letters that you'll never read

To S____, who took the last train.

Hey there! It's been some time since I heard from you, so I thought I'd drop you a line. Things have been going well here, and I hope you did all right. Did you survive the winter? I meant to ask you but things have been crazy here--I hear it was pretty bad where you are.

I still think of you at times, but especially when I see your name. It's been a long time, of course, but sometimes late at night I'll be sitting and I can still see you boarding that train, and watching it disappear into the fog, just like in movies. It's a strong image. There's things I still wonder--questions that will probably never be answered. You took that train.

I wonder if you know what you've done. You ruined me. You changed everything. All of my causes and beliefs, I've been denying it and will keep doing so, but it's because of you. We were never meant for each other, but I wish things were different. I wish you'd had the opportunities I've had and squandered--you didn't need them, it turns out, but you deserved them so much more than I.

I wonder if I chased you away or if I fled--or if there's even a difference. If there was ever a chance. I worry about choice and chance and determinism and it's always because part of me wonders if things could have happened any other way. And if so, if you could go back, would you change anything? Would I?

I'd keep going back to the train station. I'd say the same stupid words every time, asking you to stay, offering to come, knowing that neither of us wanted either. And you? I always imagine you doing the same things. Polite, but firm, distant--you were already at the end of the line. Then, just as I can't take it, you smile. There are tears in your eyes.

Then the train leaves and is lost in the fog. The light is cold and grey I wonder if that's your face I see looking back from the windows--and then it's gone and it's the station all over again, where I'm always trying to convince you to stay, trying to give you reasons, and you're always getting on the train.

We're slaves to tragedy, S____. And I know how to make everyone in the world happy except for me. I'm waiting for you at the station.

Patiently yours,
R_____ M_____



In fits and spurts
I let it get to me.

I'm supposed to stand tall--that's
who I am, everyone says,

but where are my gibes now?
When, at the end of the day,

I'm alone and looking over
every irreversible decision,

where is my easy laugh?
Why can't I shrug this off?

Even I falter sometimes, and even
I make mistakes. It's just not who I

am, these shouted lies, this
fear, uncertainty, doubt, but

a collapse at
the end of

the day,
with no one

to catch me.

In fits and spurts,
I let it get to me.



I keep remembering just watching a clip of someone canoeing down I-5 whenever I see the torrential rains we get here. It's always rainy in the Seattle winters but it had been a record month for rainfall. I keep remembering being in awe of the destructive ability of a little water. Roads washing out, freeways flooded. It was bad. Here it never lasts. It's misty one minute and a downpour the next, and you're kissing in the rain like they do in movies, and then the rain is gone and the mist is back and you're soaking wet and wondering where the weather went. Then the sun is out and you're wearing sunglasses and laughing and dripping water everywhere.

Right now in Seattle I guess it's probably raining on the flowers that make the city so beautiful in the spring. Meanwhile the floodwater keeps rising, threatening to encroach, to ruin so much for so many people, and somewhere someone's young and whimsical and taking this little bit of rain as the chance to do something silly and romantic--something I haven't been able to do since I saw the video of a canoe floating down I-5, down the stretch of road I drove almost every weekend.

i don't mind

I ran into her while I was coming off the train. I was drinking coffee from the crepes place in Davis Square and wasn't really paying that much attention, and anyway she looked like she was going to wait. Apparently not--I spilled my coffee all over myself. She began apologizing profusely. "Oh my God I'm so sorry I didn't see you I wasn't paying attention I'm so sorry are you all right are you--"

I just smiled. "It's fine, I wasn't paying attention either."

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"Really, I'm fine." The doors closed behind me.

"I'm so clumsy sometimes, it's really my fault, you--are you burnt or anything?

The train began pulling away behind me. "I should be apologizing to you," I said with a smile. "You just missed your train."

"Fancy that." She seemed to already be heading for the escalators. "Maybe I can get you another coffee?"

I shrugged. I had nowhere to be, and anyway she'd come this far...



I returned home from two weeks in Colorado--bags in tow, tired from a long flight, happy just to be home--to find that my key didn't work in the lock anymore. I rang the bell and called up my girlfriend but she wasn't answering, so I sat on the porch and wondered who else I could call. It was the middle of the work day. Nobody else would be available. But she should be home. She knew I was coming. And anyway the key should have worked, shouldn't it? I knew that my old house had problems with the locks before.

And she never ignored her phone. It was her most annoying habit--any time someone called she'd answer, like she was incapable of not answering. "I don't want to be rude," she'd say. "You're being rude to me," I'd respond, and she'd never hear because she was talking on the phone. I pounded on the door some more. No answer.

