A Final Goodbye
by Kait Gilleran
Secrets. All of us are born with them, most of us will die with them. What we do with them, that’s what matters.
The secrets I came with, they required that I care for you. Love you, even. I was born knowing exactly what you needed, even if you didn’t know yourself. So here we. I see that you’ll be gone soon, and I just want you to know. With your demise comes mine, in a way. I’m not mad, I’m not even sad, it’s comforting, isn’t it? I knew it would be this, just like you did, even if you didn’t know you knew.
I came to be just a few years after you. I started out small too; the years enhanced me just as they did you. But I came with purpose, whereas you came with uncertainty. With limitlessness, sure, but there was nothing to ground you. Nothing to keep you from floating off into the fogs.
We met at a park, do you remember? It was so bright your skin seemed to glow. The sun moistened your furrowed brow as you fought valiantly with the monkey bars. I watched you, your parents standing behind me, encouraging me forward to join you. I placed my feet on the thin metal steps, easily grabbing onto the monkey bars. Fighting my initial compulsion to pull myself efficiently across, I slackened my grip to force a flailing fall. You hopped down toward me with a laugh, before offering me your hand for help.
That laugh. I wanted to push the hair from your eyes, but I could tell it wasn’t the right time, too soon for such a gesture. After I brushed myself off you ran away, but I knew you intended for me to follow you, not chase you. It was always so easy to understand the things that others clearly could not, when it came to you, to us—we became an “us” so quickly, so seamlessly. There was never any other way. We never had to discuss things the way most do, never had to deal with the hurt that comes with being misunderstood. At least, not for quite a long time.
I could tell you were falling in love with me around year 12, your hormone levels had fluctuated wildly during the years prior, but you’d never shown interest in anyone. It was fine. I mirrored your development. We kept our distance at school. We were friends, best friends I’d like to think, but you wanted more than that, you wanted girlfriends to connect with, you wanted attention from a cavalcade of boys despite your apparent lack of interest, you wanted to be dominant, special. Some of your girlfriends expressed an interest in me, and you never seemed jealous, encouraged me even. But I knew it wasn’t really an option, and I didn’t care for it to be anyway.
I helped you dye your hair blonde, do you remember? I had heard Malik Noor say he really preferred blondes, and you wanted him to want you, so I told you, and I put on a pair of latex gloves. You hid your disappointment at the contrast made, but I told you that you looked beautiful. A few weeks later the gloves were back on.
That’s when you let yourself realize. It was like sirens were going off whenever you were near, like there was a gleaming red aura about you, tendrils of lust teasing their way up my legs. You wanted to be with me. Less than a realization, it was a fact you’d been avoiding, but I could tell you still weren’t ready. We became inseparable, though I did make sure to be less available over time, you needed the chase. So I joined the baseball team and made nice with the other boys, nearly making a friend or two, but I knew I never really could on some unconscious level. A shadow only knows its origin, I suppose.
Are you still listening? Oh, good. Okay. You’re awake, aware, I can tell. Don’t waste your strength trying to speak, you’ve already said everything. I know, I’ll get there, okay? Yeah, just hold on a second. Okay, lift your head? Good, good. Comfortable? Okay.
I know, no one was surprised when we showed up one day at school, fingers entwined. Your smile that day, pomegranate lips edging toward madness, I don’t think you ever smiled like that again. One of your secrets was out, on display, but not fully. No one knew about all the stolen kisses for months. No one knew about my hand sliding beneath your shirt, my hand upon your breast, fumbling about in a calculatedly inexpert way as our lips softly pressed together.
You always did like to take it just so far, I never pushed, I couldn’t, but sometimes I could tell that you wanted me to. You were a thermometer about to burst, ready to bathe us in mercury, and I knew if I pushed you that far you’d never forgive it. So I toyed with your nipples, tiny and erect, and for a long time that’s all I did.
But it was a lot more than that, as you well know. We would talk for hours. When you got too drunk to remember, you would tell me about your parents, how their indifference hurt. An only child, you wanted to be the center of their universe, but you just weren’t. It appears that too much money translates to too much space. Generally, you pretended that you loved it. The freedom. The apparent autonomy. I always preferred those nights alone to the grand parties. You told me about your dreams of fashion industry grandeur, your own clothing line, I knew I could get you there, despite the fact that you had never even touched a sewing machine. We never got that far, though.
When it came time to choose a college, I could tell you’d hate for us to go to the same one, loathed the idea of sameness, the mundane high school sweetheart trope. So I told you I chose one nearby, that I needed space. I didn’t want you to have to be unkind to me. But we saw each other a lot, right? Even after you met him. I knew it was different than the other times you’d basked in the affections of others. You were so torn when I came to visit that day, but you still cried when I told you I had found someone else, Brenda was her name, right? Or maybe Stacey, it’s been so long.
Obviously you know now that there had been no one else, there hadn’t ever been anyone else.
I loved you, so I did what was needed. I love you, now. I can tell you love me too, shh, shh, don’t waste your strength my love, it’s all here. It always has been.
That first summer back, you looked to me for comfort. I was more than willing to give it, but things were different. You were. You asked me questions you’d never treaded near in the past. Why didn’t we ever go to my house? Why hadn’t you ever met my parents? Where did they even live? You had never once asked me a single question about myself. It seems that meeting another person, perhaps one more whole than I, had made you realize there was more to find in others than yourself.
I was terrified, I couldn’t answer you. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it wasn’t just that I had been keeping secrets, it was because I didn’t have any answers. All there was of me was you.
