To Jess, In India, Five Years Ago
I wanted to write you a letter. I wanted to write you a letter in India that would be referred to as “the letter I wrote you in India” for the rest of our lives. I wanted to build you something four stories tall with my words. My foundation was on quick clay. The atoms in the molecule, the minerals in the rock, the tissues in the organism — they are rapidly displaced, leaking out, and slipping through my fingers.
My materials are escaping me. I’ve been trying — collecting moments to describe, phrasing to glue them together, and pretty shiny dirty things on the sidewalk — but I never will. They spilled all over the floor and were swallowed up like when the lake came back. Have you ever heard of a town called Rissa? What I’m trying to tell you is that I wrote you a letter on my phone and it got deleted. This is another letter; you shouldn’t have to pay for my failures with lack of reading material.
How many words do you know for truth? I love you.
I had a panic attack on my birthday and ended up in the emergency room of New York Methodist because I thought I was dying. It turns out I am: just really, really, slowly. Before that, I called my doctor’s answering service and described my symptoms several times before the guy at the other end yelled, “This is Miracle Grill! We are not a hospital.” I had called the restaurant where I had dinner reservations.
Is that how you spent your birthday too? I hope not. Also, on the way back I ran into Dave — from high school. I actually forget if he was in your grade or mine. He was very excited about our chance meeting, but I think it was more about the surprise than me. Someone told me that he lived near me, but I haven’t seen him in at least two years. I hope to see him again sometime soon when I am not wearing a hospital ID bracelet.
Julie also has a birthday and turned one — she remains my favorite and only niece. There was so much cake. We picked apples in the orchard. Now, Lucy is dating a glassblower.
I have to move out of Lucy’s apartment in the spring, and just thinking about it makes me sick. But Ellie. But glassblowers. But a room of one’s own. What would Judith Shakespeare say? Probably something like: “I’m a fictional character and even I know you can’t live with one ex-girlfriend and be haunted by the other one forever.”
Are you casting out the fear in India? Are you having life-altering orgies? Are you eating anything at all? You missed when Senator Chambers sued God. They said the lawsuit doesn’t consider free will and that the defendant is immune from some laws. Nebraska lacks jurisdiction.
Coincidentally, St. Michael the Archangel was also listed as a witness that time Columbia brought me in front of the disciplinary committee, or at least he was in my mind. Instead of lawyers I had my roommates. It’s usually better to have friends than lawyers. That was especially true in this case. St. Michael never showed up by the way.
What do you want, Jess? Did you find religion in India? Did you lose it? Did you find John Lennon? I bet you’re giving as much as you’re getting. You’re just living and fitting everything else in where it can fit. Or maybe it’s something completely different that I couldn’t possibly understand.
Jane Hirshfield says some questions cannot be answered. She says they become familiar weights in the hand, round stones pulled from the pocket, unyielding and cool. She saw you watching and quickly looked away. Or at least that’s what she claims in the poem.
Is it weird that my new relationship parallels your trip chronologically? I discovered two days ago I have a girlfriend. Ellie is beautiful. She is twice as smart as me — in the regular way and the other way. I like the way her hands feel when they are on my body. I really hope she doesn’t get murdered.
I don’t drink anymore; I’m a teetotaler — except for cheap champagne. Have you ever taken acid? There’s a lot we don’t know about each other even after all this time. I think we just have to ask the right questions.
My friend from the state park came down to Brooklyn and slept in my bed. I slept elsewhere. We went to the Regina Spektor show and waited two and a half hours for her to come on stage. We talked the whole time and it was so nice not to feel self-conscious of every single word I said. For her finale, she sang “Hotel Song” while the guy she is dating beatboxed.
You should know that when I told my mother I was a homo in the kitchen of her house she said, “Oh, I know.” That was years ago now. Sometimes I think you want me to tell you all my secrets and sometimes I think I say too much. Sometimes I think you can see right through me, right through to my little brown dog.
There is a town called Rissa where the lake came back. The ground turned to water and swallowed the farms and houses. One person died. Everyone else survived. The wave lifts them up.
Jane says there are names for what binds us.
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Even as I write this now I am debating whether or not to erase it all together.
When I say I’m in love with you, I mean I love the story I can tell to my next lover, about my ex-lover, about how beautiful things were, how intense, how storybook, what a couple we were, and how you gradually, inexplicably, painfully, bit by bit, disappeared.
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
I was 24 and, while not gay, ever since college I had been getting more attention from gay men than from heterosexual women.