try not to step on them.” And I looked up at the sun, and it was partially eclipsed by a huge black circle with wide, shimmering violet rings around it.
Getting empanadas — a literally universal food — filled with spicy sweet green tentacles, you laughing at me when I asked what animal they came from, and pulling up a hologram of something that was sort of like a tree. “They’re vegan, don’t worry.” And your sibling, still too young to have a gender but obviously leaning henknegathaaldlan, making fun of me for days.
You going down on me by the river by your mom’s place, thinking no one saw, my back up against the fence, your gray-brown hand tight around my dick, your throat anatomy just slightly strange… the teenagers across the river huffing keshitamaagalab under the antigrav overpass, cheering when I finally came.
The stars, when we could see them, arranged in patterns you’d point out to me as constellations, but I’d never seen most of the animals they were supposed to be, and my eyes kept searching for the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt, and never, ever found them.
Scraps of language came back to me, and I would find myself thinking of a word I shouldn’t know how to pronounce while looking at my hand, which strangely had the same number of fingers as… as whose?
Planets go through phases, you told me once. Biospheres have reproductive cycles, every so often putting all their resources into blossoming space-faring civilizations, which spread their seed across all the habitable worlds that remain unclaimed. And so we were related, yes, and where my world’s reproductive cycle had just barely begun again, yours was in full swing. “Horny, then?” I asked, and you grinned and glanced with your black eyes at the restroom in the corner of the bar, just past the ethane station where two Hemblatjishtakon gossipped in their cold suits, eighteen limbs between them twitching flirtily.
And walking through the park, waiting for an oil change, the memory came back to me of coming home at night, late, after fucking someone else, and you said, “just kill me now,” holding up a sharpened jungloolianblagt for me to use. Your breath smelled like Dabnifancaalikin wine, and I said, “fuck you. You did it; first, this is my turn,” and you told me how pathetic I was, how petty and vengeful, and I tried to tell you how she’d actually made me happy, for a day, but everything devolved from there and I ended up walking down the greenways all night, under the softly glowing foliage of your city’s famous towering Helmnanagkolth trees, my brain straining as I searched the stars between them for Orion’s Belt.
I remembered, sitting on the edge of my bed and watching that fucking viral video of that stupid round, white ship disappearing into thin air over the Pacific, over and over and over and over, tears falling from my eyes like hinchtamanphekaal sap from the wounds a krrilemnagat makes in its trunk. I remembered throwing a lamp at your head. I remembered the night we got back from your old shipmate’s party, and I was wasted and said something stupid and mean, and you shoved me into the jingfrentagash and I kicked you on my way down, and then your hands were on my throat, and I was begging you to stop, heart pounding, drunk and terrified and looking at the solid black eyes of an alien.
Six years and I had never thought of you that way before, not since the very first day we met, on that deserted foggy beach, your broken ship protruding round and white from the gray waves, your captain’s body shattered on the rocks.
I’d pushed past my fear, stepped through the fog, and asked you if you needed help.
I remember your anxious surprise, your reluctant yes, your warming up to me, the embrace that turned into a kiss the moment Earth’s horizon turned into a sphere.
And now it’s been thirteen years since I hired your gingathemey to drop me back off on Earth.
I started a new life. Got a bunny to keep me company. But you got my number, somehow… or maybe I had yours. Yes, I remember now. You made that phone for me, so we could stay friends even with a hundred solar systems in between us.
Funny. I don’t remember what you said that made me so angry that I threw it across the room.
The words aren’t really that important. I felt trapped and small; I know that much.
And so I took the memory erasure, one of your many imperfect technologies. That was the rule, the cost of cutting you off entirely. The way your full-bloom biosphere kept my barely budding one at arm’s length, until it blossomed, so as not to make a mess of things.
Yeah, I see it now. The mess. The way relationships between two worlds can go wrong.
I think yours wasn’t quite as far along as you made it out to be.