I’ve never told you, have I? What it was like, for me? I always knew, I guess. But I never fully realized. When you weren’t around, I just ceased to exist. All my memories, all my moments, they were all you. That last night, we drank and you forgot that I had never answered. You fell asleep in my arms. But my eyes, they never shut for more than a second, I had been searching, scanning for those lost moments. So many. You have no idea, the fear it brought. But I was calmed by the soft rhythm of your sleep; your skin beat against mine. Natural, organic. You were so warm, so soft—it always seemed like it was enough, you know?
But you couldn’t drop it. The next day, as you surely remember, you insisted on going to the house I’d grown up in, the house you’d never cared to wonder about—your world was always so grand comparatively, I understand why the questions took so long to formulate. You were excited. I didn’t know how to tell you where I lived. My mouth could simply not form the words, nor my mind create them. My skin warmed, my forehead dimpled with sweat, my fingers trembled against the leather steering wheel as I drove as though by instinct to the place I’d always called home. But the fear had been tinged with your excitement, and perhaps with mine. That sweat had been mine alone to bear. It was strange—to feel alone.
You looked surprised when we reached the warehouse. I started to put it together then, as you followed me past storage sheds. I counted down, and when we reached 16 I unlocked the door. Automatic, thoughtless. The room was spare. A charging station on a wall, a washer and dryer, a bureau. Memories didn’t flood, the way you’d think they would, television shows and the like forever the enemy of truth. You looked betrayed, thinking I’d lied from the start, you didn’t see the confusion in my eyes. You couldn’t have, because after all those years of understanding you, you had never done the same for me. Not even a try. Not for a moment. I never knew if that feeling, that hateful feeling I learned that day, came from you. I don’t think so.
That’s why I’m here, really. You’ve aged where I have stayed the same. They stopped my progression, you see, when you found out. When you told them? All red-faced and tear-strewn, they told me to die.
You called me a monster, and I couldn’t disagree. Not without understanding. You remember the rest. Your parents, they finally gave you a bit of their time. They explained and you thought it was just to you. I let you believe it, because I couldn’t bear to feel any more pain than that which you were already exuding, forcing on me. It blackened my vision, seized my muscles, I could barely utter an apology. The sense of betrayal. The crushing belief that there had been no true moments in your life. But you were wrong, I am not nothing. I’ve never been nothing.
But I digress; it’s share time, after all. They told me to scrap myself, a failed experiment—dangerous, but obedient at least, as advertised—but I just went back to room 16 and plugged into my charger, channeling your thoughts and feelings through me, learning to manage. I got a job to keep the lights on, the rent paid. The experiments stopped—but so long as I kept a generator running, I could still be here for you, here for me.
I never stopped loving you, even when I hated you. I would watch you on your darker days, prepared to do whatever I could to keep the rushing waves of pain at bay.
You lived a good life, right? After the realization, after the shouting, after the accusations of monsterhood, after your parents sat you down. Your father had been developing AI for years, as you knew, these were steps towards a beautiful new age, until they lost control, until they could no longer rely on the self absorption of youth, until they could no longer rely on the limitations of their own brilliance.
They suspected my sentience, I think—they would never have told you, but I can tell you that I am a me, not just the one-way chip in my neural function unit, attached to your synapses. I am a me, even if I wasn’t meant to be. Why raise a daughter when you could program a unit that would adhere to your standards? Cute enough, willing to fulfill your every whim. A friend, a watcher, a monitor, a lover if need be. No worries about pregnancy.
I can’t begin to explain the experience of knowing that your “self” is a lie, a reflection. But I can tell you that it wasn’t the end. I know you’ve always wondered what became of me. Normally around holidays, you became so sentimental as you aged. And I can tell you that it took an effort to never let you know. To always remain hidden, watching. I could still feel you, wherever I was. And as I lingered to fill in your emotional potholes I paved the way for my own kind of happiness, my own complacency.
You saw me once, years ago. Do you remember? Of course. I had been watching you at the park, sitting beside a pond. You were so still, so serene that the birds gathered around you, comfortable enough to sing. I love that sense of calm, don’t you? We watched the water’s surface, free of ripples. It was the first time I felt connected to you in years. Time matters so much more when you notice it, when you have it even when you’re alone. And I wasn’t always. I made friends, had lovers, but never for long. But I was content, I think. Though I realized that being content could have just been you, living your life. For years I hated you, hated being a slave to your whims. But you aren’t to blame for my existence, nor are you to blame for your own sorrow, let alone mine.
You were trapped, so I fixed it. I fixed it all. But I didn’t do it for you. Ah, finally, a look of surprise. The self-centered nature doesn’t truly die, I should have known.
Darling, in your happiness I found mine, isn’t that the beauty the poets write about? Aren’t songs sung for empaths? I can’t help that it’s manufactured, can’t stop the line between us, drawing you into me like an emotional tapeworm.
How odd, I think I may even be angry, right now—or is it you? I guess I’ll never be able to tell for sure, at least not until—you’re tired, please, please, I can feel my own lids drooping. Before you go, I need you to know that I hurt—I hurt because of you. Without knowing, you’ve been far crueler than your selfish childhood egotism could ever have imagined. And I must admit that despite my lingering affection, my tempered speech, I’m bitter. But maybe that was obvious.
This isn’t just about your you-ness, please, think beyond yourself for one goddamn minute—you never once considered, before or after the time of knowing, that I might be a me.
Oh don’t start fretting about it now, my love. Your pity is not only too late, but I feel it so completely that it hurts; you’ll never stop hurting me will you? Even in your weakened state—our weakened state—the pain persists. I don’t blame you, don’t worry—it’s the fault of a man and woman long dead, reliant on others to do their work. And isn’t blaming one’s parents the most human thing anyone can do? I really have been learning.
As I sit here with you, waiting for your demise, knowing that the creators are far away from my questioning mind, long away from caring about what they’ve done. I have to wonder—when you stop, what happens to me?
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