"The lover's discourse is today of an extreme solitude," Roland Barthes wrote in 1977, for those who didn't catch it from the placement of the apostrophe. Spoken like someone who'd never been confronted with change in an ex-girlfriend's relationship status!
Anyway, Barthes wrote a book about how lame and maudlin and gross, if not altogether bonerkilling, the words with which people have been taught to express the desire to fuck one another tend to be, and it would be hard to disagree with him if in the intervening decades the average romantic utterance had not seemed to shrink commensurately with the amount of space on a silicon wafer necessary to store it. Could Barthes have known this? Could he have imagined the era in which the subtle and highly-targeted accumulation of photogenic and/or accomplished Facebook friends would become a legitimate courtship strategy? (No seriously, some guy I met at a bar the other night told me his friend had read all about it in a self-help book about "how to make your ex jealous." Reader, I Facebook-friended them both.)
In any case, it is times like ours that can drive the most hardened unsentimental romance skeptics among us to greet a sudden break in the routine — a separation, a breakup, a vacation, an impossible situation with an Argentinean journalist, whatever — as a call to express one's sincerest wishes and most embarrassingly heartfelt feelings. Like, at this point that can mean anything from "Why are we thus divided having kissed? Why are we yet two bodies and not one?" to "yo babe i am sorry i didnt share more of the coke on saturday, i miss you."
Which brings me to Melanie's moment of solitude, a semester abroad in France wherefrom she composed a classic, safe-distance, tender communique to her old hookup-buddy James, even going through the trouble of sending it through the mail so that it might reach him in a mode unhaunted by business school projects and porn. Now, I am not sure if it is more of a female thing to compose such an uncharacteristic missive in the absence of a once-ambivalently loved one, but I do know that one could compile a book alone of the totally amazing responses Crap Email recipients have received to what they assumed to be harmless — and indeed, selfless! — expressions of fondness. (Because once you get a dude alone with a laptop and his (self-professed lack of) feelings, whoa.)
Only James, however bothered to consult the DSM, quote every single movie on his dormroom wall…and forward it immediately to their mutual friend Leila, with the message "look at how big my balls are." Uh, yeah dude.
I guess this has been a long time coming. I don't really know how to start, so I'm just gonna take it one frame at a time as I experienced it, give you some insight into my thought processes. It's 12:23 AM right now. We'll see how long this takes...
So I got back to Brooklyn Sunday night from PA, and as I was unpacking all my shit, my roommate waltzed in and gave me a handful of mail. "While you were gone...just make sure you pay the bills, don't want them to cut off the electric on us." "O.K. thanks, just leave me cash tomorrow." "No doubt." I go ahead and turn on my computer, check my email, check facebook (because why the fuck not, right?) and then log onto the Chase website, pay the Keyspan and CableVision bills, see what new movies are out, check my schedule and what time I have to wake up the next day for class, and so on and so forth. Then I look through the rest of the stack of mail, separate the scientology letters addressed to Wainwright (real name Jameson, I think I already explained him), some more addressed to a jamestine Rivera, and some more addressed to an Ismael Figueroa (I have no idea who they are. Neighbors I guess). Then I come to a handwritten envelope, addressed to me at my address here, no return address. Curious as to what it is, I open it...wow! A handwritten letter! Nobody sends those anymore; the only people who send those are in the military. And the first words on it: Hey James, it's Melanie.
I had no idea what to expect. I read it once. I read it again. I read it a third time. By the end of the third time through, and I've got to be completely honest, it had me kind of fucked up. You said some real shit in there, and I just wasn't ready for it. Here's exactly what you said: "I want you to know that I'm glad I got to know you, and it's not only because I think you're handsome and have a damn charming smile, but also because you have a lot of character and a great and very distinct personality...obviously, you probably know that I do like you a lot, and if you didn't, wow...it's something you should know." The tone of the whole letter, and that bit in particular, just kind of had me on a roller-coaster of I don't know what. I'd say it was emotion, but there was more to it than emotion. It all just kind of hit me at once, and it was your words that triggered it.
