My Dearest Ian,
I left you because I didnt know how to talk to you.
I would try to have a conversation, and youd get that look in your eyes that put you off in a world of your own machinations, and I was stuck there with the thin shell of you. Its hard to talk to shells. When I would ask you if you were all right, you always said you were. No matter what the case. Even if you were sick and coughing up your lung or something. I had this terrible nightmare once that you were in a car accident and I ran to you to find the bottom part of you flung across the intersection, and your torso draped like wet towels across your seat and you told me that you were feeling fine. Some days, I would look in your eyes and everything in your world was breaking and melting and sliding down into a great, terrible heap at the base of you that made your feet heavy. But you wouldnt tell me. I could see the splinters in your eyes, but youd never let them out your mouth.
I think I loved you. Its always a fuzzy, smudged line for me, but I really think I did. It shook me sometimes, scared me. I had grown up telling my mother that I wanted a castle by the sea and a brilliant husband who loved words and truth and metaphors. And then there was you, seated with permanence at the desk besides mine. You looked like the type who might dream now and then and I was tired of my fingers freezing, so I bought you coffee and found something solid in your eyes. Theyre brown. See, I remember. I told you that this job was killing me with all the gentle sweetness of cancer, but you shrugged and let me know that you were looking at a promotion sometime soon. You didnt get one. I remember that too. Our desks were next to each other, and you stayed there for the eight long months more than I lasted as the fluorescent lights above sucked the warm marrow from my bones. Wed take lunch together.
The thing I dont remember was when I realized that I wanted to be with you. I used to stay up and worry about this, to do my best not to toss and turn too much because your arm across my bare stomach felt real. In the stories, you can always pinpoint that moment, that word where the woman realizes that shes loved the man all along and wants him above all else. By the time you kissed me, though, I couldnt remember falling into love, and I supposed that this was just as romantic.
You didnt live in a castle, though, and you told me you had never been one for poetry or prose. I shrugged this off. It was no problem, really. You were passionate about plenty of other things, like your monthly report at work, or how the damned copier on level two was never working. By then I had quit, tossed a magnificent stack of papers at the sky in a final fit of rage and stormed from the building (I had to storm back in to get my purse and car keys, dodging snickers and hurling scowls). I had taken to playing my violin on street corners to buy the foam cups of Ramen noodles.
That was the only time I had seen you truly angry. I had thrown away so much, you told me, and my fingers clenched on the plastic violin case. I told you that this didnt matter, that none of it mattered, and you shook your head and bought me real dinner. Apparently those itty bitty shrimps in the Ramen mix arent real. I will always fight you on that one.
It wasnt much longer before I left you. It came sudden and harsh one night as we lay curled on the couch, our bones melting sweetly together. You opened your mouth to say something about the copier on level two and I realized that your eyes were all one color, all one brown. I found myself screaming in your face that you were warm, but that you didnt live in a god damned castle by the god damned sea and that this whole dream of a relationship was one god damned mistake. I dont think you said anything back to me.
I pulled the bow across the strings so intensely that night that it seemed it all might snap and whither in my fingers.
. . .
It was several months later that your stories first began to slip in as word of mouth. They passed your name over coffee here and there and it shocked me to hear of you. We hadnt spoken. I snitched a newspaper from a stand and peeled off extraneous sections to find your corner, an anorexic column slipped between a lingerie add and something about politics.
It was a satire. I didnt know you could write anything, much less satire. I remember standing there in the middle of the sidewalk as people flowed in flesh and blood streams on all sides. My lips were parted and the air was stained with exhaust fumes. It was brilliant, real, terrifying in its truth. It was about love, I remember. About the cruelty of women. It was as if my name was painted in terrible red letters in between each line. I dont remember if I cried, but Im sure I did. It was raining, so it was difficult to tell.
I called you that night, but the only thing that picked up was that stale recording of you asking me to leave a message. I didnt oblige. I never much listened to what you told me to do before, and I sure as hell wasnt about to start with some answering machine. I flattened the strip on the wall and curled up in a knot of limbs in my last chair to read it again. It could have been the first time, it could have been the thousandth time; it didnt matter. I could still see my name entwined and woven into each word. I woke up the next morning with no recollection of falling asleep, the article clutched tight in my hand and a word pressing against the backs of my teeth. I didnt feel much like speaking, though, and I let it slip away back down into the darker pits of me.
They ran your articles every Wednesday, and I would wake up early just to run to the newsstands. I would wince, wail, and sob as I read each one, for each one was driven by the things I had done and the things I have never even thought to do. Each was progressively more and more brilliant, more and more true and brutally real. People would reference them, quote them on the streets, and I burned to know that they were all written in such a searing criticism of me. I was torn between undying adoration of the brilliance of your words and the painful truth that I had fueled your creative fires. It is difficult being the object of such things.
Last week, I stopped by your apartment. There was nothing in my mind that needed voicing, no aim that I had to accomplish. It just was one of those things that needed to be done, you know? Your apartment was quite a hike, so I played my violin on the subway and got cursed at by god-knows how many commuters. Damn rays of sunshine, arent they? Your friend (I think his name is Alan) was there, talking with someone nearby. He told me that you had moved out to some place nice. He said it was by the sea, and a pretty swanky joint. Seemed that your satires were starting to get picked up by the largest of publications on a regular basis. Alan had this kind of pride in his eyes, and I wanted to smack him and let him know that he doesnt get to be cocky by association, that he didnt do anything really to help you. Instead, I told him that that was wonderful, and that he should let you know I dropped by. There was this long, awkward silence that I felt I could drop quietly into and never be heard from again. I left. I surprised myself by not crying. Life is full of surprises.
. . .
I write this last paragraph from the very top story of the office where we met. Its so quiet up here ever since that copier broke. Dawn is just starting to leak out over the edge of the earth, and Im finding myself wanting you. The you that lives in a big house by the ocean and writes beautiful things that make people whisper. Do you ever write beautiful things that arent about me? I wish you would. Its impossible to live like this. I just fell back in love with you, and I know exactly when it happened. Now, right now. I suppose I could give us another chance, but I cant bring myself to do it. I cant let myself threaten this beauty born from you, this remarkable talent birthed from what I did to you. So this is me, doing the easy thing, the best thing, and the one thing that will keep myself from you and yourself from me. Dont worry, the breeze is nice and cool and fresh, and I cant smell exhaust from up here. I can just hear the faint noises of humanity below. People are starting to head into the building now, so Id best be off.
Write something beautiful for me, all right? Some lovely epitaph. Anyone else is going to be wrong. Theyre going to call me some bottom-class tragedy of big business, slipped through the cracks to end on the streets with only one way out. Get it right. For me. I dont care if it peels open every one of my faults, as long as its just as clear and true as the everything else, itll be perfect.