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June 30, 2022

Phantom Youth

Shelby Hinte

I read once that to love someone long-term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be. When I look up the quote online it’s attributed to a “psychology writer” who conducts “soul bootcamps” and believes in the accuracy of personality quizzes. I recite the quote silently, like an incantation, pretend it comes from somewhere more profound than the self-help corner of the world, and think of the selves I used to be but no longer am—as if they are separate people I knew and loved as opposed to versions of myself I couldn’t wait to outgrow.

A deceased version of myself never conjured old selves —didn’t know there were dead mes to mourn.

Now, in my current dying self, I try to recall an image of that younger me as if it’s proof I contain multitudes rather than a cemetery.


1,000 miles from home / everyone I know is a person I only just met / thought the ocean would be closer / five girls in a two-bedroom apartment / spandex skirts we thought were very Rachel and Monica (but make it art school) / telegraph avenue tattoos / marlboro reds in the freezer / peanut butter and potato dinner / reciting lines from memory like: the center will not hold to prove we can hang with the big leagues (might as well tattoo poet on my forehead beneath plz just take me serious) /


At the time, I don’t think to transcribe it to memory—mildewed carpet we never clean, dish-ridden sink, balcony we aren’t supposed to smoke on, and dorm room confessionals desperate for testimony to tether us to something other than ourselves. We nod our heads in agreement to things we’ve never heard of, regurgitate thoughts straight from our professor’s mouths. I think this time will last forever. I am arrogant enough to light a new cigarette with the burning out end of another as though a body isn’t a thing on its way to rot.


a photographer from new york lets me ride on the front of his fixie / in the loft bedroom of his warehouse, he sings “like a virgin” and puts his hand up my skirt / I can hear his roommates laughing / everything smells like weed and his mouth tastes like yeast / a surf punk concert in an abandoned parking lot / lipstick so thick it won’t ever come off / I hold a mickeys and stumble across the roof /a girl falls through right in front of me and laughs, her septum piercing disappears in her curled up red lips / “yo blondie, help me out” / I grab her hands and a poet from workshop holds my waist / I hoist her out / I go home with the poet / it is further than he says it will be /


I conjure these memories, like casting a spell, but something goes wrong and it’s never how I remember it —too much yearning, not one gentle touch, an earnestness I now know to keep private. I let the half-formed memories take up residence anyway, just for a little while, if for no other reason than to forget, again, that a body’s just a thing on its way to rot.


before I move to california, I’ll see him on the campus tour: rail thin, tattooed chest, cigarette perpetually in hand / I’ll manifest a prayer / make him love me / he will press into me on his stained mattress / he won’t love me / one day it will be the last day I ever see him / one day it will be the last day the photographer ever reaches beneath my skirt / one day it will be the last day I ever see those five girls / one day it will be the last day I am young / one day I will have died a thousand times