That Email I sent Kendle
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Her name is Lynn, and I met her in 9th grade. We were both 14 years old. She is 9 days older than I am.
I was across the street from my high school at a St. John's soccer game. St. Johns was a big private school near mine. I was at their soccer game with some friends of mine from my school, and my friends had brought some of their friends, and we met some people from St. Johns. There were several people around. Anyway, one of them, the only one that mattered, was Lynn. She was taller than me back then (she's 5'7). Blonde hair, wavy, put up in a messy bun. Her jeans had a hole in the knee, and she was wearing an oversized camouflage jacket. It was 1997. For some reason, we got along real well. I think I danced a little bit when I first met her, trying to impress her with some break-dancing stunt. I fell. She smiled and laughed.
She has the most amazing smile. Her nose scrunches up, and her shoulders lift, and her mouth slightly smirks, and she's beautiful. So the soccer game ended, and people were hanging around. They began to leave. One by one. She and I stayed until everyone else was gone, and, having just met but for some reason already inseparable, we walked down River Oaks Boulevard, flanked on both sides by mansions, to my bus stop. She walked me all the way to the stop, where we sat on a small asphalt bench under oak trees with shade on our shoulders and acorns under our feet. We talked about nothing, really. But it was good, and we both wanted a lot more. I got on the bus and rode home smiling.
We became great friends, staying up late on the telephone, falling asleep and then waking back up on the telephone and talking more. We hung out constantly, and her house was one of the places where I felt safest. I had an open invitation to dinner or to sleep over or to play with her dog Sergei or Nick the cat. Her little sister went to the same middle school as I had gone to. She showed me how to get into her house even when no one was around, and sometimes, I would lie in her bed and listen to the Toadies CD that I bought her for her birthday and wait for her to come home.
Halloween came, and there was this moment when we were on a couch, head to toe, but facing each-other. I looked across my body at hers, and fell stupid in love. I've forgotten what we were talking about, but I had already known it was coming, had already known that she was always more important than our surroundings, more important than most anything. She left the room to get something to drink, and her best friend came over to me immediately and asked if I was "hot for Lynn?" I was. (And am.)
Eventually, I told her, not that it was some surprise. She responded in this really relaxed way. Something like "We aren't going to do that (date), but we can do this (have an earth shatteringly important friendship)." So we did. And she always knew that I wanted her, but I always put it aside because she was more than that. And she protected our friendship, cared about it in a way that made it alright that we weren't dating. I wanted her attention and affection, and I had those things. We just never did it. (You know, it.)
One night, I came home, and my mother was drunk. My mother doesn't drink. She never drinks. This was, and still is, the only time I have ever seen my mother drunk. She was angry, and she threw a bottle of gin or rum or something brown and pear-shaped against the wall shortly after I entered the house. It broke everywhere, and while we were picking it up, she told me to pack all of my things because we were leaving. For good. So I went to my room and packed some things and called Lynn. I told her I was leaving. For good. I didn't know when or where to, but that I might never see her again. She decided to scrounge up some money from our friends so I could take a cab across town and see everyone. She called people and made sure that they were all in the same place for me to see, and she called the cab company and sent a cab to my house.
When I got there, she handed the money to someone else to pay the taxi driver and tackled me. She tackled me straight to the ground and rolled and hugged me like I'd never been hugged. A few minutes later, we caught our breath, and I began crying, and she began crying, lying on our backs in some random person's yard, and I remember it crystallizing in my mind that she loved me.
My mother never went through with it though. We never left town. My friends, after such a huge display of solidarity, felt cheated of their grief. They were upset. I was happy to still be in town, but they had decided that I was manipulative and no longer deserved their friendship. Except Lynn. We still hung out, but it became harder and harder. Eventually, when I got kicked out of our school, I never saw them anymore, even her. I didn't see her again for five years, but I wrote about her often and thought about her constantly. She was still my vision of love.
