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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Page 16--Dear Emily--Ariel Daniels

It’s Monday night, which means I should be getting an email from you sometime before 1 am. Except, oh right, we’re not speaking. Forgot about that. Well, it’s not like I’m going to spend my time doing anything productive, such as reading Virginia Woolf, ha ha, or working on the novel you so conveniently threw off track. So I may as well write you anyway, I’m well in the habit by now.

So, would you like to know what I’ve been doing? No, probably not. I’m happy, I’m perfectly happy, I swear. I’ve written three stories so far and you’ve been in all of them. I don’t care that you never wanted me to write about you, I’m doing it now. And besides, it’s not like you’re going to get around to writing about me anytime soon. We were supposed to have a contract for who got to write what of our myriad adventures. Well, too late for that now, I say I take all of them. You should at least be happy I changed your name—you know how much trouble I have with changing names.

Ok, I lied, I’m not happy, I’m just caffeinated and bitter, like coffee. And I don’t mean to sound so sarcastic. And I wish I could talk to you, but I can’t, of course. I wish I could even explain what happened but I don’t know if I could do that even if we were speaking. I couldn’t do it on the phone that day. I think it was just your voice. I knew you’d be in pain, at least as much as me, but that fact didn’t intellectually impress me until I heard your voice. So if this is easier for you, (it’s definitely easier for me), I want to tell you how I told Lisa what happened.

It’s funny, right before all this, I was going to tell you I’d told Lisa about us. In fact I actually wrote this in emails several times but always deleted it. I didn’t know how you were going to take it and was afraid of your reaction. And besides, I figured if I needed to vent to someone about you, I didn’t want you to know I was doing it and have my pure thoughts on the subject tainted by what you might also be thinking. But I only told Lisa about us because right after I told you I liked you, she got asked out by this guy in her anatomy class named Ben. He was the first guy who’d ever asked her out before, and she was as nervous as hell. I figured that her and I could go through the first-time dating thing together, compare notes. Initially, since I thought I knew what I was doing, I planned to be more of a supporting role, but as time went on I realized I needed a therapist and Lisa fit the bill. It also helped that her and Ben broke up within a month—at the time that scared me about what would happen to us, even though back then according to you everything was “simple, comfortable, and enjoyable”.

I think you probably could have guessed that I told Lisa, though. After you she was my closet friend, and since you and I ended up dating and technically probably weren’t friends anymore, maybe she was my closest friend. And I’d talk about Lisa all the time, I told you about the musical bra and the bra slingshots and the sheep farm in Scotland. I admit, her and I did talk about you a lot. It seemed for a while we had a whole sub-genre of Emily-related jokes, some of which are still coming back to bite me in the ass, and now even more painfully than usual.

Until I saw her, I hadn’t talked to Lisa in four days, so given our frequency of communication she, like you, knew something was wrong. She called me the day before I told my mother about our dating, but I was busy. And she kept calling me for four days afterward even though I was in no shape to talk. I ended up having to go downtown early on Wednesday for this stupid major briefing—at least I thought it would be stupid but it ended up being helpful—and Lisa got out of class at 3:20 on the 13th floor of the Michigan Building, so I figured I’d meet her there. Some other interesting events of the day convinced me I should just get it out with her—I ran into every other lesbian I know and even a few I don’t, but I don’t think you’d be any more thrilled if I shared that with you, so I won’t.

Anyway, so I waited and I saw Lisa come out of class but she didn’t see me. She just made a beeline for the stairwell. Feeling terribly ignored, I followed her, pounding down the steps. I didn’t want to make a scene and scream “LISA!” but I was a little afraid that I’d lose her, although I could see where she was because of that long blond hair of hers. It’s ridiculous. You’d be able to recognize her anywhere with it. Amusingly, she got off at the 12th floor, the famous Fiction Writing floor which I know you loved SO dearly, but then she slowed down to wait for the elevator and I finally caught up with her in front of a purple couch.

She was happy to see me, gave me a big hug. I think she thought I was dead or mad at her or something. I asked her if it was OK if we talked and she said it was fine, she probably would have told me stripping to my bra was fine, and she asked where, like a coffee shop or something. I said it didn’t really matter and we could decide after we got off the elevator, so we stood there in the smush of people with their backpacks and waited patiently with tentative smiles.

We walked over to Grant Park—she suggested it. If we had walked over to Millennium Park I probably would have tried to jump into Michigan Avenue traffic along the way, because I still remember the exact spot where you told me you were gay. It’s in the Lurie Garden—I walked back over there a few weeks ago. I would have sat on that bench and reminisced but some woman was sitting on it with a laptop, probably doing her homework. Why did all of our most pivotal moments happen on benches? I led Lisa up to one of those parts with the stairways, set back behind the trees and a pile of dead leaves swept in the corner near a lamppost. It was a little too secluded, maybe, but I asked her if it was OK and she said it was. Lisa’s the amenable sort. You could tell her you’re moving to Zanzibar and getting a tattoo of a green mamba on your mohawked scalp and she’d be like, “oh, that’s lovely.” Most of my friends are like that, Emily, I think it’s a requirement for getting to know me although I’ve never had the desire to move to Zanzibar or get a tattoo of a green mamba. But you weren’t really like that, which I think maybe I enjoyed, it made a nice change from everyone else. You would have said, “Ok, now why in the hell are you going to do that?” Damn, I can hear you say it now. You did, however, stick pretty stubbornly to the idea that I was cute (which still amazes me, but…). I even sort of got you to admit a couple of emails before all this that you’d still think I was cute even if a small furry animal attached itself inadvertently to my nose. Then again, you were stubborn and inflexible. It was probably the only thing I didn’t like about you. But like I said, it made a nice change from everyone else, and me.

