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The next day Evan texted me:

Get a drink with me next weekend x

The way he had posed this as an order rather than a question could have seemed arrogant to me, but with the context I already had of him—that he was politically progressive; self-deprecating; sweet—it was endearing. The message arrived as I was standing in the health food shop, deciding between two boxes of tea. Suddenly the decision of whether to buy ‘Calm’ tea or ‘Relax’ tea, was completely unimportant. I grabbed a box and headed to the counter, skipping my usual browse through the rows of vague and expensive supplements; a habit that often resulted in me leaving the store poorer and not entirely sure of how reishi mushroom powder was going to find a place in my life. I paid for the tea and smiled as I read the message from my lock screen. I would open it later when I’d already decided on how to respond.

I walked up Sydney Road, past the windows of headless mannequin brides and the bolts of fabric that hung ghost-like behind glass, and my afternoon transformed. A new sense of excitement made the air feel fresh rather than cold; it made having to wait behind the train track boom gate more of an adventure and less of an inconvenience; it changed the colour of the sky from grey to silver; it made people inherently good again. I found myself smiling without even trying.

When I got home, I put on a podcast about love languages and leisurely made myself a couscous salad for dinner. I sat on the couch and ate, contemplating how to respond to Evan. After multiple revisions, I sent:

Okay, you’ve convinced me :)

An hour of not receiving a response passed, followed by another, and I worried that Evan’s silence was due specifically to the words I’d chosen. I should have asked where he wanted to get a drink. Or, I could have been more useful by suggesting a place. I knew for certain that I should have dropped the juvenile smiley face, which now, on reflection, looked ridiculous. It also occurred to me that, through my stubborn refusal to ask Evan out on a date, I had starved our conversation and left him with no choice but to once again bravely declare his interest. Even so, Evan had swallowed his pride in a way that I was incapable of, and then doubled down by adding an x. Which I hadn’t reciprocated. Instead I’d just callously smiled back at him, like an absolute sociopath. I’d given him nothing but lukewarm waters to test and I concluded that if he never messaged me again, it would be a completely fair reaction, and one I deserved for refusing to give him even the smallest glimpse of my cold, dark heart. I pushed my phone down the end of the couch with my foot and tried to focus on the TV show I was watching.

I’d given him nothing but lukewarm waters to test and I concluded that if he never messaged me again, it would be a completely fair reaction.

Later when I got into bed, I had a notification. Evan had sent me a friend request. This was surprising given he still hadn’t responded to my last message, but also because I hadn’t received a friend request in years. I wondered if he’d been forced to go to Facebook after being unable to locate me anywhere else. Of course, I hadn’t forgotten that I’d recently made the very mature decision to not research Evan online before getting to know him in person. I contemplated ignoring the request. If need be, I could claim that I didn’t use my account. But the fact that he hadn’t responded to my message made me think I was not handling these early conversations as well as I could be and some support would be helpful. I freed my phone from the charger and rolled over in bed to make myself more comfortable. Then I accepted the request.

Evan’s profile picture was six months old. It was a film photo of him and a friend sitting side by side on the grass at a picnic. Other people could be seen half in and out of the shot. Evan had a beer in his hand. His sunglasses were being pushed up his face by his grin and smile lines creased the corners of his eyes. He looked good.

The next photo was from over a year ago, Evan was sitting on a mustard couch on the front porch of an old terrace house. He was grinning again, this time with one arm wrapped around the shoulders of the girl seated next to him. The girl’s name was Emily, as I learned from a comment she’d left on the photo:

You’re ugly x

Love you x, he’d responded.

My suspicion that I’d found Evan’s ex was confirmed when I walked further back in time to the next profile photo and saw Emily again. This time the two of them were guests at a wedding. Evan’s eyes, which I thought were brown, revealed themselves as dark green. It was a piece of information I should have learned the first time I saw his eyes catch sunlight, not through a screen. These little moments of discovery were being stripped away from us by our online presences, but I accepted that they were a sacrifice; a necessary loss in order to gain useful information.

It was a piece of information I should have learned the first time I saw his eyes catch sunlight, not through a screen.

Emily was stunning in a conventional and indisputable way; tanned and thin with a grown-out blonde fringe that was parted in the middle and framed her heart-shaped face perfectly. I couldn’t help but find her presence in his photos disappointing.

When my ex and I broke up, before I deleted my account for good, I performed a cleanse and removed every picture of him. The choice to do that was not motivated by anger or pettiness, nor was it an attempt to elicit a response from him. It was more like a digital sage burning exercise.

I wished Evan had performed a similar ritual. It wasn’t pleasant to see images of him, someone I was actively interested in, with his ex. Even the most platonic photo dripped with imagined sexual tension. The image might not have captured it, but my mind had no issue imagining all the sex they would have had before the photo was taken, after the photo was taken, in between.

Of course, I immediately wondered what went wrong between Evan and Emily. But the presence of the photos implied that the dissolution of their relationship couldn’t possibly have been dramatic. Were they still close friends? Was that worse? I clicked on Emily’s name.

In her profile picture she was sitting on the beach, smiling and sun-drenched and unfairly photogenic. Her knees were hugged into her chest and her chin tilted up towards the camera. Two dimples that never seemed to fully actualise were hinted at on either side of her smiling mouth. A bucket hat covered her long blonde hair and she wore white-rimmed cat-eye sunglasses. The image stirred in me an indefinable feeling, a little like envy, a little like guilt, and a lot like bitterness. She looked uninhibited and effortless; a cool girl who is masterful at covering up the effort and the level of curation required to appear so nonchalantly aesthetic. On top of that, the image had nearly three hundred comments, a ridiculously high number for a pedestrian profile photo. So, she was popular as well. I clicked on the comments.

The first one said:

Miss you Em x

The second:

RIP Emily. Miss you every day.


This is an edited extract from Search History by Amy Taylor (Allen & Unwin),  available now at your local independent bookseller.