I haven’t read every letter in Mary-Louise Parker’s new memoir Dear Mr. You, but I did skim all 34 of them in my hunt for a story about one particular person from her life. You see, Parker never names names in her collection of letters, and instead gives each one titles like “Dear Risk Teacher,” “Dear Movement Teacher,” “Dear NASA,” and the titular “Dear Mr. You.”
It’s a unique format for a memoir, but hugely frustrating when you’re some kind of weirdo who’s breathlessly flipping page after page in search of a specific name. Like, oh, Billy Crudup for example. Remember Billy Crudup? They were an item from 1996 to 2003, when he dumped her to be with Claire Danes while Parker was was pregnant with their son. To my knowledge, Parker has never spoken publicly about the breakup (Claire Danes did only recently), so the first thing I did after getting a copy of Dear Mr. You was hunt for the dirt I’ve been waiting 12 years for.
But there was none to be found—only a letter entitled “Dear Mr. Cabdriver,” which is a heartbreaking piece of writing that captures the agony of that notorious breakup without ever dragging Crudup through the mud—or even calling him by name.
In it, Parker recalls screaming at a New York City cabdriver who got lost while driving her to an appointment 20 blocks from her home. This was before GPS devices became ubiquitous and Parker was in no emotional state to be giving directions.
“Shit, goddamn. I mean, why, I mean why the hell-NO! Where are you going now? This is still wrong,” she screamed at him.
“Miss, do not swear to me,” he responded calmly.
But Parker kept on swearing. She swore and yelled and shouted until the driver kicked her out of the cab and said, “I don’t want you anymore.”
No one does
My voice was shot and I barely got out
Look at me
You turned at looked, I think for the first time...
My life is worse than yours in this moment.
I am alone. Look, see? I am pregnant and alone. It hurts to even breathe.
Your hand slowly went to your mouth
I’m trying to get through it but I’m by myself every night and every morning and no one, nothing helps. I’m sorry I yelled. Ican’t get my shoes on anymore. Please, I know I am awful, it’s been made clear but look at me please
Look at me
The cabdriver “made a gesture” of kindness, Parker paid her fare, and they parted ways. She continues:
I don’t know what you thought, if you had a daughter or a wife or if my little drama was a hangnail compared to your life. What I wish I could tell you is that I know it may have been. I don’t know what happened to you that morning, or that year, or when you were six. I didn’t know your tragedy or hardship and it was grossly unfair of me to compare my life to yours. I am aware of my good fortune. What I don’t have to struggle for that makes my life easier than most. I have thought of you and know you wouldn’t remember me but I am sorry.
I realize now that whatever I was walking through was part of my life, one piece of a bigger story that is mostly beautiful.
It’s not the “GO TO HELL BILLY” I wanted. It’s better.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Getty.