I started trying to tell Lisa what happened. It didn’t work. She knew what had happened because I also sent her a little short email the night I sent you that little short email, Sunday night, and she reasonably assumed that was what we were going to talk about. And I figured I should tell someone else besides my mother, someone who knew the whole story, or close to the whole story. You don’t even know the whole story, and you may never know. Not that I think that’s right. I think maybe I’m the only one who knows the whole story and can keep the lies and the chunks of doled-out information and the database of who knows what in my head. But Lisa probably knows closest to the whole story, I didn’t have to worry about any parental censor with her. If I could tell her this part, which for an amazing amount of time, I couldn’t.

“Spit it out, Nikki. Don’t leave me hanging.”

I waved my hands sort of wildly in front of my face, staring ahead at the concrete railing. “I mean, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know if I should be saying it.” It felt like that day I told you I liked you, and I sat across from you tongue-tied for 10 minutes (on the bench, of course), making little noises and beginning sentences, and then you’d say “What?” and then I couldn’t finish. I don’t know how I ever get any sentences out when they relate to you, whether they’re beginning our relationship or ending it or you’re there or not.

Lisa took out a pack of cards from her purse. What amazed me is that they were all together and not rubber-banded. She started to place them one by one in a pile on the sidewalk, presumably counting them as she did. “We can just pretend we’re playing cards, and maybe that will give us an excuse to talk.”

I put my chin on my fist and stared at the rapidly growing pile on the ground. Do you remember that’s how I used to gaze at you, propping my chin up and directing my adoring eyes at your face as you talked? This went on for months before we admitted anything. I can’t believe you didn’t notice or didn’t realize that I didn’t look at most of my friends that way. It probably conveyed more than mild infatuation. Then I took my chin off my fist and glanced over at Lisa, at her hair sloping over her sweater-vest as she kept going through the cards.

“Can we play Rat Slap?” I asked, with an eagerness that surprised even me.

“Rat Screw. I am not going to call it by that bastardized name. We have to be official.” She picked up the blue-checked pile, and handed them to me. “Here, you shuffle.”

“I can’t shuffle.” I said. “You should know this by now.”

“Well, too bad. I can’t shuffle either.” My hands started going through the cards. Something about shuffling is conducive to spilling your secrets.

“I told her Friday night.” I said. “I’d just gotten back from my grandmother’s birthday dinner, which my mother nearly walked out on because the appetizer wasn’t in the same kind of dish as before and was cold. All day long I was debating with myself whether I should tell her. I consulted philosophy books, I took a long drive out into the country and played the CD I made of songs that reminded me of her.” I never told you about that CD, did I? I don’t think I wanted to.

Lisa didn’t stay anything. We both stared straight ahead at the trees overhanging the railing.

“I mean, I wouldn’t have told my mom if she hadn’t asked, but she asked me twice, and the second time I was about to leave for class and I didn’t want to get involved in a long discussion, so I just lied again, but that time I was very conscious of having lied about it. It’s different when someone just doesn’t ask, it’s a lie of omission then, but when someone asks and you don’t tell them the truth—that really bothered me. And she knew, I thought, and it was going to get harder and harder to keep lying. And I just kept asking myself, how long was I going to keep lying?”

Lisa nodded, bringing her knees up to her chest and pressing herself into the steps.

“She said something about that I should have waited until I was 21 to do this all, but that would have been two years, and I mean, how was I going to handle everything in the meantime? ‘Oh yeah Mom, I’m just going out with Emily to White Castle on Valentine’s Day because we’re both lonely and don’t have boyfriends and think Valentine’s Day sucks’. ‘Oh yeah Mom, I’m just going to stay over at Emily’s apartment because…I can’t even come up with a good reason for that!’ How long was this going to go on if she didn’t know?!”

“You couldn’t have.” Lisa said suddenly. “It would have been worse for her to find out later, but at the same time if you’d told her earlier, you couldn’t have done what you did.”

“Yes, I know that!” I screamed to the pile of dead leaves. “Sorry, I’m just…”

“Oh, I understand.” Lisa said, mildly. “Or maybe I don’t, but…”

We sat there for a while. We hadn’t started the game of Rat Screw yet. I never taught you how to play, did I? I would have.

“So I’m just hoping her and I can still be friends after all this.” I said, finally laying down a card and staring at the pebbles trapped in the concrete.

“You know it’ll take about a month.” Lisa said. “And then you’ll know, I guess.” I thought that was odd that she said that before you did. I guess it’s just a nice reasonable number for everyone.

“It’s going to take time, but I think I can do it,” I said, sighing. I was still optimistic about the possibility then. A jack popped up and since Lisa only produced a 5, I took it.

Something twitched at Lisa’s mouth. “I just want to let you know that it’s a mark of how much I love you that I didn’t start singing the song,” she said.

“I thought of that too!” I giggled. “It’s gonna take time, a whole lotta precious time…” She joined in.

“I just thought it wasn’t appropriate for such a serious subject.” she said when we finished our musical interlude.

“George Harrison is always appropriate.” I said. “And I totally knew you would do that.”


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