The thing about not being heartbroken is, you look out the window less. You don’t notice little details. You don’t invest as much in the color of the sky through the skylight, the song in the grocery store. You know nothing has special metaphorical symbolism. The leaves on the tree changing from green to orange to brown, falling and dying, the unrequited love song playing in ShopRite. You know these are meaningless coincidences.
You never returned, Björk sings, screams, whines. I hit repeat. You never returned, she says again and again, until I exhaust myself and get in my shitty car with the duct taped windows and drive.
All my life I thought I’d change, Angel Olsen repeats thirteen times. I know because I counted.
On Fresh Air, the director of Manchester By The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan tells Terry Gross there is a difference between moving on and moving forward, but I forget what he said.
And though I have mostly moved on, upwards and onwards—putting clichés into action—o-bla-di, o-bla-da, life goes on, BLAH—I have never stopped looking back.
I have a dream, after selling this book, someone asks me what it’s about. I explain and they say, So, the narrator is still pining after Finn? They put emphasis on the word ‘still.’
No! No! No, I say. Not that. It’s exploring what it’s like not to be pining. In the dream, I am embarrassed, ashamed, misunderstood. When I wake up, I am not sure if it was a dream or real conversation I had with someone, perhaps with Maggie.
But why, ashamed? I remember once, during a long argument, you told me that your heart was broken by a woman five years ago, a woman you were very much in love with, who ended up marrying a man. Or was it ten years ago? You said, Sometimes I feel like I’m still picking up the pieces. You used that line as an excuse for your behavior, for what had gone on between us.
I remember thinking this was sort of pathetic. At least that hadn’t happened to me! So many years later! Still hurt by someone!
I am sure there are people who think me writing this book is pathetic. And to that I say, join the fucking club!
Once I asked you, What was your favorite part of last night? Say it without thinking.
You, softly touching my back under my sweatshirt, you said, quickly, playing along.
I remember you hated those thin pink soaps in public restrooms. We were at a cafe, and I went to the bathroom first, then you. I hate that kind of soap, you said as you were walking back. I didn’t know what you were talking about because I hadn’t washed my hands.
Once, you were talking and interrupted yourself with:
Never mind. I’m talking out loud when I should be in my head.
And maybe that’s my definition of writing. Talking out loud when I should be in my head.
When I get home, first we don’t talk, then we do. My wine habit is pretty bad at this point and whenever I am drinking, I want to write to you. I ask you why you wouldn’t see me before I left. I think you say you were scared. I tell you that you could have told me that. You agree. We work through it. We are BFFs again. You talk of coming to visit me which is a hypothetical fantasy; we both know. We simultaneously read Anne Patchett’s essay collection. It is snowing on both of our coasts. We both listen to Cat Power’s covers album. You like me again, now. This is safe for you now. You are friendly and open and funny again. You are ebullient. You subtweet me, still.
I tried calling you but I think you blocked my number, you email me one night. Ha, you say.
My phone was not an iPhone. It was some other shit. You did not ‘block’ people. You did what they called ‘blacklisting,’ I email and tell her that.
That’ll be the name of my first book, she says. Blacklisted.
You solely wrote in lowercase letters because when you were in middle school and discovered e.e. cummings, you started and never stopped. My friend, Olivia, once said she writes in lowercase letters only when the person she is emailing with does. Isn’t that so chameleon of me? She asked.
How many more times do I reach out to you? Once? Five times? The downside of knowing someone's hours at their workplace, what their office looks like, what their bed looks like, is that you can imagine it in perpetuity. I wonder if a week ever goes by when I’m not calculating what time it is in your city.
ADD THE THING ABOUT EXPIRED MILK
Once, I told you I wanted to work only part-time so I could write full-time. If anyone else told me that I’d think they were stupid, you said. But since it’s you, I think it’s smart.
The best porn is always the ones say Lesbian first time, I text you once.
Duh, you respond.
One night after splitting a bottle of wine with a friend, I want to text you.
Fuck do I miss you! was the text.
I half jokingly say to my friend that it is genius.
