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One for you
a love letter to you after one year
Hi, thanks for being here. Today marks one year since I started this newsletter. I didn’t ever imagine having anyone read along, yet here you all are. I’m so grateful. I hope you’ll continue to be here. If you’d like to support this project financially, you can upgrade your subscription. xoxo
You’ve lost count of the days, but I haven’t. It’s been eight months in a week. People told me at the beginning you wouldn’t care if I stayed or went. Every time someone calls you harsh, it’s because they haven’t seen your soft underbelly like I have. They told me you were indifferent. I’ve found you to be anything but. You hurt me all the time, sure, but I’ve accepted this flaw of yours. Though most of that has been in my head. You and I both know how much I like to hurt my own feelings. I stay even if you’re harboring hope that I will go. I don’t really think you are though. You’re as full of me as I am of you. How could being swallowed whole be called indifference? You’ll have to drag me out before I ever agree to leave. I have a feeling you won’t.
On a Sunday morning a year ago, I sat in the swivel desk chair I had only recently purchased for my new job. Two hundred dollars for the ergonomics. An adult purchase despite my protests that I didn’t need the support. You called it the neoliberal war room chair. That morning, I didn’t leave it for five hours. You were still asleep. I transcribed the notes from my phone. Just descriptions of everything I’d seen that week. Not erasing the sections I knew I should take out. Writing it as plainly as I could from memory. You were in every section. We were such a mess. Falling apart and holding together at the same time. When you woke up in the afternoon, I had an essay. You read it while I paced around the too small and too expensive apartment. An edit here, a typo there. Just send it, it’s good, you told me. I did, then shut my computer.
We walked downtown to visit a museum we’d been meaning to go to for years. It was too late when we got there. They were closing. You brought up the essay again when we got back onto the street. Too warm in February, as it always was too warm in February in the South. It had something, you said. We walked to the pedestrian bridge. Nothing to see, other than a gray sunset, so we turned around. Back towards bars, problems, everywhere we knew we shouldn’t go. That night it felt like we went everywhere. Dinner to celebrate nothing where we just kept ordering more and more. A jazz club. The shrubs. You took a picture of me lying down in them in my new Madewell jeans I actually could afford to buy. In a few months, we’d separate and I’d go to New York alone. The plan broken. You once told me I had you. It was true. I did, then I didn’t. It’s a fact I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
We loved this one song about coming back. You played it for me seven years ago when I dropped you at the airport for what would be the first of many more times. I hadn’t known it before you. Then I knew everything. I knew it was a code. You will? You will.
Over the Gowanus Canal, our umbrellas turn inside out from the coastal flooding and the wind accompanying it. It’s so stupid to be in bad weather. But we always are. The gray water coursing. I remember when I crossed the canal the month before I moved. I thought it was the worst looking water in the world. I made fun of it. This is a canal? Canal seemed too beautiful of a concept for what the Gowanus Canal actually is. Sewage. Or that’s my estimation. Tonight you said it was alright, we’d be fine, it was actually kind of fun to be stuck in this together. The water below us is choppy and murky. Moving fast. I still think it’s ugly, even though I rarely think anything in New York is ugly. That hasn’t changed since the summer, even when it feels like everything else has.
People often ask us how we met. We glance at each other, who is going to tell the story this time? Introduced through a friend of a friend of a friend. What I should say is we were supposed to meet. That we were sensitive enough to serendipity, so it was bound to happen. You texted me a few nights after we first met and asked if I wanted to go out to a dumb bar where dumb people go. I almost suggested another night, because it was a Sunday and despite the holiday weekend, I felt guilty over going out. But I knew there was a possibility. I put on my headphones and left the apartment wearing a silly outfit. Me always too early, and you always just in time. All night in that persistent warm rain and you didn’t stop smiling. As we sat smushed together at KGB, you told me I didn’t need to write about the same thing as everyone else. That I had something more. I held onto that. I don’t like to think about what would have happened if I had said no. Sometimes I think nothing in these last eight months would have happened if I had stayed in.