There's something you should know about me. No, I'm not gay (I know you were expecting me to say I turned, but you would be WRONG on that one, haha). But no, in all seriousness, whenever I feel emotions, I never know if they are real because I don't stop thinking. I'm way too analytical for my own good, to the point where it's borderline sociopathic. Yes, I'm a sociopath. Not in the sense that I'd steal an old lady's life savings and think nothing of it, or torture little animals, but in the sense that I don't experience emotion like other people. I separate myself. I separate myself and analyze my emotions as I feel them, so the question that begs to answer, am I really feeling anything if I am analyzing what I would be, in theory, feeling? And when I look back at what I was feeling, I realize I was actually feeling nothing. I realize I was completely unaffected by whatever had happened because I had just removed myself from reality and thought it all out. 100% mind, 0% heart, the definition of a sociopath.
I have felt true genuine emotion twice in my life that I can remember, and they both had to do with death. The first I can remember is when my aunt died, and that was when I was about 10. After the funeral it just kind of hit me on the car ride home, and a few tears actually streamed down from my eyes. The second time came the night after I had a dream in which my father died. It wasn't a ridiculous dream like the ones I normally have and that you're used to hearing from me, with midgets and dinosaurs and zombies and shit like that, but a regular dream that really turned out to be more of a nightmare. My dad had been in a car crash, and he died in the hospital while I was in the room with him overnight. Nobody else was there, just the two of us. I woke up with my nerves kind of rattled, got a glass of milk, and went back to sleep with no problem. It didn't hit me until the next day when I was listening to the radio in my room and this song came on by Luther Vandross, "Dance With My Father." It made me cry. I locked myself in my room for an hour until I could calm down and regain my composure. It hurt. That was three years ago. I haven't listened to the song since, and I've never told anyone about this, not my brothers, not my mother, not my grandparents, not my friends...nobody. This is what I'm talking about when I speak of emotion.
So maybe it makes more sense to say that I am in some sense a sociopath rather than saying I am heartless. I do have a heart...I just don't know what it feels like to use it. You like Al Pacino; just think Michael Corleone. There's a reason why The Godfather Part II is my favorite movie. It's because I can relate to the main character in ways I imagine many other people cannot. Think about it: nobody says their favorite movie is The Godfather Part II because they can relate to Michael Corleone.
So what does that say about us? What does it say about me? When I read your letter it was so real. It had such a personal touch that could never be conveyed in an email or a facebook message, or in a phone conversation or even in person. There's something about a handwritten letter, the fact that it is writing, that it is done via a stream of consciousness, but with the precision of a mind that knows where it's going. Like I said before, I have some sociopath tendencies. Call me an asshole for it, call me a jerkoff for it; it's probably true. What I took from your letter, when you said "I'm glad I got to know you," it was almost as if you were throwing in the reins, chalking it all up as an experience, a fling that was a good time, something fleeting, maybe a little bit of fantasy, of a romance that could only exist in a couple months of college, and then live only as a memory in the future.
What hurts me is the fact that I knew exactly what was happening. Why had I never committed to anything? Why hadn't I taken any step? Maybe it's the fear of being in a "relationship" that keeps me from doing that, the fear that I could maybe dedicate 15% of my time to a girl when I could be dedicating 100% of my time to myself, to my career, towards reaching my goals. It's self-centered, I know. It's selfish. I'm an asshole for being that way, but I can't help it. I don't think it's a matter of consciously not wanting to commit to anyone; it's this subconscious masochistic desire. I would rather succeed in my movies and live as a tragic character in my own story, and in that, yes, I loved, but I never committed myself to love, not to any person. Maybe it's that I'd rather live with the thought that I've committed myself to a love for what I do, to my movies, to my passion, and I'd only been accountable to myself. I know I will adversely affect anyone who I come into contact with, to anyone who I start something with, but when it comes down to it, it's the freedom to simply be and do what I want that drives me. That, and this self imposed tragedy that I put myself through. I'm ridiculous, I really am just a character; I live in a movie.
