31 Days of Art, Day 15: Holes

I’m going to be honest. When I saw this prompt, all I could think of was the movie “Holes,” which I enjoyed watching, but I had no idea what I was going to do with it. Anyway, my subconscious must have been mulling it over, because eventually what came out was this story…

Day 15: Holes

It was subtle, and I didn’t realize it at first.

I can’t remember why I was going through the pile of old photos—probably on another Marie Kondo-inspired cleaning and decluttering kick. I go through those, every once in a while, pulling everything out and putting it in a pile and maybe organizing one or two things… and then getting distracted and forgetting about the pile until it’s time to go to bed and I shift it to the floor, where it stays for another couple of weeks or months.

The faces looking out were somewhat faded, but this was a properly developed photo from a film negative, not a computer printout, and so even though it was over three decades old, I could still make out everyone’s face. Their hair. Eyes. Glasses for some. Braces for a few unlucky others. We had all mostly gotten over that phase of life, but there I was, back row, right in the center, smiling a grin full of metal. My orthodontist made a lot of money of my parents, with my mouth all cluttered and out of whack.

I could barely remember any of the other kids’ names. We’d spent the entire summer at camp, swore to stay besties forever, said we’d write every day. That hadn’t even lasted a week. I’d never sent a letter. I’d gotten one—a postcard from Jennifer Anne. She’d sent one to everyone, but I never wrote back and never received another letter. I’d looked her up on social media a few years ago to find that she’d married and had two kids before passing. Cancer, I think.

Looking at the photo, I couldn’t remember where she’d stood. Was that her on the end? I seem to remember them putting her on the end. But none of the kids on the ends looked like her.

I put the photo on my dresser, thinking that I’d eventually frame it and add it to the collection of photos on the filing cabinet in my office.

That’s probably why I noticed the next one so much more quickly. I was organizing my underwear into neat little rolls, just like in the book, folding and rolling and stacking so I could easily see at a glance what I had. Oddly satisfying. I looked up at the photo and paused, my sturdy cotton panties dangling from my hand.

Because there was a hole in the middle of the photo.

Someone had been in the photo, and they weren’t there now. Unlike Jennifer Anne, I remembered exactly who had been standing there, because he had been standing in front of me. I, as the tallest, was center back. He was two inches shorter than me, with a personality like a big, goofy magnet. Everyone had wanted to be Matt’s friend, and he was the kind of guy who would return the friendship. I’d had the biggest crush, and had been so excited that he was positioned exactly in front of me.

And now, he wasn’t there.

The tiniest suspicion started to form. I dropped the underwear and closed the drawer, picked up my phone and opened social media. Matt had been one of the first guys I connected with when social media came out. We had a ton of mutual friends from high school. And now, as I scrolled through my feed, every one of them was expressing a torrent of sadness.

“Matt, we miss you, can’t believe you’re gone.”

“All the best to Matt and his family—he was a true light.”

“RIP Matt; can’t believe you’re gone.”

Plus, lots of emojis and gifs. People in their forties love sprinkling emojis and gifs into everything, even mourning posts.

I added my own message to the list—My condolences to your family sad face emoji * heart emoji* and closed my phone. I never did finish organizing my underwear drawer.

Matt and Jennifer Anne weren’t the first people my age to pass. The first person I’d known was a friend from college who passed away in a car accident when we were in our mid-twenties. Since then, it wasn’t a common occurrence to lose a friend, but it wasn’t unknown, either.

Still… Jennifer Anne had passed away a few months ago. Then Matt. I wondered if the same thing would happen, if someone else’s face and body and those crazy clothes we all thought were so on trend would all fade from the photo like they never existed.

The answer was yes.

I didn’t know the next person to fade, and try as I could to search social media, to connect with mutual friends online, I couldn’t figure out who they were, or if they had died. But two weeks later there was the hole, nonetheless, where a teenage girl had once stood on the top row.

After that, that holes started showing up faster and faster. At first, they disappeared about a week apart. Some of them, I could track down. Find out what happened. Car accident. Suicide. Military service. Heart attack. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing connected. Just… life. And death.

The last few, though. Those have been coming faster and faster. Six days apart. Five days. Then, three holes, three days apart.

I see what’s coming. And I don’t know if I mind so much the fact that it is coming, as I mind the fact that it’s happening now. I always thought if I was going to go out in a blaze of glory, it would be a righteous party and a bender of truly epic proportions. But nobody’s leaving their house now. I’ve gotten used to this strange hermit existence. Even if I wanted to go out, I can’t imagine trying to explain to a friend why I would be worried about catching anything.

I’ve been staring at this photo so long, the final figure just melted away, another hole, leaving me standing there at the top and center of the risers. I forgot I had that pair of Chuck Taylors, the red ones I’d saved up for, so proud of them, wearing them with those super baggy jeans and that flannel shirt.

Perhaps I won’t fade. Perhaps I won’t be just another hole in the photograph.

I’ll find out soon enough.

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