Five years later, I am done with high school (not graduated mind you, just done). I am in community college, and for a year now, I've been dating this girl, Wren. She's small, and lovely, with glasses and an amazing body. The sex is intoxicating , and she is caring and loving and talented. Her parents love me. Her little sister has a crush on me. Her little brother wants to be me. I've taken a job near her house so I can spend more time with her. I'm still living at home, so all of my money gets spent on her. We eat out nearly every night.
It's summer, and we're at Star Pizza, a local pizza place. It's Davey, Wren, and me, eating pizza and having a generally good time. In walks Lynn, pizza tray in hand. I freak. I get all biological: my heart pounds; I sweat; I shake; I stutter. I say "That's Lynn Dubin," and no one knows what I am talking about. She sees me, and smiles that smile. She puts down the pizza to run across the room and give me one of the more welcoming hugs of the 20th century. We said hello, but she motioned to her work, and told me she would come back. I am still biological. Davey says, "She loves you," declaratively, and Wren seems stunned, quiet, pensive. Lynn gets off work, and I step away from the table to walk her outside to her car. We talk for a bit. She's home for the break from Vassar. She likes it up there, misses me. She's on the volleyball team. She's not taller than me anymore, and she looks at me differently. With a new excitement.
While we are talking, I have an idea: I should go home with Lynn. She and I should have sex. And I am almost convinced that she's thinking the same thing. But then I think of Wren, and I realize that I have to make what is, for me in that situation, a powerfully moral decision. I tell Lynn that it was lovely to see her, that I would love to see her again while we are both in town, and I turn around, walking back into Star Pizza and sit down next to my girlfriend and my best friend. I didn't see Lynn for another five years.
During Christmas break this year, I went back to Texas. I had a really great time. I hung out with old friends from everywhere. I saw Wren's family and ate dinner with them. I didn't harp on the fact that after that night at Star Pizza I regretted my decision for months. Or that Wren and my relationship went steadily downhill from that point because I started subconsciously comparing her to Lynn, and she eventually cheated on me for six months without my knowing (when I found out, I almost immediately thought back to Star Pizza and what might have been, or might have been justified, if I could have seen the future). We just talked about the good times.
I saw my old roommate Sean (the one who likes Cinnamon Life so much), and we went to see a movie together, I Am Legend. On our way out of the movie, I see Lynn, walking with her entire family to go see Sweeny Todd. I say "Lynn!" and she doesn't hear me, so I yell "Lynn!" only I'm not really yelling because I'm already biological again and feeling a bit weak. She comes over and I say "I'm Derek Davidson," and she looks at me like I am an idiot. "I know who you are." She gives me a soft hug. And we small talk. I tell her I live in Maryland. She lives in Massachusetts now. On a farm. Her sister has an internship in Baltimore over the summer, and maybe she'll facebook me when she's coming down.
She goes on her way. I am shattered and done. Just done. I can't really speak. In the car on the way home, I talked to Sean in 4 word phrases: "How does she do . . . Am I still in . . . Why am I so shaky right now?"
I get home, and I can't take it. I facebook her. I say something like "It was surprising to see you, but also great. Can we get lunch while we are both in town?" And I left my phone number. I felt stupid about it. I thought about how much rejection I had gotten from her in the past and how impossible the whole decade-removed reconciliation was. She wasn't going to call or facebook when she was in Baltimore or anything like that. If she had wanted to keep in touch why wouldn't she have over the past five years? I mean, I had loosely followed her volleyball career online and written her letters that I knew I would never send.
So she called. She was really happy I facebooked her. And wanted to meet up for lunch or breakfast or whatever. I danced in the kitchen while we were on the phone. We made plans for two days later. The next day, I was in her neighborhood, and I couldn't help myself. I was driving home after dinner, and I called her and asked if she wanted to get dessert. She said no, and I had this elaborate metaphor involving Risk (the game of world domination) and overextending one's army past New Zealand flash before my eyes. I had tried to hold Asia. No one can ever hold Asia. Hubris strikes again. But then, a moment after this metaphor deflated me, she said that she was "really looking forward to catching up." I drove home at the speed of my dancing toes.