I decided to walk to the diner on Broadway, and call up a friend my girlfriend introduced me to. I couldn't carry this stuff around all day. I needed to go somewhere. He answered with a snarky "What do you want?" and I, assuming he was upset I'd called him at work, said, "Hey man, I know you're at work but I'm locked out and I really--"


I'd been turned out, I knew. I had no idea why. No idea what I'd done. Had I really lived in such a way to merit this? Had I really lived in such a way that I was kicked out of my house and I had nowhere else to go?

Was it really that simple to just leave?

I paid my check and took the train back to the airport, and suddenly the whole country was open and inviting.


pleading the fifth

Another encounter with the police. I was ready for them this time. I was ready to tell them I wasn't telling them anything, to foil their questioning right there, to be dragged off, given a lawyer, only to find there is nothing wrong with my story, nothing suspicious about me. I was ready to waste the state's time and money, to infuriate the police. I was ready for it.

They stopped me for walking late at night, mostly, but more specifically walking in the wrong place at night. Suspicious activities. I didn't want to be too confrontational right away. He challenged me--"Hey! What are you doing?"

"Just walking," I said, slowing. I could feel the adrenaline. The confrontation was coming. I could taste it.

He shone his light on me, looked me up and down, looked up and down the street. He was sizing me up. Did he need backup? Was I going to resist? What was I going to do? He didn't know, and he had to make a snap judgment. He pursed his lips, shone the light in my face again--I winced, but stood strong--and nodded his head.

"All right, kid, stay out of trouble."



I've always taken it on myself to spread a little chaos in this world. A level of unpredictability, a wry observation, that little bit of snark. I'm not a pessimist or a cynic, but it helps make optimism more realistic. But sarcasm, irony, and snarkiness are not sincere. There is a common element to everything I do, and it is this: I never mean it. Everything I do, every word I utter, has plausible deniability.

Tonight I was having dinner with an old friend. I was talking about socioeconomic justice--a cause about which I'm legitimately concerned. I'd finished a passionate tirade on the subject and he just smirked and made a joke--the same type that I always make about the subject. Joking about wealth and poverty. Did he get it? Did he understand I was serious? Was he just laughing because I laugh at it--because it's too serious not to joke about?

Maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe sometimes you can't laugh about some things. I smiled wryly and said "Yeah, exactly," and the waiter came and refilled my coffee, and he talked for a while about something else. I provided the irreverence he desired. I decided not to worry about it. What's life but a series of confusions?



The past several weeks have been beautiful. I've been happy and productive. My relationship is going well, despite the distance. On the weekends I go out with friends. We drink and laugh and eat and enjoy ourselves. We are alive, and celebrating life, freedom, beauty, art. I'm writing good stories and thoughtful articles. Life is good. And in a way I felt like I'd earned it.

Then I get home at night, and it's a long walk and I tell myself it'll be better than taking the bus, and it's still chilly enough that my head hurts a little bit and my hands and cheeks are cold when I get home. I'm still buzzed but it's getting subdued and I've had time to think, and at first I'm just thinking over my day. I think of calling my girlfriend, but no, she's in New York, she's three time zones away. Then I think of other things, things I've tried to bury from my past. I think of me as a kid, fighting with my sister because I wanted her toys. I think of me shouting at my first girlfriend for her attempts not to hurt me and to be honest. I think of the hateful letters I've written, some I never sent, some I did. The people I've used, the lies I've told for no real reason. Every time I lost my temper. The things that I bury with the laughing and drinking and late night conversations.

I sit down to try to read, but my mind is racing now. I pour a glass of water and only drink half. I get undressed and lie in bed, staring at the shadows on the ceiling from the streetlights below, feeling like a liar and a fraud simply for having the audacity to enjoy myself.


drunken confessions

I was feeling morose and whimsical--a dangerous combination if ever there was--and talking to an old classmate of mine. I was telling him I want to get drunk and confess feelings I never had, things I didn't do, significance that isn't there. "I want contrived vulnerability," I said. "All of the poetry and the connection and the disconnect, none of the honesty."

I was half joking, of course, but as he responded, I thought of all the times I'd done this in some way. Telling the stories from my past as if they were dark secrets, stories I never mentioned to anyone else, building that false rapport. "Yes, it's very sad. I've learned to deal." "Yes, I've got troubles. Who doesn't?"

Really what I long for is the purity of the drunken confession--no more of the secrets I didn't even know I was keeping. I want everything to be out there, somewhere. Someone has to understand.



