Snapshots of Savannah: A heartsick writer discovers the self in selfie

An essay by Kristen Arnett
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Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah, Georgia

Illustration by Aaron Griffin

It was early January in Orlando, and I’d just had my heart broken.

I stood barefoot on my driveway in the wake of that miserable phone call, one in which a woman I was sleeping with told me that we’d only ever been friends, and tried to avoid an angry trail of fire ants. The moon was a bright sliver in the wide Florida sky. It was a balmy 60 degrees out. I shivered in a pair of thin boxer shorts and told myself I was going to drive to Savannah.

No one waited for me there. But I knew I could make it there in about four hours, give or take. I’d get myself a room at a hotel I couldn’t really afford on a pretty avenue in town next to one of the historic squares. Then I’d wander the old cobblestone streets and bar-hop my sadness away, drink until I couldn’t remember the woman’s name.

When I left the next morning, it was drizzling. The highways were full of standing water. I drove slower than I would have liked, avoiding the inevitable stopped cars that dotted the sides of the road like bright wildflowers. I dropped in at every rest area to check my phone and take a picture. This is what I would send the woman, I thought. She would not be able to forget me because there I’d be, my smiling face in yet another selfie testifying to all the fun I was having without her.

By the time I arrived in Savannah, the rain had increased to a steady downpour. I sat inside my hotel room and stared out the window, water smearing the rippled glass, and took in the shocking green of trailing ivy that climbed and dug into the sides of the old brick building across the street. I marveled at its tenaciousness. Such tender limbs, those juicy plant arms, yet they could dig into the heart of concrete. I wanted to feel that strong. I walked into the lobby and took a picture of myself in an ornate floor-to-ceiling gold mirror and sent it. I walked down the wet streets, arms crossed over my head to shield myself from the worst of the rain, and ducked into the first bar I could find. I sat alone in the heart of that crowded, happy pub and read a book while I drank hoppy local beer.

I took picture after picture of myself. My smiling face beside an intricately carved fountain. One of my hands cradling a broken magnolia blossom. My booted feet beside a wrought-iron fence twined with brightly colored bougainvillea. The pictures were for the woman who’d hurt me, but they began to collage into a vivid image of what I actually wanted. I snapped photo after photo of the things I wanted: antique volumes with dusty leather flaps in the used bookstore, a dog racing after a yellow tennis ball in the middle of Columbia Square, a single glass of sweet merlot next to a plate of bloody steak and buttered baby potatoes on a fancy dinner for one.

I left the hotel and drove the long way back to Orlando with my phone stuffed inside my bag. I did not text the woman again. Instead, I snapped pictures with my eyes. Blinking at every beautiful fresh thing along the side of the highway Keeping those images safe. Collecting them all for me.

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Miami-based writer Kristen Arnett is the author of With Teeth: A Novel, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction, and the New York Times bestselling debut novel Mostly Dead Things

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.

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