The next day, I sprung awake at 10, called her at 10:05, and met her for breakfast tacos at 11. She was there, staggeringly beautiful, just waiting for me to arrive. We hugged and got our food, and I only paid for my food because I didn't want her to think I was trying to put the moves on her. We sat and talked for an hour and a half, just catching up. What are you doing? What about you? Where do you live? How was college for you? How is life now? Grad school is rough. Teaching is spiritually draining. Etc.
Our conversation was grinding to a halt, so I had to think of something. "Okay, so I know what you do and what you've done. Now tell me who you are. I used to know you so well. What are things like now? Who are you?" Our conversation becomes more intimate, more important. We talk about our past and I tell her how important she was to me ("You were such a big deal. I was completely in love with you"). Surprisingly, she echos the sentiment ("That day we met and walked down River Oaks Boulevard was like the best day of my life. . . Yeah I remember Halloween") She tells me about boyfriends from the missing years, and tells me that I should have stuck around. That I could have saved her from some real assholes. "Well I wasn't exactly a model citizen. I was busy fucking up as well." "Yeah, but you wouldn't have taken advantage of me."
Eventually, I had to leave. Ellie was getting married, and I had to perform the ceremony. That went well enough. I was preoccupied.
Back in Baltimore some days later, Lynn and I began our correspondence. We said a lot of things. Lots of affection and understanding and conversations about string theory, and I love her again. Only she has a boyfriend. They've been together for six years. They live together on a farm. They traveled southeast Asia together, just the two of them, for 6 months. Anyway, I still had to tell her. I couldn't figure out how to do it. So I wrote this email. It should be elucidative (please don't share it with Shauna), though long.
So, I watched that movie. Pretty interesting. It reminded me of this chain of events that I haven't written down yet, and I am on this total rampage recently to put everything I can into words. So, here goes. (This will seem unrelated for a while, but bear with me [http://www.xkcd.com/365/ ].)
Shauna and I met in a writing class at the University of Texas called Rhetoric 325M. The class deserves a moment of explanation before I get to her and the us that followed. It's a three hour class, or at least that is how it's accredited. The class actually required about 30 hours of work each week. It's a writing class taught by John R. Trimble, a big-shot editor who wrote "Writing with Style," the best writing manual I've ever read, and I've read quite a few. Anyway, he is a writing guru, and this class was really hard to get into. You had to interview with him and let him go over a writing sample of yours, and then you had to read the 35-page syllabus and if you did all of that, and he liked you, you were in. The structure of the class was that we met once a week on Wednesday nights from 7 pm until midnight or later. Each week, every student (there were typically 20 or so) wrote a paper on some assigned topic. The topics ranged from Amateur Sociology to Character Work to Cutting Loose (free topic catharsis papers). After spending upwards of 10 hours writing and editing those papers (they had to be good), each student would spend another 20 hours or so closely editing the rest of the class's papers. At class on Wednesdays, we would workshop two people's papers with a focus on emotional honesty and artistic expression. It was a lot of work for a 3 hour class that most people made B's in. But it was supposed to change you somehow. (It did.) Anyway, I got into the class. So did Shauna.
Shauna is 5'6 with dark blond hair that she had died red. She's curvy, roughly 140 pounds, with strong legs from cycling and big boobs from wherever big boobs come from. Her smile is sly and at times begrudgingly given, but her laugh is loud and unfettered. She has a wry sense of humor and a sharp, often wicked, wit. Her face is expressive, especially her mouth. She makes some of the best "What the fuck?" faces you'll ever see. She speaks plainly but maintains an articulate air about her. She grew up in Lubbock, Texas with the dust and the prairie dogs, and she's probably the most consistently funny person I've ever met.
