From the first time I saw you, I thought I understood everything about you, instantly and eternally. You were smart, and you were in pain. I was fascinated by you. I wanted to learn from you. I wanted to help you. I wanted to save you. I wanted you to know that I know who you are, and that you are perfect, just how you are. That you are loved and understood.
Then, at cold winter Midwestern parties, in your famous blue pea coat, standing around with keg beer in plastic cups, you asking, while you teetered drunk, if I thought you were a “fuck up.” I understood drinking as the way to ease the pain, my parents did it, just like yours. I see what it does. I burn a cigarette on my arm in front of you, to show off how I can take the pain. I know your pain, I understand your suffering. Your uncomfortableness in your own skin.
(I was so glad to hear from Jane that you gave that up drinking a long time ago, and have stayed away from it so long now.)
But, at the same time, I knew that for some reason, I could not be with you, not for any extended period of time. It was wrong. You would never love me. Not in the way that I loved you. Not this life. Never this life. It was unnatural, the kind of attraction I had for you, the obsession. Women were not supposed to want or pursue men. I was afraid if we tried, I would be consumed. That something terrible would happen. Yes, yes, sublimation, idealization, fixation...of course, then, right. It’s not real. It’s all made up, in my head, in my imagination, or something. I don’t really know what I think I know. I don’t really feel what I think I feel. It’s all transference of something our parents did to us. Terrible things did happen, after all. Oh, really not so terrible.
But you, dear one, were needy. How you relished having a young girl’s attention. Here and there, we had our moments together, didn’t we?
And I thought then, sometimes, if we could just, if I could just...that we might...But there felt like no way out, no way out, of the drama and pain of our upbringings, except if we excelled. Except if we became heroes.
You be valedictorian and go Ivy League, I’ll be a famous fiction writer and get out of this ugly-bellied town. We shall know the truth and the truth will set us free. Everything will be redeemed.
Come home with me, and I’ll come home with you, a handful of times, in secret, no one will see, no strings attached, not a date. Talk all night of war and death and evil and god and pain, of failure and dreams and how time has no beginning and no end. Of honor and courage and rape and shame and abuse. Spoon with me in the cold dark night, the smell of carrion animals in the air, mixed with pine and stale alcohol. Put your hand across my waist, but never above or below. Tell me I’m different, tell me I’m special, tell me I’m smart and creative and talented. You never tell me I’m beautiful, that’s okay, because I’m not. But you are the most important person in the world to me.
But maybe that’s why you don’t really want me, not like a woman. You say I’m not like a woman, I’m more like a man, a friend, a confidant. You tell me of your fears and shame. I tell you that everything is going to be okay. Don’t be afraid of death, because time itself is spiral. That we’ve all had past lives and we’ll all have future lives. Energy can never be created or destroyed, just transformed. You ask me if I’m in love with you. Of course not, how could I be. (That of course, is a lie. I didn't know it then. But in retrospect, it's clear) It’s just a bond, a strange bond. You say you feel the same way. You let me borrow your pea coat. That makes me happy and calm.
But I’m a young woman, and I want to be wanted. I take you on a picnic, and your nose bleeds. Come home with me, my mother finds us, she is drunk and gushes to finally meet you (outing my feigned aloofness) and cries telling you her life story. You are patient and kind with her. I am mortified.
You tell me about other girls you find attractive. My friend becomes my rival. I set you up with her. One night we all make out in the same room, me with your friend whom I don’t like one bit, and you with my friend, who really doesn’t like you, while Pink Floyd plays in the background. You ask me to give your pea coat back. I've lost it.
I’m doing less than I should be at high school, no plans for college, my parents are divorcing, and I daydream and write and paint and procrastinate and run away to the Big City.
Oh yes, before I go, you invite me to meet you with your girlfriend, The Blond: sharp, funny, probably very good for you. Not what I expected. I try to be happy for you. I am happy for you. I don’t want a relationship. I want a career.
Miles away, I start writing a novel and of course, you’re there, in my heart. I recast us as incestuous siblings, bound by hate and lust. But there’s this bond. This bond, we’ve both agreed, isn’t love, but something else. Something, unfathomable. Brothers in a past life. Soldiers. Did I betray you on the battlefield? Did you betray me? What was the karma that was driving us to suffer alone and be so self-destructive? Could it ever really be known? Could it ever really be cured and forgiven and understood?
After college, we see each other. It didn’t work out with The Blond. You aren’t sure what to do with your academic career. You’re in therapy and working through issues with your mother and your father, and you’re taking antidepressants. You’re in more pain now that I’ve ever seen you. I feel sorry for you. I realize that I can’t really help you. Some of it sounds like a broken record now. Both of us, I’m sure. My anger and shame about my parents and my body. The same old lovely pain. You seem to want me now. And I want to give you comfort. So we try to have sex. We’ve never seen each other naked before. We are awkward and clumsy. It doesn’t really work. We say in the morning that we will keep in touch, but I don’t believe it, really. I think that it is over now, there is nothing more to say. And I wonder if sex is all I wanted all along, and if so, how terribly wrong I've been.
A year later, you come and see me at a public event. I see you walk up. Your face so full of joy to see me. And by then, I’m with my fiancé. “Oh, hi, let me introduce... don’t you see you’re too late?” I say inside. “If you loved me, you would have come for me sooner. You knew where I was.” You know it’s the end. You get the message, quickly say goodbye, and walk away. That’s the last time, right? The last time we saw each other in person. That was 20 years ago and 1500 miles away.
And now you contact me...electronically...
And I’m ignoring you. Because you scare me and I’m ashamed of all this. What if something terrible were to happen...
I don’t understand what happened to us when we were younger. Such a tremendous amount of my energy has gone into trying to keep it down and figure it out, and I don’t think we ever will truly know.
And there are so many people that I’ve hurt, because I haven’t been able to let go of this mystery in my heart. Including myself. Including you. So much wasted time and effort. Maybe we've nurtured it because we thought we needed it, this pain, this longing, this suffering, this wonder.
And still, from time to time, I’m so very deeply lonely, and I do miss our long talks, and the sense that someone does understand my darling pain. And I do still care. I will always love you. And I think now, perhaps, you do love me, too. In your own way.
It so hopelessly ironic.
But I want to let it all go now. And if you do now love me, please, let it all go, too. For the sake of our children, for our spouses. For ourselves. It’s not good to keep in contact. We can never be there for each other in the end. I'm so sorry, but this time, I think I'm speaking the truth.
Maybe our journey is about learning to love ourselves. And that we deserve better than the way we see and treat ourselves, the deep dark guilt and shame we inherited, that goes far beyond anything we ever did wrong to each other or anyone around us.
So what if you’re not Ivy League and I’m not famous. We still can be heroes to the people who really need us. Nothing terrible needs to happen. If we can finally let go.
Sincerely, A Friend
(Response to Rita's Fiction Friday prompt: Write your story in the form of a letter apologizing for some mistake you made. Who will you write to? What did you do? When and where did it happen?)