We walked to Union Square after seeing the sun set perfectly between buildings. The only time of year that happens. I wanted soft serve. I wanted the summer not to end. I marveled at little dogs, coincidences, having a friend like you who suggested we literally go stare at the sun. The purple summer sky that seemed to last for months above us. I see a map when I think of you. All the places you know how to get to intuitively. You were born here. Know which bridge leads where, all the tangled arteries of subways. Now you’re leaving for another big city. A map you’ll have to relearn. Bittersweet, you tell me. Almost twenty-seven years old when you realized it was time to do something crazy.
I sat down at your dinner table, next to your beautiful and kind friends as we played “Rose, Bud, and Thorn.” Rose, a sweetness that week, thorn, something bad. Just a quick draw of blood, nothing to scar. A bud was something you were hopeful for. I wanted to fit in your life, to be in your neighborhood. Yes, I’ll be the one to grab another bottle of wine. Nervous as I jogged to the store around the corner that was closing soon. Not wanting the shop attendants to be annoyed at my last minute arrival. I apologized as soon as I opened the door. Don’t worry, there was still time. Not wanting to pick the wrong thing, because your partner knows a lot about wine. When I returned, he told me it was his favorite kind. Another confirmation that I had been chosen by you, by your life.
I said my bud was this possibility. To be chosen in a singular moment. This is the moment that might be the watershed. That a friend could reach his hand back and pull me through the crowd on a dance floor. That you reached out all those years ago and we held onto each other even though we wouldn’t see each other until meeting again here. That this was a moment crystallized in my mind forever, an almost ending, but it had potential. Recently I told you the older I get, the less scared I am. There’s an inevitability that is more comforting than terrifying. Relationships can change. In fact, they have to. Everything can change. What we have to do is hold on to each other. You taught me that.
In the middle of a party, I told you how much you meant to me. Stupid to say because the words weren’t enough. At another party, I said I’m sorry, I love you. At other parties we’ve been conspirators, laughing in the corner or singing on the couch. Moving together and separately. How do you tell someone you have only known for a year that you’ve known them your whole life? We can be loud, your laugh ringing sharp, making me laugh louder, harder, without feeling outside of myself. Other times we’re quiet, spending hours together just sketching. When I cried on your living room floor, you put your hand on your shoulder and steadied me.
Early on, you sent me a screenshot of a notification from an astrology app. It was about us. The update said the two of us might feel closer to each other than we do with other friends. A knowing that preceded our meeting. I’ve never met someone who tells stories the way you do. A tiny museum of details no one else would notice. When you tell a story, I feel like I’m there even without having been there at the time. Recently, you told one about us and said, it was before we really knew each other. You said you had wanted to spend time with me. I was confused for a moment because I can barely remember before I knew you. Your eyes fill when mine fill. You feel what I feel, I feel what you feel. Twin souls. On Valentine’s Day, I recited Joni Mitchell— love is touching souls, surely you’ve touched mine. We’re continuous through all the discontinuity.
I don’t believe in past lives at all, but I’m not sure I’ll ever understand how it feels like we already knew each other before we met. All these clichés. What I really mean is that I prayed for you.
When you left me that morning, you left me confused. When I cried with you on the corner of Chrystie and Broome, I thought you’d never want to see me again. When we took the ferry to Governors Island, you promised me you would get better. When you told me you wanted to treat me well and you didn’t, I still waited to find out if that would change. When you told me how to use the bus because I hadn’t before, I felt like I’d let you tell me how to use soap if you wanted to. When you kissed my forehead while we k-holed, I’m not sure if I ever felt closer to you or anyone. When you kissed the top of my head before I got off the train, I thanked you. When you told me I deserved better, I didn’t believe you even though I do. When you told me we’d see each other again, I believed you even though we didn’t. When you called me, I couldn’t help but answer. When you held me, you held me.