When we first met, we got along famously, and friends of mine began to tell me that she liked me. I thought she was hilarious and a great writer and the only person in this crazy class that I trusted--instantly my new favorite person, but I wasn't immediately physically attracted to her, and I had just been cheated on by Wren. I was heartbroken and busy writing emails with this Sri Lankan girl who I thought I had a connection with, and I just didn't want to date Shauna. And I told people. I don't think they told her, but I told them, repeatedly, in the middle of conversations that were clearly drifting that way, "Yeah, but I don't wanna date Shauna."
So flash forward half a year, this silly class has become incestuous and everyone knows everyone's secrets (those two papers about my family were written during that class), and the Sri Lankan girl has come and gone, and Shauna and I have dated but we didn't tell anyone really. Nothing earth-shattering or life-changing. Just a fun, "I'm not really in a place for something serious" type relationship on both sides. And eventually, I feel restless, and I wasn't really all that into the sex, and I guess if what we're doing is no big deal than it won't be a big deal to break up, right? You can imagine how stupid that was. We break up, and she is quite upset, and we don't talk for however long, but we're both determined to still be friends because our friendship was and is simply essential.
So we stay friends. Close friends. And some months later I meet this girl Magda, who is worthy of a story of her own but ideally not in the middle of a story about Shauna. Magda and I date, and the sex is great and new but the relationship is iffy at best, and Shauna is my closest friend the whole time. She's where I get my emotional interaction and support. I'm in a bifurcated relationship between Magda and Shauna. And that's not right. So now Magda and I are breaking up, and she goes completely batshit, and some time passes, and then I am on my way to Winedale.
Winedale. Winedale is this Shakespeare program that all of the cool smart kids did at UT. I mentioned it to you. You go out to the woods in the middle of Texas for an entire (scorching) summer and live on a ranch and put on three Shakespeare plays. It was really fantastic and sort of life changing and would have been just flawless except both Magda and Shauna were there with me. (Yay, drama.) Anyway, Shauna and I get back together because I keep remembering how awesome she is and sometimes at breakfast I have these thoughts about how awesome it would be if she were the mother of my children. (Don't ask me. I don't usually have those sorts of thoughts. I didn't get it then, and I still don't get it. But it happened. She was real great is all.) Magfa goes batshit anew.
(And now I'm giving this story short shrift to get to the part that relates to that movie. Bear with me.)
So Shauna and I date, and this time it isn't a joke. Sometimes we're totally in love. Other times I remember that, though she is undeniably wonderful and amazing, I am still not really that into the sex. This sets a chain reaction into motion that seems, in retrospect, to be really insignificant and stupid. But anyway, I love her dearly, and she is maybe my favorite person of all time, and I am not about to tell her that we can't date because I'm superficial and shallow. So we date anyway. For another year. And we have sex, and I am not really all that into it, and a lot of times I am doing it completely for her. And over the course of a year of great days, lackluster and unwilling sex, followed by great conversations after sex, I begin to go kind of (really, all the way) crazy. (I should note here that there were other [possibly more] important [if not causal] factors. I was 22 or so, which is traditionally when the bonds of repressed memory and all things destructive in your mind begin to bubble up. I was also freaking out about graduation and the future, and I was as stressed as ever with work and school and parental idiocy and whatnot. But Shauna took the brunt of it.)
I began to have really violent fantasy all of time. Hate radio in my head. Sexist, racist, violent, ugly, predatory thoughts. All the time. It was really awful. I fought it for a long time before I told anyone. And when I finally told Shauna, "I think I am schizophrenic. I need to see a doctor," we were in the middle of some tiff that had started because I didn't want to have sex, and she felt unwanted, so she thought I was making it up and was just trying to break up with her in some cowardly way. I held it in for another four or five months, lying awake next to her in bed at night while she slept, shaking and fighting the urge to smother her in a pillow or ask her to come into the kitchen so I could slam her head against the counter. Sometimes our sex would take on a rough aspect to it. Or at least it seemed rough to me. I'm generally gentle. She liked it, I guess.
