The crying is the worst, and I’d be lying if I said I never wished for a means to erase my relationship with Kate from my memory. I wonder: What would my life be like now without the nervous breakdown, which took more than a year from my life? The trips to psych wards, whose sterile corridors made me feel more crazy, not less? The lost employment, the uncontrollable tears, the sensation that my soul has been scraped raw and bloody? In a word, it would be easier. And who doesn’t like easier? To paraphrase Hamlet, forgetting it all is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Just ask the folks at Lacuna.
But all of that discounts the most important quality of all: love. It’s the great equalizer. Joel felt it more powerfully than ever as Clementine began vanishing from his memory. And I felt it in all its might and strength as I watched the Kate I knew succumb to her illness, slowly disappearing. First she lost the ability to speak. Then she could no longer text. Then she couldn’t even read. And it all made me love her all the more, even as I lost the ability to function as well.
What might my life be like had I never met her? I’d still be drinking alcoholically, still be coasting from one lonely hookup to another. Life would be easier without the pain of love lost. And it would be empty.
“Eternal Sunshine” comes down, jaggedly but firmly, on the side of love. Like most any Kaufman film, including the new “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” “Eternal Sunshine” makes clear that an end is nigh. But love survives everything, even brainwashing—or, in my case, even terminal illness and the thousand forms of sorrow it brings.
It’s intriguing that I don’t want to erase the bad memories. For one, I think I’ve already done a good deal of that job. I was a knucklehead early in our relationship, and I think I had to stop thinking about those years in order to get better and move forward. I was emotionally checked out. I went away on a fellowship in Cambridge and all but forgot her. My real relationship was with bourbon. Who wants to remember the bad stuff? Not me. I did my own Lacuna procedure on the foul memories. Writing about them now fills me with dull shame, not pain.