It means a gap in an artistic work, such as a manuscript or painting. Usually it’s a result of time or the elements, tiny fingers stripping the meaning away. But sometimes it’s a conscious, deliberate destruction.

Let’s pretend it’s 1982, and my girlfriend just dumped me. I might burn trinkets and letters, gifts and clothes. I can feel the heat baking my face and smell the heaviness of gasoline. I watch the flames eat away the evidence. Except it can’t erase the pathways in my mind.

With the beginning of social media, my generation must decide what to do with ex’s. They cling to your life like bits of glue on your sleeves. Relationships now leave a digital trail too. We list our relationships on Facebook and become “Facebook official,” we post pictures and statuses. My girlfriend and I have dated for six months now, and we’ve uploaded dozens of pictures. We are Facebook friends with each other’s friends.

I’m in the process of switching my Facebook over to Timeline. I’ve been amazed at how much you can edit and delete in Timeline. Click, snip, gone. This would be a natural opportunity to eliminate an ex from my profile — a Facebook purge.

When a relationship doesn’t work out, many people start a digital purge. A friend of mine recently broke up with her boyfriend, and she deleted all her profiles pictures with him. Ragged holes. It’s a lacuna. Except in this case, we know what belongs in the gap.

A digital purge creates a lacuna in your story. It’s cutting a character out of the story. Les Miserables without Éponine. The Phantom of the Opera without Erik. A Tale of Two Cities without Sidney Carton.

This removal is not complete, of course. A digital purge cannot erase a relationship. Love produces scars in your brain. My generation purges their profiles so they can get some closure and start to heal. But is a purge like that healthy? I don’t know.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a quirky film about two lovers that try to literally erase their memories of each other after a break-up. In the movie, the main character Joel asked if the process was safe. The doctor said: “Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage. But it’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you’ll miss.”

The title of Eternal Sunshine comes from a poem by Alexander Pope called Eloisa to Abelard and tells the tragic, true story of two lovers in the 12th century. Famed thinker Peter Abélard became Eloisa’s teacher with the aim of winning her affection, and the two had an illicit love affair. The lovers later married. When Eloisa’s guardian discovered the affair, he had Abélard forcibly castrated. Both Abélard and Eloisa joined monasteries after his castration. In the poem, Eloisa pleads for forgetfulness, essentially amnesia:

No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole;
Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!
Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,
Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

I had a crush on a girl once. She had a quick smile, and I thought she liked me. One day I logged onto Facebook and saw she had entered a relationship. My stomach clenched like a muscle cramp. I hid her from my news feed for several months because it was too painful. Time has her way of dulling pain, her homemade morphine.

But the human brain is designed to preserve memories connected to powerful emotions. Even if an amnesiac can’t remember an event, they hold the subconscious memory and emotion with them. Love will leave scar tissue in the brain.

The erasing procedure in Eternal Sunshine is an extreme form of a digital purge. When you purge your profile, you’re helping yourself to forget by speeding up the forgetfulness caused by time.

Do I want to forget the first time I told a woman I was attracted to her? I hadn’t planned on telling her that evening. We were standing outside her dorm, and the words spilled out. We sat on the spring grass, and I remember a small tree nearby was blossoming with white flowers. The day was so bright that it didn’t seem like it was evening, and we were so young. Even though I have regrets, I wouldn’t want to erase that.

I don’t have any clear answers. I’ve never purged my social media, not because I believe it’s wrong, but because I’ve never experienced a painful break-up. A gap can protect someone from a traumatic memory — so sometimes a lacuna is better.

This leaves me with a question … would Eloisa erase Abélard from her memory? I can’t imagine the anguish she endured. Eloisa tasted the ecstasy of sexual pleasure and intimacy before her husband was brutally emasculated by her family. And after his castration, she was separated from him. I wouldn’t condemn Eloisa if she erased him from her mind, removing her longing and wrapping her in the sweet peace of forgetfulness.

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  1. What do you think? Please leave a comment.

  2. “Except in this case, we know what belongs in the gap.” I love this line.

  3. I really enjoyed this Bundy. Sensitive, reflective, and tastefully written…or are least that is how I felt. My favorite line is, “Even though I have regrets, I wouldn’t want to erase that.” Not everyone deals with things the same way, but I could relate to this insight.

    • Thanks, Brenda. Your comment means a lot. Not all my memories are good ones, but I’ve yet to have one that’s so traumatic that I would erase it.

  4. interesting…

  5. It’s All Eloise and Abelard Until

    Slap a postage stamp on your feelings
    write it down and send it

    text the dearest thoughts with emoticons
    write it down push send

    Your mind is bathed in the opposite
    of what we call pain

    It’s all Eloise and Abelard until
    the dopamine runs out.


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