One day I sat in class and learned nothing because I couldn't get the thought of choking this girl I had never met and raping her in front of everyone out of my head. So I walked out of class and held in the tears and walked across campus to the health center. I made an appointment with a counselor named Virginia. She was nice, and smart. But she was a woman, and she was pregnant, and I couldn't really be totally honest with her. Anyway, she was convinced that I needed more help than they could provide at University Health Services, and she made a couple recommendations for other places I could go.
So eventually, I met an old counselor named William Sloan-Kavanaugh. I called him Will. He was a soft-eyed man, with grey, side-parted hair, and a well-groomed beard. He wore plaid shirts tucked into jeans and boat shoes. His glasses were square. He spoke slowly, took notes sometimes, asked good questions. He was smart. I liked him a lot and wouldn't have minded going to him for a long, long time if I hadn't left Texas. Anyway, he was good at what he did, and after a couple of weeks with him, we had our first breakthrough (that's what you call those things right?).
He told me, and I immediately got the impression that he had known this quite soon after meeting me, that I never talk about emotion. That we sit and talk our way through all sorts of things. Things in the present, past, and future. Things dealing with girls and boys. Things about work and stress and things about fun and relaxation, and the only thing I ever talked about in emotional terms was music. We talked more and more about it, and we came to the idea of an emotional disconnect. He explained some things: So apparently, and this isn't really surprising, when you're young, you learn how to live. You "make a life," I think he said. So you learn how to eat and how to speak and how to cry when you're hurt so someone will help and whatnot. You learn all the important, fundamental things about how to behave and operate in our world. And if, at a young age, you learn that emotion is not useful, you learn to discount it when making decisions. If, as a child, you learn that emotional decisions or emotions in general are not a spectrum running in every direction from good to bad to silly to serious, but rather a single note, played over and over, if you only experience bad emotions, you learn to exclude emotion from your everyday calculus. This is different from repression or suppression. I have emotions. They just don't particularly matter.
For years, when I was young, starting a bit after I knew you and the three or four years after that, I had only bad dreams. Real bad. Like where I am walking through an unpaved muddy road, and everyone I love is set up in two rows in front of me with some distance between people, and I choke and beat each one so badly that I cannot tell the difference between them and the now red mud surrounding where their faces and bodies had been. Or where I am just slowly vomiting myself to death. Yellow green frothy vomit, and one of me is running to a hospital with the sick me in a trash can strapped to my back, hoping to help, but the vomit is overflowing, and sick me is drowning in his own sickness. Every night something like this. My days were fine. I mean, I wasn't some serial killer or anything. I just had really bad dreams all the time.
Also, I had bad things happen in my home a lot. And I cried pretty much all of the time between the ages of 11 and 14. In the ten years since then, I've cried maybe six times. Once at my Great Grandma's funeral. Once in Wren's arms after I found out she had cheated on me. Once or twice at Winedale because of extreme sleep deprivation. Once with Shauna when I told her she had to leave my house so I wouldn't smash her face in with a hammer (She refused to leave. She's brave). Once on my way home from counseling after Will told me about emotional disconnects. And once in a classroom by myself after Donald Caro, one of my first students during the summer came to school and made a hundred on his midterm despite the broken rib his father had given him the night before.
Those are bad moments. Hard moments. But that's really it. Not that I'm never sad, but just that I have usually been devoid of emotion whatsoever. Friends sometimes call me a robot when I ignore the emotional implications of things. It's made me a bit tactless. But also honest and logical. Anyway, this is where that movie comes in. (I told you the Shauna story to tell your the Will story to tell you about my emotional disconnect and how it relates to What the Bleep Do We Know.) I liked the movie. Lots of it at least. The plot is, as you said, a bit hokey. There were several parts that seemed really important to me, though.
One. The bit about our lack of mathematical representation of the direction of time. Interesting and important. But it doesn't lead to anything important in this conversation. Though, as you suggested, I discussed it with other smart folk. (Bear with me. I must be trying your patience.)