It seemed like we'd been the only ones on the subway platform for half an hour, and no trains had come, except one that left just as we arrived. We were quiet--what was there to say? The evening was done. It was time to go home. Once or twice she asked, "Is the train even coming?" and I assured her it was, though I had no idea. I never learned schedules.

There were things I wanted to say, and from the glances she thought I didn't notice, things she wanted to say--but we didn't. She kept quiet and bit her nails. I stared at one of the advertisements, proclaiming that Microsoft was "the software giant, without the giant part." We mostly avoided looking at each other.

"I don't think it's coming," she said, and I shrugged. She was probably right, of course. "Do you want to get a cab? Do you have cash for a cab?"

I didn't. "It's a long walk, too, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's a ways." She sighed. It was looking increasingly like we were facing the prospect of another four or five hours together. "Listen," she said.


"Forget it," she said.

The train came at last. We didn't talk the whole ride back, but eventually our eyes met and we smiled, and for the first time since we'd reached the station I was glad she was there.


out of cigarettes

Ask most people why they smoke and they'll shrug. Or maybe they'll have an answer, I don't know. Me, I think I do it for that sense of community, that sense of 'we're in this together.' Drinking is a merit-based culture. You never ask someone "hey, can I bum a drink off you?" People offer. It's on them.

I was at work tonight and had left my cigarettes at home. My coworker smokes but intermittently enough she doesn't smoke at work unless we're taking a break together, in which case I let her pilfer one of mine. Pilfer. That's a word I heard someone use once to explain why he didn't like smokers. We pilfer from each other. Like that's a bad thing.

It had been a particularly stressful evening. I needed a cigarette. I had none. My coworker was going on break anyway--"Do you want me to go to the store?" "Sure." "You smoke Camels, right?" "Camel Lights, yeah," but at this point I wasn't too worried about it. The point is she was there. She understood. She was willing to help me out. And it had nothing to do with who she was or who I was--we just had that one thing in common. We're part of a community.


stop requested

We were riding the 26 north from downtown after a show. First we were talking about the show, then about music in general--and not about her early morning flight. We talked about the joy of listening to new albums and hearing new material live. Meanwhile the streets kept going past. We talked about the first bands we really got into. She talked about how she started listening to music differently when she was 16 or 17. I wondered why that was, and she started to explain but--

"Oh shit, this is my stop." She pulled the chain to request a stop. We awkwardly embraced as the bus pulled up to the stop, and she waved hurriedly and said farewell. I waved through the window at her retreating form.

No tearful farewells or misty-eyed promises. Just talking about music, hurrying off without fanfare, just like it was any other night. Just like a farewell should be, really. It was beautiful.


burning bridges

I met her for the last time on the Aurora Bridge. I had everything I owned in the bag over my shoulder--just my laptop and my clothes and a few books I couldn't bear to leave behind. She was a summer fling. We'd stay up late sitting outside somewhere, watching the sun come up too early, smoking, talking, laughing. We'd talk about how one day we were just going to pack our bags and leave, burn all our ties to the city and just go. She wanted to go to California. I thought Toronto sounded nice this time of year. The point is we'd just go. And you know, I think she might have meant it, some part of her.

We both knew it was just a summer fling, but we pretended it was going to last. The summer ended and we broke up in the most genial way possible, by getting ridiculously drunk and celebrating what we'd had, like our own private going away party. Then came the morning and the hangover and I started feeling melancholy. And she was cooking eggs in the kitchen and I decided now was the time. "I'm leaving," I said.

"But I haven't made you breakfast yet!"

"No, I'm leaving." She gave me a look that said she understood. "We always talked about it, let's do it. You want to come?"

"I--I can't, I've--" school, work, friends, family, rent, obligations, she could have listed anything. It didn't matter. I understood, of course.

So we met one last time on the Aurora bridge, on my way to take a bus back home, then to pack up and leave. We were exes now. She'd said no to coming with me anyway. It was a reserved meeting, a far cry from that last celebration. "Won't you miss Seattle?" she said, handing me one last thing to take with me.

"A great deal," I said. "But I'm free now. It's a small price to pay."

She understood, of course. She had a bright future in a wonderful city, classes to take, good friends, a nice house, a steady job. She was trapped. Me? I had an open road ahead of me, no map, no destination, no idea what the weather was going to be like. Nobody knew or cared.

And freedom felt just like the first time I'd ever fallen in love.