Isn’t it funny how we always think our ideas of what to text them are genius, she says.
That night, I promised myself if I still wanted to send it when I was sober in the morning, I would, like alcoholics do. Tomorrow, I tell myself.
But when I’m sober I still want to, though I don’t. I write this scene instead.
It’s my way of talking to her, Eileen Myles says of the memoir they’re writing about their dog who died, Rosie.
People talk about closure. Is this mine? How many books will I have to write to feel closed?
After sleeping at your house a few times, I begin telling people you keep your books in glass cases. This isn’t true, but every time I was at your house, I was lit. You laugh when I ask you, are your books in glass cases? You say they aren’t, you say my memory is twisted. I invented it.
When we were together I did not have an iPhone. Thank God! I had phones so shitty it didn’t matter if I smashed them in the street. Everything felt replaceable. I never had to watch the three dots begin and disappear.
Earlier when we’d just been friends, we attended a TinHouse reading at a bar, standing next to one another. I remember wearing jeans and brown boots and a brown jacket. You wore a sweatshirt. You’d picked me up and given me a ride. When it was over, a man I knew offered me a ride home and said he had homemade cookies in his car—so I went with him instead of you.
You brought this up months later during an argument. It was comical how random it was. There was a pause in our conversation and you said—I can’t believe you went with him just because he had COOKIES! I wanted to drive you home.
In retrospect I also can’t believe I went with him just because he had cookies, but that was my life at the time. I was broke and took free food where I could get it.
In an essay by Sheila Heti, she says all due respect to her friends in New York, she’s never had a conversation with writers there without it turning into a conversation about enviable advances or gossip and pettiness. I want to believe this is wrong, but I look back on the past year or two and all that comes to mind is envy of people’s advances, envy of authors who Sarah Jessica Parker Instagrammed, foreign rights envy. It’s true that I can’t read a book without wondering about money, without looking up the author to see how hot she is, without reading the acknowledgements to see who her agent is. I buy books sometimes only to read the acknowledgements section.
This is my life now. Welcome To My life, as my fourteen-year old cousin loves to say, as could be the title of all my books. My life is productive now, I don’t stop working, thinking about working. I put my tour dates on my website so you know where I am. I like to think you check up on me. I remember the part of Department of Speculation where Jenny Offill writes about a post-it she kept above her desk for a year that read WORK NOT LOVE.
One day, I look in my purple journal that I started keeping after our demise. In the back of the journal is a pocket for loose papers. In it I find a leaf that is now puce-green-brown and flattened. There is a Whole Foods receipt from near your workplace. Your cashier today was STEPHANIE, the receipt says. It’s from summer at 3:09p.m. I’d purchased only one item, a San Juan Sea Salt chocolate bar. I paid with a twenty. On the back of the receipt I’d written DELTA 11:30, DELTA 186, Panic In Needle Park, Taxi Driver.
In the journal I’ve made a list of what I want to accomplish before thirty.
Clear my head.
Sort shit out.
Black jeans, boots.
Learn to cook dinner.
27. What an age! is the recap on the final page of the notebook.
For one year, I do not dream of you. Then, one day I go to Walmart and purchase a new brand of Melatonin. I’m bored of the one I am taking. That night I dream you attend a literary event I read at. It’s your face, but you’re wearing a long plaid green and blue skirt with platform shoes, things you’d never wear. When I see you, you’re talking to someone, her back is to me and you are facing me. When I see you, I drop, or knock, a pile of my business cards, scattering onto the floor. You smile. You walk over, we hug. Then we hug harder. I am worried about bending my knee so that my leg moves into yours in a semi-sexual way. Even in my dreams, I worry about this sort of thing. The following night I take the new Melatonin again; dream of you again. In this one, you have read a draft of something I’ve written about you and your partner. You could at least change where she’s from, to protect her. I don't care anymore about me, but you could at least protect her. You were used to it (a lack of protection), you implied.
Once, in a sports bar, we ordered nachos to split. You got a coffee. I got tequila. You barely ate the nachos. As I walked with you, back to the library, you were on your lunch break but I didn’t go to work until two hours after you left. When we walked you said, you know why I didn’t eat those nachos—my girlfriend made me a salad that’s back at my desk, and you laughed, or at least you smiled.
