“Oh, damn!” my girlfriend texted, along with a string of frowny face and expletive emoticons.
“What happened?” I immediately texted back, fearing the worst. No, it wasn’t weird that she texted instead of calling me on the phone, we texted back and forth for days without listening to each other’s voices at times.
“I was on the bus, and this guy bumped on me, he was trying to fit his damn bicycle inside, and I dropped my phone! I didn’t notice it, but now there’s a crack on the screen.” More emojis.
“Is it bad? I mean, you are texting, so it must work.”
“Here, look.” She sent me a screenshot of a normal phone screen.
I scratched my head, it took me a second to get it, but then I snorted so loud I had to apologise to my cat for waking her up. “Baby,” I texted, trying not to be condescending, “you do realise I can’t see the crack from a screenshot?”
“But I just sent it, refresh or something.”
“Baby… Think about it for a minute.”
This went on for at least two minutes.
“If you ever bring this up again, I will wax your chest chair,” she finally texted back. And a frowny face.
“Lol, okay, really? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
“Okay, I’m dumb. Say it, it’s fine…”
“No baby, you’re not. You’re upset, that’s all.”
“Let’s never speak of this gaffe again.”
And then it hit me. This was the perfect metaphor for life. Here you are, upset about something, trying to show someone who cares how you feel. And all you can do is take a screenshot of your intimate and personal desktop. But the cracks do not transfer through.
All that person gets is whatever it was that was supposed to show on the screen. Nothing more.
And they don’t get it. They can’t see the cracks, the hairline fractures that threaten to expand, to take over the entire screen, your entire existence. Because the touchscreen still works, sometimes fine, sometimes it needs a bit of a push but it gets there. For all intents and purposes, for how the world is concerned, you are working as normal, you are studying as normal, you go about your day as normal. But the cracks are there, beneath the ultra-sensitive tips of your fingers. The fingers that can sense nano-scale wrinkles even on a seemingly smooth surface, that can feel a bump that is about the size of a large molecule. And that extraordinary tactile sense can detect the sharp edges of the cracks on the phone screen, giving you that jolt every single time, because that feeling is a conditioned response to something sharp, something that can penetrate skin, make you bleed. But it doesn’t cut you, it’s too fine a crack for that, but you feel it anyway each time you want to press a button, make a phonecall, send a ‘like’ to someone. Every time you act, you feel that microscopic crack and you can’t show it to people, it’s only there for you.
And when the screen finally cracks and usability suffers, that’s when you feel it all the time, in every gesture, every pinch and zoom, every swipe of the finger.
I pressed the record button and expressed this stream of consciousness out loud, then sent it to my girlfriend. I always did that, mulling over things out loud, recording them as if I was some medical examiner saying my notes as I cut open the corpse of my psyche.
She never complained about those recordings, and she never made fun of me. I think, deep down, that she liked seeing that unseen side of me.
My phone glinged in my hand. My thoughts had trailed away. I checked it, and it was another screenshot of my girlfriend’s phone screen. I began to type my reply, this time ready to tease her a little.
And then I got it.
She was sending me a cry for help. An attempt to show me the cracks she carried inside her.
“Oh, love,” I said out loud, my voice cracking.
We had found a new way to send out our signal. A screenshot of a cracked phone screen, a thing that is by default impossible to send. Your loved one must interpret it and read between the lines.
We used it a lot of times after that. Not too often, but sometimes, she’d send me the screenshot. And sometimes, when I felt down, when I felt the cracks widen, I sent one too. There was no need to say any more, simply knowing that someone had acknowledged your internal pain was enough. Enough to mend the cracks? No, of course not. But enough.
We broke up a year after that for silly reasons that had nothing to do with all this. She moved away, we kept in touch through our phones, we moved on. I got another girlfriend, she got another boyfriend. She got engaged, then married. She seemed really happy. We barely spoke two words. We didn’t remain friends, that was silly, just acquaintances, liking each other’s memes and major life-events.
And one night, out of the blue, she sent me a screenshot of a cracked phone screen.
I stared at it in stunned silence. This could only mean…
I put on my coat, and ran out to go and find her.