As we talk about our lives and hopes and regrets, I try to ignore the fact she's buying me dinner. This bottle of Merlot we're sharing is on her dime. "I've always tried to live without regrets," I say. I spear a mouthful of pasta with my fork while she agrees fervently, admires me for what I've said. "I don't know how people live with regret."

She reminds me of a lot of people, all of them gone, all of them regrets. Former lovers, ex roommates, friends who've fallen out of touch. People I'd alienated or manipulated or simply gotten bored with and moved on, knowing the whole time I was being a monster. And I'm not exactly lying. I do try to live that way.

I am watching her lips as she drinks, watching her wet her lips with her tongue before she speaks. She tells me I'm a gentle soul, a man of profound thoughts and quick wit. She thinks I am a paradox, a mystery. I am watching her eyes as she says she likes that about me. "Thanks," I say, not sure if I mean it.

We finish our meal. I am watching the waitress as she flambes my date's dessert. I am watching my ice cream melt. After she finishes, she asks if I want to come back to her apartment. I am watching her hands as she signs the check. "Sure," I say.

We go back to her apartment. I am watching her naked back as she falls asleep, apparently happy. Now that she is asleep I am utterly alone. I whisper in her ear that I don't know how I live with regret, either, knowing she can't hear me.


Since I was a kid, my strategy for dealing with sickness was to pretend I was okay--usually I failed, but that's how I'd do it. With a 104 fever I'd insist I was fine, just let me go to school. The way you could tell I was really sick, and really the way you still can, is when I let it actually interfere. My father got scarlet fever when he was a kid, so he always worried about a sore throat, worried it might be strep, worried it might be bad like his was bad, so of course I always made extra certain to pretend everything was okay with sore throats.

I had a particularly nasty one once, but it had been slow to onset. I hadn't tried talking for a while, since it hurt and anyway I was reading. He came into the TV room and asked if I was okay. I opened my mouth to say "Yeah, I'm fine," but nothing came out except for a faint exhalation, something not even worthy of the title 'whisper.' I cleared my throat and tried again. "I'm fine," I said, weakly in more ways than one.

But that's how it went. Pretending I was fine even in the face of everything, spending a week with a broken arm, my hand stuffed in my pocket in a makeshift sling--"It's getting better, I'm sure of it."


a manifesto

Yes, I'm a dreamer. I believe being a cynic is the worst possible thing for a human being to be. While you hide from the world I'm laughing and crying and shouting and whispering and talking until I lose my voice and drinking too much and helping my friends who've had too much and meeting interesting people and missing connections and wondering what it means. I'm loving and hating and living--and enjoying every single minute of every single day, because that's what life is.

In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says "We read to know we're not alone." He was almost right, too--except he neglects to mention that's also why I laugh and cry and shout and whisper and all of those other things. Every moment is a triumphal affirmation, shouting "yes" as loudly as I possibly can at the world, at everyone and everything around me.

What have cynics and misanthropes ever done for me? Have they ever talked to me until five am on the phone and made me feel happy just to be alive, feel like I've really connected, watching the sun come up and realizing that I just ruined tomorrow to talk to this person, knowing it was worth every minute of lost sleep? Have they ever stumbled home with me after too long of a night out, laughing at everything? Have they ever smoked a cigarette with me on the back porch of a party, unwinding together after a crazy night with adventures already starting to blur?

I spent too many years as a cynic, hating everything just a little more than I hated myself, living life as if it were something to skulk my way through, no hope, no future--convinced I was deprived of that would finally bring me joy.

Then I started dreaming again. Then I became powerful--and I will use that power. For love and hope and everything that's beautiful out there.



When we met for drinks on her way through Seattle, she had everything she'd ever wanted. She would never have put it this way, of course, but--a man wrapped around her finger, a degree with honors, a successful career that was taking her through the airport bars in all the interesting airport hubs in America. Just like when we were dating, everything happened on her terms, the way she wanted it, because she'd carefully arranged it that way. She assumed she knew me still.

It was the little things--the way she'd disdainfully make some little comment about me, trying to assert her dominance, the way she'd always done. She was wrong about it now, of course, but I didn't say anything. Drinks arrived--she was drinking a Manhattan, something I'd turned her on to a year or two before, and I ordered PBR--and she asked me one of those questions, assuming she knew the answer. She wasn't expecting me to. She thought she'd won, right there. "I'm just like you," she was trying to say. "Just like you, but I'm successful. What have you done?"

When I finally answered, she simply moved on, of course, but there was a change. She was in unfamiliar territory now. She kept trying, I kept correcting her. Eventually she said something like, "You're not even happy with where you are, I don't think you're one to talk," and I said I was as happy as I'd ever been.

