My Dear One,
It’s possible to ignore something for so long, it slips from awareness. This happens even with the things we need to live. By accident or luck, one of these lost things might tumble across our path. We trip over it and pause to pick it up. Oh, you! I remember you! We’re stunned that we’ve managed without it, yet skimming back over the time apart, we see, with absolute clarity, how its absence has hobbled us.
How many ages have passed since you and I spoke? I have to fill in the gaps here, which is a shame. I should know more about how you’ve occupied yourself over the past several months. Or maybe a year? More?
I imagine you’ve moved on to more prolific amateur artists. Their youth fizzes; their promise an elixir. Their history as light as foam.
And you, alighting in a billowing swirl of silken possibility. How they must thrill at your arrival!
Now you see the nasty little film that plays when we’ve fallen out of touch. You, swaggering into a torch-lit bordello fawned over by slim, smooth nymphs. You, spreading yourself across a gleaming rococo meridienne as their nibs flit across your skin. You, blissed out and bleary from their attentions, tattooed from forehead to toes with Raymond Carver-esque characters spouting Tom Stoppard dialogue as they traipse through Ngaio Marsh intrigue while crossing under Annie Proulx’s wide and churning Western sky.
Jealousy and envy fight it out. I want what they have, and also want no one to have any of it. No one! No ink, no imagination, no pleasure, not even the suffering. Because what makes up love if not suffering?
When you last stayed with me, when we pressed together through the bars of my resistance, and even when you opened like morning and let me cover you with my fumbling attention, we suffered. For every ecstatic immersion, we paid. The cost? Bruises on our spirits, fractures riddling our egos. Skin ripped away from old scars. It stings even now, recalling the clash of wills, the confusion and misunderstanding. You, spinning strange and misplaced interpretations of my intention. Me, slipping forever off the surface of you, and too quickly, unable to reach you at all.
Is this why you left?
I hate to ask. The question sounds so wheedling. I know too it reflects my obtuseness. I should have been paying closer attention. I should know why you disappeared because undoubtedly, you told me. Weren’t you always speaking a truth in one of your hundred subtle tongues?
Still, I chose a pretense of aloofness. Dismissal. In the re-telling (even to myself) over the past year, I erased every one of my fateful mistakes. Your departure served as the justification. You failed to leave a note, not one little clue I could find, let alone decipher. Who needs that kind of abandonment? Who needs you? Who cares?
This farce worked poorly and only for so long.
I care far more than I want to admit, especially to you. Except… you know. You always have. I love you first and most. My pen refuses to tack on a “d.” It stays forever in the present tense even though this love predates – indeed, births – the rest. Other pursuits and even obsessions have vied for prominence and I have tried to prop them up with pomp and propaganda. They all tumble eventually, failing to fit in the place shaped exactly like you.
Oddly, I have no idea if you need me as I do you. I’ve long suspected our relationship teeters off balance. My need for you far outweighs yours for me, which puts me forever on unpredictable footing. Yet shedding you does not free me to walk with confidence. On the contrary. Without you, I get lost.
This word conveys more than metaphor. Quite literally, I wander, bleary and confused. Neighborhoods in which I’ve lived whole chapters of my life fold in at odd angles. I forget the names of co-workers, of everyday objects. Ignition. Nutmeg. Balcony. The calendar blurs, the clock displays hieroglyphics. In the middle of the supermarket, basket half full, I blink into consciousness, unsure how I arrived here in front of the pudding and cake mixes, drawing a blank about what happens next. Or I wake up as if in a strange hotel room, unsure if I’m still dreaming. This happens in the middle of the afternoon, inside my own house.
Your job description contains no clause about saving me. Nor does it assign responsibility for installing a GPS in me so I can rescue myself. Your purpose here on this planet is yours. You are not “for me.” Nevertheless, I’m hoping you’ll tell me – in all honesty, I’m pleading with you to tell me: What do you need from me in order to come back?
While I’d like to blame you for disappearing, this approach ignores the other member of our neurotic pas de deux. You waited patiently. You gave me nudges, prompts, room to play. You opened yourself up and invited me in. Sometimes you simply stayed quiet but near, a warm and welcoming companion.
And what did I do? Well, as it happens, not much at all. This is where I have to take a deep breath and apologize to you, first by admitting something out loud: Because I didn’t stray or throw you over, I didn’t toss you aside or lie or use you to hurt others, I figured my honor remained pure and my commitment absolute. I thought, How could you disappear like you did? How dare you leave, after I declared you mine and me, yours?
I think I might be starting to get it. At least, I hope I’m getting close – and maybe you’ll do me the kindness of letting me know if I’ve landed anywhere near the target. This is what I see now:
One can kill a bond – even one true and enduring and forged in love – through neglect. Simply failing to water the thing can make it dry up and crumble. Back to beginnings. Off it drifts, seeking more fertile ground.
Maybe I should just revise the questions and just ask this: What do you need?
Because you exist more than for me, I’ve only just begun to grasp that I might also serve and nourish you. When I lean back and take in the whole of your momentous work in cultivating the spirit and hope and creativity of our species, I marvel at how poorly I’ve understood our relationship. You need my love and its tangible manifestation, my work.
In some small but significant way, I may actually exist for you.
You never asked more of me than I could give (though at times, far more than I wanted to give). I bring to you all my doubts, including the ones that block me from seeing the gift and skill and potential you see in me. I know I can give you what you need. I know I have to figure out how, even when you have pulled so far away and have long since stopped dropping breadcrumbs for me. I hope you’ll let me offer up these bungling attempts, hope you’ll let me lay them in your hands, and if anything of my inexpert love speaks open the love you have for me, if any of it even begins to call you back, please know I welcome whatever little quantity you’re willing to share.
In the meantime, keep letting those feathery young novelists cover you with their eager attempts at craft. They need to find their way to you too, and truthfully (though it sort of makes my stomach roil to admit it), we need them, you and I both. All creative work is the work of beloved community.
Take your time. Stay still as long as you need. My quiet plea is this: when you can, please give me as sign so I know you wait close, maybe here on the other side of this page, maybe listening through the small tears where the ink leaks through. Maybe making your way back to me.