A year and a half ago, you came to Iowa to bring me out of a funk I didn’t know I was in. You brought me to see the raptors at the rescue center. I wanted to cry as I read each of their stories, how they were injured, saved, rehabilitated, safe. We skipped rocks on the lake’s big surface. I was terrible at it, nauseated from all the winding country roads we drove on. The sun glinting and relentless, sanitizing after months and months apart. White rocks that left chalk on my hands. Just a mile from there, fossils I wrote poems about but couldn’t quite capture their uncanniness. A time before time. How it’s always felt with you. We walked around in the quiet of November. I didn’t know how to tell you how badly I was hurting. Any of the times. All the times you’ve come running to me. How much I feel like I’ve failed you and never told you.
Distance doesn’t necessarily change the heart either way. Not fonder or less so. What it can be is a challenge. We can work the groove until we carve out a place for ourselves to meet again. I’ll reach you. Even if I can’t be there perfectly. You forgive me for this imperfectness. How I left Chicago after only a day during a weekend we were supposed to spend together. I told you everything about my first four months in New York one afternoon as I sat on the balcony of the Cloisters. It felt like the miles closed in. We were together again in the sun. Over the phone, you told me that you would do anything for me. I never for a second thought you wouldn’t.
A stranger DMs you about your writing. This can happen, and it happens to happen often to you. Sometimes you don’t know what to say. Compliments can be hard to accept, in real life, but especially online. Excessive praise usually leads to a moment of awkwardness before fizzling to silence. There’s nowhere to go from there most of the time. Do you respond? But you did. As effusively as I had messaged you. I remember the first person I had ever asked to be my friend. We were in the lunch line during kindergarten. The balloon of my heart inflated when she said yes. Just like that moment, you accepted the invitation to be my friend.
We met at St. Dymphna’s on a muggy August day. I wore a red top that I now mostly associate with you. We drank Campari sodas. The red light of the Tiffany lamps slowly turned on as dusk got closer. The doors wide open. A few days after I write that sentence, you tell me that you always feel like you’re wearing red whether you want to or not. Now it’s our Dymphna’s on weekdays and only when there’s no trivia.
There was a day four months later when we walked almost sixty blocks from the Frick in drizzling rain. You put on red Chanel lipstick effortlessly in the lobby bathroom of a fancy hotel where we had cocktails we probably couldn’t afford. Two mischievous girls in a famous hotel. Madeline and Eloise. We realized that day we had the same favorite book. All of our parallels and synchronicities. Caught in the rush of holiday shoppers, we moved slowly and without purpose. Talking about everything and nothing, a best friend who doesn’t believe in best friends as we looked into the department store holiday window displays, debating on pizza but grocery shopping instead, sleepwalking in a dream that kept going until Avenue A broke us apart.
You two took me in when I walked through Ridgewood in my socks. You took me in when I couldn’t keep my eyes open after dancing all night. You took me in when my flight was canceled. Locked out of your house, you took me all through Park Slope and we watched the last day of summer disappear. A goodbye that I wouldn’t let be a goodbye. You took me in when I drank too much and decided your floor was the only place I could sleep. My phone went missing, so you gave me your couch and put a comforter around my shoulders, a glass of water on the floor. You took me to sit under the full moon by the lake you love. You took my picture. You took me back after years apart, into your friendship and confidence. Voice memos, long texts, Sunday phone calls, clips from Girls resurfaced on Tiktok. You stopped me before I ran down 14th and told me I could crash at yours. You took me to a show I cried through like a teenager. You took me to your favorite restaurant where it feels like 2003 and now it’s my favorite too. I took all your favorite places. You took me to a party even though you barely knew me. You took the flight when I asked. I took you to meet my new friends and told everyone you were one of my oldest. You took my hand and I’m safe with you. You took me and you didn’t let me go.
We walked to the Lower East Side. The two of us and our whims that sometimes align perfectly. Silly errands and shadow puppets at fancy restaurants. Stopping every few minutes for a picture. A mess that occasionally makes sense.
