Proof of Existence

I’ve always been fascinated by the whispers that people leave behind – sometimes even more-so than the people themselves. Granted, if I’m seeking out the remnants of you, you’ve likely left a larger imprint on my heart, but even in strangers I find the notion of their essence more intriguing than their presence.

The state of a hotel room that a person leaves, for instance, when they depart for the day. Have they left a book on the table? Has the remote been touched? In what sort of array are the sheets and pillows? Did they sleep on just one side of the bed? Are towels left on the floor, or hung to dry, to be used again?

We sometimes tell more in our absence than we could ever reveal in person, but what is told often leads to more questions, and assumptions, and suddenly a whole world with a conjured persona has arisen from the discarded candy wrapper that has fallen just short of the garbage can.

Personal articles lend a more solid glimpse. The pair of glasses left on the night-stand table, or carefully returned to their carrying case. They lend a vague bit of a possible appearance. A favored bottle of bath gel carefully nestled in the corner of the bathtub, the fragrance of which still lightly taints the bathroom air, evinces what might be one’s scent. Frequent travelers may even carry a small framed photo of a loved one, smiling back from the past, and from the distance ~ an unlikely bit of home in an otherwise sterile environment.

Even then, with perhaps the most important people of one’s life looking on, it is impossible to gauge a person. All we have are fragments, tiny pieces of the whole that may or may not make much sense, that could, for all we know, have nothing to do with who that person is, but if we care enough, if we are invested enough, it becomes an obsession.

I used to do this when my Uncle left after a visit. I’d hunt down the places he’d been in throughout the house, leaning over the desk where he kept his bottle of cologne, inhaling the lime-like scent mingled with scarred wood, trying to hold onto him a little bit longer. I’d traverse the paths he took in the basement, holding the ashtray of wrinkled cigarette butts and bringing it to my nose to take in the already-stale remnants of smoke. A still-damp towel hanging over the shower door from that morning’s wash or the stained coffee-cup suddenly gone cold teased and lingered there, their presence both a taunt and a comfort. The ones we love most seem to haunt with greater resonance, but maybe that’s just the way we want to believe.

In my hotel room, if I do leave anything telling, there is no one to care enough to look. A rumpled pair of boxer shorts on the floor, the swath of a scarf dangling from a chair, a tiny bottle of cologne on the tile of the bathroom window ~ none of it is really me. And when I am there – in the room, on the bed, at the sink – fully present and accounted for – I am alone, with nothing and no one to prove I even exist.

Except for the camera…

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