Two. The Emotional Addiction bit. About the hippocampus and emotional chemical cocktails and all of that. Quite interesting. That and the way that people become addicted to their emotions. I don't quite have words for this part yet. But.. let's see. Basically, as I remember it, shortly after Sean hit me with "Think before you do," I began doing just that. I got more and more logical and less and less emotionally attached to life. When I think about my recent emotional addictions, they are and have been related only to music, writing, sex (not all sex. In fact, this is less and less true these days), my students, a few friends (Ellie, Davey, Sean, and Jace) and Shauna's laugh. Those things and really only those things. I never cared about grades or praise or being the center of attention or whatever else.
But if I think back to before the disconnect, I was into way more things. I used to love to draw and to skip class to ride public transportation and singing and dancing and basketball and you. These things all left my life in one way or another. I didn't have time to draw when I was busy trying to find food and shelter. Eventually I stopped skipping class because truancy police came to my house to give my parents a ticket that they couldn't pay. When I moved to Jones, I wasn't allowed ride the bus since I never went to school. The school was really close to my house anyway. Singing died off only recently. I talk too much at school so my singing voice is shot, and I am woefully out of practice.. Dancing I can still do. But my tendonitis makes me pay for it the next day. Same thing with Basketball, though I get some of that out through coaching. I've even lost Shauna laugh. She's still recovering from my leaving Texas. (We talked for a few minutes two days ago, though. She said she needed to talk to someone logical, so she called me. I was ecstatic.)
And I lost you in five-year intervals. Anyway, the point of all this is that my feelings for you were the last pure emotions I had before I began shutting emotion out of my mind. So it makes some sense that you make me all biological. My hippocampus is remembering at full strength, and I'm not used to it. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven't really been thinking straight since I saw you. I feel a lot like a 14-year-old me in love with a 14-year-old you. That is, completely in love. My students have noticed a calm happiness about me, and they ask if I saw my ex when I was in Houston. I dodge the question and blush. But don't worry. It's okay. I mean it's great, really.
But it's also okay. Reasons it's okay: 1) I have a very strange life, and yours is equally strange (how are the chickens?). Our lives are different and separate, and we are each quite dedicated to our separate lives. 2) I used to be completely in love with Ellie, and I just performed the ceremony at her wedding. I was in the strongest love I've known with Shauna, and now I just want to have her in my life somehow. I sort of only fall in love-love with amazing people, and though I don't anticipate us having love-love, I want to keep you. So I really don't want you thinking of me as some kid who's just waiting for his day in the sun. I'm not that kid. I loved you, and I never got over it, so now it's come back and knocked me on my ass, but I'm not a dreamer, not in this sense. At least I haven't been since I became a robot. (I should say that it has been really amazing to feel so much emotion recently though. I'm not used to it, and it's a bit scary. In the good way.)
So I'll honestly be content just to know you. I promise.
Anyway, I've been reeling a bit, but I'm beginning to pull it together. I probably wouldn't have said any of this, but I am tragically committed to honesty. So. There that is. I sincerely hope that this doesn't change the way we interact, but even if it does, I am still glad to have told you. You're a staggeringly beautiful person. I'm glad to have known you, and, barring another five-year hiatus that this email might cause, to have found you again.
Post script: This has been in the drafts folder of my mail program for two hours now. I am unsure about whether to send it because I know that "unburdening one's soul" (I've always hated that cliche) really just redeposits the burden on someone else. I should say that this should not be a burden to you. That won't make it less burdensome if it is, but I sincerely hope it is not. I don't write this email with any hopes of reciprocation or the like. I am almost entirely content to have you say "I read this, and we can still be friends" or alternatively "I read this, and I am glad you were honest, but we can't really be close anymore because it will mess things up for me." There is, of course, a small sliver of my brain that looks for "I'm on my way. Where do you live?" But that is the same part that wishes for my paper airplanes to never touch ground and time to grind to a halt while I am dreaming a good dream.