We were going to the place where we first met. You said you were glad we were doing this. I didn’t ask why. Just when I think you’ve slipped away, you come back. I’m learning to be ok with this. You handed me your phone so I could plug in my headphones. You wanted to play me a song. Before it played, you told me it reminded you of a summer when you lived in a cottage on the coast. There was a rose garden. I could almost picture it, but mostly I could picture you squinting in the light. Trying to find the right angle. On Ludlow, you kept talking though I couldn’t quite hear you. Some man on the street passed us, and I did hear what he said. I love her, but the way I love my dude friends. I laughed because it was perfect.
I will recite to you my favorite lyrics from the song the next day. Thank you for sitting down beside me. You said, don’t say thank you, I choose to be here freely. As I trail off, you finish the couplet. I will listen to it again and again from Canal all the way to 7th Avenue. A week later we sit quietly together at lunch while the rain makes the city clean again. We’re soaked down to our clothes. We have nowhere in particular to go, nothing to do other than use up film in a roll. I don’t know how to spend a day wisely, but I do know if I could fall into a time loop and live this day over again with you, I would.
Why do we let the spell get broken? The second we go outside, it’s over. The car is almost here. No longer the touches, the glances, the whispers, my head on your shoulder, you promising where we’ll go but might never. Don’t break this. I want to stay in this. I want to stay with you. Then you do. We break it together. Is it possible to fall in love in a city like New York? In any city, or anywhere in the world at all as atomized as we all are? There’s no formula. No calculation you can run. Trying to explain why you fell for someone is like trying to describe the taste of water. After tonight, we’ll be strangers for weeks. Still, I choose you every single day.
I read from Default Friend: I believe in soulmates. And I think your soulmate is whoever heals the wound you’ve been nursing since you were 17. I wish I had written that.
You’ve been healing this wound. Maybe it was you all along. The wound I wanted to keep open and have heal at the same time since I was 17. This is everyday with you. I wake up to your sounds. The street noise I swear is more lullaby than alarm clock. Sniffling when the radiators kick on and our noses are bloodied. I wake up to the world I’ve built with you. I want to say thank you, but I stop myself. Love isn’t saying thank you or sorry. Then again, I don’t know if I know what love is. It’s an articulation I get to spell out with you. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real. Sometimes it feels like we’re pretending. I guess if I’ve learned anything, the best kind of love feels like you just make it up as you go along.
I don’t know where you are. But I’m here. I watch the rain fall and hit the AC unit. Small splotches. I’ve been waiting for snow to come, but it hasn’t yet. False starts. The days are getting longer again and I’m impatient to lose this season. I’m pacing. I swear I was just talking to you. You called me or you didn’t. I dreamed your name or I heard your voice, then I woke up. That was moments ago, now I’m here in morning without you. If I forgot you, it was only in a moment of confusion. There was a song in my head, but the lyrics didn’t make any sense. The words played backwards and forwards like that Beatles song with the secret message that Paul is dead. The warped hardwood creaks as I move room to room. That’s what I hear now, not your voice. The rain stops and starts again. The sirens never really stop.
I walk to another window. I’ve been thinking about how an apartment can have many lives. There has never been enough light in this one. I’ve been thinking about the way you can sit in one spot and watch the light move all day. I wasn’t thinking about the sun when I chose to live here on an impossibly sweaty day in June. I ran from the Q, past places that now blend into the landscape of all my days. No idea where I was. The smog and humidity pushing me down Flatbush towards St. Marks. I could see the skyline. Didn’t know if it was Brooklyn or Manhattan. I wanted to take this apartment because it felt like a sign. In some ways, it was. Ridiculous to believe in destiny, but really what I believe is that nothing is in my control. Which is to say the same thing twice.
I know now it’s impossible to be careful. There’s no safe sex, no safe distance, no safety nets, no safe way to love someone. There are no contracts we can hold each other to. No promises. You could walk out tomorrow. If you do, just know I’ll love you forever. It’s stupid because it’s impossible, but it’s also true. All I can give you is forever. Then I can begin to write this.