Old Love Letters
June 30, 2010 in Relationships And Other Headaches
This is your boyfriend. Your live-in boyfriend who clings to clutter like it’s a life raft. If you need to quote from Dan Savage’s post in The Guardian from oh say May of 2005, you’re in luck, because it’s all there in piles in your living room. Once, when you first moved in together, you found a box next to his desk that contained old love letters, apparently never sent (yes you snooped; that room is communal), and in one he plaintively recounted for a lukewarm girl their sublime night together on a rooftop and the disarming line her arabesqued slipdress made against her summery thighs. You felt bad for snooping, but you felt even worse about that damned dress. You never had a dress like that. You wear jeans and t-shirts, and buy flouncy skirts you never quite get around to wearing, because the Jergens gradual tanning lotion left strange designs on your shins. Does he resent you for this, quietly, and often?
He’s gaining weight. You have brought this up. Is he letting himself go? He says no. He says he’s been running the stairs on Broadway and Lion while you’re at work. Okay, then; back to the clutter. Has he ever actually read this book on German playwrights in the sixties, or is it decorative? You have other books, better ones, on the crappy shelf in the hallway, books you have read at least three times and here are all the dog ears to prove it. He’s commandeered at least two thirds of the book space in the living room. The best space. Show me which books are dog-eared, you say, and the rest, well I just don’t think it’s fair.
This morning there were little black shavey-hairs all over the bathroom sink, the same ones that have been there for two days, same with the dishes in the kitchen, and you’ve done them at least the last three times. You made a little ugh sound and rolled your eyes alone in the bathroom and got the Clorox wipes out. Last night he got all the double and triple word score squares in Scrabble, and your vocabulary is superior to his, you truly believe this to be true, so what is the point of a word-game that is really just a game of luck? You tried pouting. He wasn’t in the mood to indulge you.
Maybe you just don’t understand each other. Maybe you got together too quickly. The apartment is so charming, with shelves built into the walls, and a delicate raised white rose wallpaper border in the hallway. No more roommates for either of you. Freedom and bliss and far away from the incessantly clucking chicken in the backyard at his prior spot, and the alcoholic middle aged Red Sox fan at yours, who once knocked on your bedroom door at four a.m. to give you your mail. Well, you’re each other’s roommates now. As long as we don’t start leaving passive aggressive notes about the contents of the fridge, you tell each other.
But you have some notes, in your head. You sometimes come close to getting out the Sharpie and the duct tape.
Is he what you want? Forever? Something tells you he’s getting off a bit easy. That you should be more of a challenge. When you met, you clung to each other, both freshly shardhearted. You kissed each others bruises. You fell in love, fell into bed, went shopping for a dining room table. Can’t he at least just throw away the box filled with printer manuals to the printers he hasn’t owned in this decade, and the cracked cassette tape cases, especially since the tape deck on his stereo is broken? He cannot, he says.
You know nothing about music. Sometimes you’re afraid to reference a Beatles song as a Beatles song without Googling to make sure it’s not a Pink Floyd song you’re actually thinking of. Is Pink Floyd just the name of the band, or does it feature a guy named Pink Floyd? You love music, of course, but when it comes to the whos and whats about who made it, yes you’re that bad. You’ve always been too busy with books. You get defensive about this, but really you’re just embarrassed.
Tonight you make dinner and he’s on the couch in the other room, picking at his guitar. He sings Freight train freight train goin’ so fast. Freight train freight train, goin’ so fast. Please don’t tell what train I’m on, so they won’t know where I’ve gone. He’s not singing it for you. He’s singing it because it’s what he does when he’s killing time, rather than voraciously surfing the internet, clicking the refresh button like a morphine drip for a painfully restless mind, the way you do. His voice is just louder than a whisper. His voice is better than any rich red wine you’ve ever had after a long day.
What’s that song, you ask. He tells you, still idly picking at the strings, about Elizabeth Cotton, and how she played the guitar upside down, because it worked better for a lefty. This is something you’d have never found out on your own, because it’s not going to show up in the online circles you maniacally refresh when you’re bored.
He knows a million things like this. He knows how to not make you feel stupid when you ask him, So what’s the big deal about Bob Dylan again? Because he gets that you really want to know, and he can tell you exactly what the big deal is. He’s a guy who doesn’t care so much for cleaning all his little shave-hairs off the sink, but he’s a teacher, too, and besides, do you really want to be with someone who has never, before you met him, had a rooftop night or two with a girl in a sexy summer dress? When you get jealous remind yourself that on street corners, he’s been known to sing to you while you wait at the crosswalk: Hey there baby have you heard the news? Well I love your shoes and I love you, too.
You go back to the stove, and he goes back into his soft song, and all that clutter oozing out of his boxes in the living room looks suddenly kind of retro and charming in the dusky light coming in through the windows and over his hands as he plays.