It’s not sex with you I miss. It’s knowing what you think about stuff. I know you love Elena Ferrante, Frank Ocean, Hilary Clinton. I assume you still run and do your exercise tapes. I assume you still bring salad to lunch every day. I assume you’re annoyed that I'm writing this book. I assume I won’t hear anything from you ever again. I’ve heard writers feel liberated writing about their parents once they’ve died. I feel that way with you. I assume you’ll be more pissed this time than you were the first time. I assume, I assume, I assume.
Once I told you it was as though I’d dropped into your life for a little while, caught a glimpse of your world. But I feel like I dropped into your life, caught a glimpse of YOUR world, you said.
We both thought we were the one dropping, not the one being dropped into.
On Monday afternoons I hang out with an eleven year old named Malik. The first day I met him, he shoved his journal into my hands. While I read his inner thoughts he rolls around on an office chair with wheels. Sometimes I’ll read something or tell him I relate to parts or ask him what a word I can’t decipher says. There’s one paragraph on one page about the ache of knowing people who leave. What’s the point of meeting them at all if I’m never going to see them again? he writes.
Another page lists undefinable Japanese and Arabic words. He knows what they mean by heart. He’s copied the words off Pinterest, he tells me.
Sonder. Komorebi. Goya. Jayus. Petrichor. Susurrus. Meraki. Tuqburni: A love so deep you want to be buried together.
Whenever I tell Malik I am leaving, he gets dark. His posture slumps. He asks why. Where am I going. I know this posture too well—you came, you entertained me, gave me attention, and you’re just putting on your coat and leaving me here? What’s the point of meeting someone if you’re never going to see them again?
In her memoir Abandon Me, Melissa Febos refers to her partner as my Beloved, throughout. On Twitter, the writer Wendy C. Ortiz refers to her partner solely as Love of My Life. LOML for short. In the song Creator, Destroyer, Angel Olsen refers to either herself, or the woman she is singing to: murderous bitch.
Saturdays. I don’t know when my anxiety around them began but it peaked while knowing you. As a child there was the sound of a vacuum or my parents arguing. But the aimlessness I feel as an adult on Saturdays is acute. Saturdays are domestic. At first, for the first six months of knowing you, I’m in yoga Teacher Training from noon to eight on Saturdays. Before that, in my early twenties, I worked retail from noon to eight. But now there is nothing but a long stretch of ominous hours. Saturdays are for people with families or real jobs. Saturdays are for people who don’t mind standing in line. Saturdays are for people who date. Saturdays are for people who go out to dinner. Saturdays are for people who have partners.
I get a text from Iris on Friday evening.
Sometimes I get so depressed on Friday nights if I have no plans, she says. Like I get out of work and it’s like okay now what.
I feel like that on Saturdays, I tell her.
I like swinging and listening to music at the same time, it’s my new thing, I text you one Saturday.
I love that you’re the kind of person who calls things “my new thing”, you wrote back. And then:
Maybe we can swing and listen to music together sometime.
We didn’t. I remember that day. I was aimlessly walking around my neighborhood; I went into the co-op and ate a string cheese while I walked around the store discreetly so as to not buy it. You, across town, doing errands with your partner. Me bored, waiting. Imagining you at Home Depot or Lowes. Choosing paint colors, your phone vibrating with me in your pocket.
On a podcast, Michelle Tea explains how she keeps writing about drunk Michelle, the same years, same relationship, over and over. Sometimes you look back, and remember that the relationship was only three months but you got three books out of it, she says.
I am in San Francisco, on book tour, when I begin to confuse real life with Instagram.
Have we met? I ask girls who get their book signed. They raise their eyebrows and look confused.
I follow you on Instagram? they respond as a question,
No, that’s not it, I say. But maybe it is.
I mix up people’s Instagram accounts. I’m high on edibles the entire time I’m on the West coast. When I get back East, I say, dreamily, to my friends, They have it so easy out there.