I say I don't understand why we'd ever dated, but really, breaking up was the best thing that had ever happened to either of us. We both define success as not being like each other.

all my tears

For weeks, I'd wake up from these vivid dreams, heart pounding, then wake up without any way to know if it had really happened. I was alone. I couldn't call. I'd calm myself and go back to sleep. In the morning I was never rested, but my head was clear. I'd forget about it for a while before I'd realize--of course it was a dream. But it kept happening, with a dizzying regularity. I knew it was only a matter of time before I started losing touch, started believing it.

Meanwhile everything crumbled and mostly my friends left me to my steady decline--as I usually said I'd prefer it. As far as my roommates were concerned, so long as I was paying rent and didn't destroy anything they weren't complaining. I was tired beyond imagining, lived in broken fragments of time. My smile came too quickly and faded even faster. I spent conversations staring into the middle distance, fidgeting nervously.

I had one friend that tried to help. I'd talk to her late at night, online, mostly rambling. She listened, mostly. Sometimes she'd offer some advice or consolation, something simple and elegant. She probably thought nothing of it--I wasn't exactly responsive--but she'd provided me an anchor.

Then our schedules changed and we stopped speaking as much and I was better and I never found the right way to tell her she'd helped. It's possible I never will.


apologetic letters

To L_____, who suspects.

I hope you'll forgive me in advance for the next several months. Maybe you already have. You alone know everything there is to know about me. It makes me uneasy. It's why I've been acting the way I have and why I have to do this. Know that you are always in my thoughts. I'm just not ready for someone who understands me--if you really understand me that means you're judging me, not some persona or game I'm playing. I can't hide from you, so I'm running, but I will ever be
Respectfully yours,
R____ M_____

To M_____, who has been away for some time.
You know how inexpressibly sorry I am I haven't been in touch. It's my fault. My priorities were not right--maybe still aren't--but they've changed now. You, at least, are in your rightful place, at the top and center of my thoughts and plans. I'm sorry I can't give you perfection. You'll have to settle for the same man you've known all these years. But I think you already knew that. The weather is beautiful. Wish you were here.
All my love,
R_____ M_____

battling monsters

I have become a monster.

It's not some Kafkaesque physical transformation, or anything so mundane as that. It's something deeper, existential--and I'm not sure 'become' is the right word. It's as if I woke up today only to find I've always been this way, and my memories of anything else were just some fleeting dream.

I remember being whimsical and adventurous, easily led to flights of fancy, eager to explore the world. But all of that has been a lie, something I may never have really believed myself. In the end I'm cold and calculating, waiting in the darkness, to prey on those who are prone to wander, like some fairy tale monster, except no fangs dripping blood, no morality lesson--an existential horror, destroying lives for my temporary amusement. Like most monsters, I'm soon hungry again.


glass pen

A few weeks after I met her, before we started dating, my girlfriend went to Italy. It was just before my birthday and I told her she had to get me something--jokingly, but when she came back, we went out to dinner with a group of friends. When the others had dispersed I offered to drive her home, since it was on the way. When we were alone she gave me a beautiful blown glass pen, a leather-bound notebook, and an inkwell filled with red ink. My first attempts at using it were sloppy, but I really, truly loved her gift.

We both ended up moving to Seattle, separately. I had little actual use for a novelty pen, so I kept it in a box above my computer--a constant reminder, if I ever remembered it was there. She never asked about it, of course. It's possible she forgot, too. It might have been nothing. We met for coffee and dinner countless times since then. Most of the conversations have since faded into the simple memory that I enjoyed every minute with her. Sometimes I'd come home and admire the pen, occasionally write a little in the notebook she'd given me--then keep them safe for the time when I might need it.

I didn't plan out my move across the country. I bought her a leather-bound notebook, which she tells me she wrote a lot in and left at a rest area somewhere between Seattle and Moses Lake, made up a weak excuse and promised we'd keep in touch--we didn't really. Somewhere between packing up to leave and moving, I must have left the pen in storage, or lost it somewhere--when I arrived it was nowhere to be found, but I didn't realize it until my return visit, when we promised to keep in touch and actually, really did.

Then came this weekend, when I'd fallen ill with the flu just as she arrived with the excuse of visiting colleges, and we spent the days before she left just talking like we used to, and I told her I'd lost her pen, and she laughed and stopped just shy of kissing me--and she told me we could find other treasures.

Her flight left in the morning despite the snow.