I think maybe it's because I've been hurt before. I've had my share of rejections. I was angered and embittered by them. Some people would complain that they have been rejected because they are not good enough, and whoever rejected them is the asshole for not seeing them despite their shortcomings. But to be rejected because you're too good? Because you're going somewhere and don't need a person like me holding you back? There's no fighting that. Not in a town where everyone aspires to have a family with three kids, two cars, a mortgage, etc. When you're sitting across from someone and telling them your plans, telling them your dreams, sharing and opening up to them because you trust that they know you, that they like you for you, and for them to just abandon it all because you're just too good, too damn promising, that hurts because what the fuck are you supposed to say to that. I'm sorry I'm going to NYU, I'm sorry you think I'm a genius, I'm sorry I'm not going to fucking trade school like your asshole ex-boyfriend who's going nowhere outside a thirty mile radius of where he was born, I'm sorry you're content with your little plot in this world, I'm sorry I have big dreams. You wonder where the ego comes from...the truth is I don't have a huge ego. I have confidence, but that doesn't mean I have a huge ego. Sure I joke and laugh about it, make it all into this circus sideshow. But what else am I supposed to do? It's the result of a mentality that I've come to abhor, and I use it because it makes me seem sociable. It makes me feel like I can tolerate people, and more importantly, tolerate myself, my own insecurities.
So what was I thinking all this time. I was thinking about you. I was thinking about Patrycja. I was thinking about Bel. I was thinking about Sydney. I was thinking about Sonia. I was thinking about Samantha. I was thinking about Ashley. I was thinking about Lexi. I was thinking about this girl who sits across from me in Marketing Research but I've never had it in me to go and talk to her because what if it's awkward or I don't give a fuck, I'm tired and want to go home, or for whatever goddamn reason I never talked to her. I was thinking about all the girls I've ever had an interest in, fantasizing about what it would be like to be as close to them as I was to you, but wasn't for one reason or another, or that it would never work, or that it's just a shame things didn't work out between us because we really were perfect for each other. I was thinking about when I first stopped you on the street outside of Proof, when I said, "Hey, you work in the equipment room at Coles!" and your awkward friend said, "Stop being awkward!" and I was like, "You're being awkward, I'm saying hi to someone I recognize!" I was thinking about when I should go in for the kiss. I was thinking about when I was trying to watch The Godfather and you just wanted to make out. I was thinking about how fun it was to throw chicken bones across the street over taxis, and how fun it was to experience the cinematic achievement of Almost Heroes, and how when the last time I saw you we were in that Spanish restaurant and we didn't really speak much at all but we still managed to say everything and how that meant something, and it was nice. And the truth is that I miss you. I miss hanging out. I miss having a close friend around. I miss that we can't bullshit online about absolutely nothing for hours on end because of the time difference. I miss complaining to my best friend Patrycja about how I'm tired and I'm not getting any work done because I'm hanging out with melanie when I should be doing my homework. There's a lot that's empty right now, and it's feeling even emptier with every word that makes it onto this screen.
So in short, I really don't know what I want to say. I've ranted quite a bit, told you some things that I've never told anyone before…talk about putting my balls on the table, heh. This hasn't been easy for me, but this all needs some closure. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I never wanted a relationship. If I really wanted one, I would have done something about it because that's just how things are. Peter Boyle's character pretty much said it in Taxi Driver:
Look at it this way: a man takes a job, you know? And that job, I mean, like that becomes what he is. You know, like, you do a thing and that's what you are. Like I've been a cabbie for thirteen years. Ten years at night. I still don't own my own cab. You know why? Because I don't want to. That must be what I want, to be on the night shift driving somebody else's cab. You understand? I mean, you get a job, you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn. One guy lives in Sutton Place. You got a lawyer. Another guy's a doctor. Another guy dies. Another guy gets well. People are born, you know? I envy you, your youth. Go on, get laid, get drunk. Do anything. You got no choice, anyway. I mean, we're all fucked. More or less, you know?
So I guess to kind of decompose that into something relevant, we had our good times. We had our fling. I think you already know that…hell, you said it yourself. That's not to say we won't again, who knows. I'm trying to look at it like an open-ended TV show. Who knows what's going to happen? I sure as hell don't…indecisive, remember? You had better have fun in France. Kick some ass for me, make me proud. Don't turn into too much of an asshole…
I hope I did this whole thing justice. I tried not to be too poetic…tried to keep it real. If it got a little saucy at a couple points, I'm a movie person, what did you expect? Of course I need to have the emotion and theatrics and whatnot. I'm a Spielberg guy, what can I say. Be cool…