Deleting Your Photos in a Poppy Field

By

After a wet winter, the California poppies are in super bloom this spring. With a friend, I walk into hills and hills of rolling orange and purple and yellow. My spirit floats two inches above my body as I’m immersed in sunshine and petals bouncing in the soft wind.

My friend and I are taking pictures of one another in these fields of poppies when suddenly I receive a message on my iPhone: “Storage Is Full.” I can no longer take photographs unless I delete other content on my iPhone.

First, I delete some ugly and old pictures of me from months ago, then some videos, then any unnecessary apps. We continue on the trailhead. I tell my friend to pose like a model, raise her left hand, give me some hip, now more jaw. She is giggling and butterflies are floating around her. It turns out that there is also a butterfly migration in California this week and stragglers are floating through the flowered fields with us. Then she takes my phone; she is photographing me now. I tell her, “Make me look cute. I’m single and need a new picture for the apps.”

The message arrives again: “Storage Is Full.”

Thumbing through my iPhone, I look hungrily for another useless app or photo to delete but everything feels necessary. The content on my iPhone is now stripped to its bones, only needed apps and photos, and yet I’m still out of storage space. How did this happen? The sun is setting, slouching on the shoulders of the hillside, its golden honey glow giving a last hoorah to the hills’ crevices. I watch a caterpillar finish dinner, almost wiping its mouth of the golden poppies. Then there! A rabbit brushes past us quickly, small dirt cloud plumes from the trail. I’m a millennial and I want my iPhone camera, want to share the gorgeousness of this moment with Instagram.

And so, without much thought, I delete you. You were in the back of my iPhone this whole year of yearning. I had you locked in a secret photo app—three clicks, four swipes, and a password away. I kept all of our dirty videos in that app, all of the dirty photos. Don’t judge me. My legs wrapped around your back. Your hand on my stomach. Another photo of my head in your lap, and sometimes it feels as if I have been walking around decapitated since we broke up, waiting for you to give me back that head of mine. I loved you. Or rather, we loved each other. Or maybe, we do still love each other, in the siloed and solitary worlds that we have each created for ourselves since the breakup.

In the middle of the California super bloom, I delete you in order to make room for me. This happened out of necessity, not want. In that field, there was no heartbreak, no lost love to mourn, no enraging news about Trump and deportations and police shootings and mass incarceration. There were only flowers—verbenas and blonde dandelions and all those poppies. For the sake of me, I wanted to capture this one beautiful afternoon, after a rough winter in a rough year. I needed to delete you in order to capture the big blue smile of the sky, the gentleness of my friend as she looked into me and said, “How are you feeling?”

Maybe this what happens to love when it drifts from the frontal lobe; one day after the next it moves into another place a little further back in the skull. I do not want to say that our love “disappeared” or was “deleted.” I want to imagine that our videos are electronic particles that have not been deleted but rather have been spread, like ashes from an urn, over the hillside. You are always somewhere. Look, here you are in this sentence. My sentence. Our sentence. Ours. Again.

I’m sitting at the edge of the field, my hand softly stroking the heads of the poppies. I tell my friend about my newly born nephew, Roquecito. I ask her if she has felt the head of a baby before, tell her it feels as soft as a field of golden poppies. Maybe I have been letting go of your image, slowly, almost ghost-like, for a while.

The very first month after the “us” pronoun expired, I was ready to let go of the blurry photos. The granulated photos went next, and the duplicated photos were deleted after that. Then, I had to stop myself. I couldn’t delete any more of you. I couldn’t let go completely. When the moon was the only eye to gaze back into me, I held my iPhone in the loneliness of my wet palm. I missed you, gripped the sheets for you, listened to the song “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic. That song feels so much like your existence. I swear the song has a tongue on me some days.

When my nephew was born, I transferred most of my photographs of you onto a USB drive. I was already in the process of the letting go of you before the super bloom. I’m sorry. Some of you is in a USB at the bottom shelf in my room. The USB is collecting dust like a memory that rests in the body but is seldom brought forward and given the name “memory.” Is a memory only a memory when it is recalled in images?

Tucked away in the USB is the memory of that last Christmas party where we fought about my family. Tucked away is our hike up to Kaaterskills Falls and the house we rented with the jacuzzi. Tucked away is a trip to Fire Island, your hair blowing as the ferry gained speed in the ocean. I always loved your hairline, waking up to see crisp cut of black across your neck. Soft boy submerged halfway into the ocean of white sheets beside me. These memories, and more, have been off my phone for months.

After we separated I began to erase you, photo by photo. In the California super bloom, I finally walked away from those last digital images of you. Sometimes I think my iPhone is a world and I am the accidental god of this little planet in my pocket, and I’ve evicted you from your home there. There are pathways in my brain that I am no longer allowing myself to walk down.

Like ants, people are scattered in their procession along the trails of the super bloom. A woman attempts to push her mother’s wheelchair over small rocks on the hills’ incline. Another mother films her daughter mouthing the words to a song she wrote. They are making a low-budget music video. Couples are taking selfies everywhere. One couple has a selfie stick. A young woman asks my friend to photograph her with her boyfriend. I try not to assume their gender or sexuality but they look so obviously cis and straight, I think to myself. Out in the distance, two young gay boys with their shirts off and shorts on, have their arms extended and then click, they take a photo. Love everywhere. Love, and photographs of love.

My friend and I are lying next to one another with the golden poppy bulbs orbiting our heads like a million small suns. We are staring again into that infinite chest of a blue jay called the sky. I tell her my vulnerabilities: I have been battling anxiety; I don’t want to be a writer; I want to start presenting outside the binary once more. She tells me her vulnerabilities, which I will never repeat. We talk about the splendor of the day. How we wanted to clutch the day as if it were the last cup of water before a long walk across the dryness of this century. She tells me that she wants to bring her wife to come see the poppy fields sometime, too. Maybe this is because she has a love greater than mine to share the fields with. Or maybe not.

As we walk out of the poppy fields, I am listening to wind sounds. Maybe the wind sounds like god galloping on her hands over the hillside. Or maybe the wind sounds like a child skipping back into the womb of its mother. My friend and I are walking away from the hillside and there is traffic on the freeway, an ice cream truck by the parking lot. The woman in the ice cream truck shines, smiling at us with her few crooked teeth, as we order our calories melting on a stick. My friend and I leave towards dinner, and I’m without the videos or photos of you, my ex-everything.

Not until now, in this exact minute, do I wonder about the couples on that hillside and the lifespan of their photographs. The couple with the selfie stick. The gay couple in the distance. The mother and daughter duo. How many of those loves will lose each other, will delete that beautiful spring super bloom day? What does it mean to let go of the poppies and walk into something less beautiful, to walk into a parking lot, an ice cream truck, traffic? Maybe this is what happens with love: Sometimes we leave and come back. Sometimes we leave but reminisce. Sometimes we leave and find beauty in another place altogether. Maybe in Joshua Tree? I know so little.

I say goodbye to the poppies. I say goodbye to you for the hundredth time. I deleted the pixels of our raunchy videos all over that hillside. The pixels are now floating with the butterflies, with the pollen, with the dust. And wow, I can’t believe you’re gone. For me to delete you, the hills had to be parched and dehydrated for years. The clouds had to offer their heavy downpour for weeks. The flowers had to explode from their millions of stems. Only then was there something so beautiful that I had the ability to believe in something more necessary than us. I let go of your morning kiss to make room for me in the hillside. It took the gorgeousness of a California super bloom. It took all of the world’s beauty for me step forward, once more. For me to move on.

***

Rumpus original art by Briana Finegan.


Christopher Soto (b. 1991) is a poet based in Los Angeles, California. He works at UCLA with the Ethnic Studies Centers and sits on the Board of Directors for Lambda Literary. He is currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript about police violence and mass incarceration. For more information visit: christophersoto-poet.com. More from this author →