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« In Which We Earn The Right To Hurt Someone Else »

In Love With


Dear C,

I am back in New York but without a bed. I sleep on the couch but I do have a cabinet that holds some clothes and offers a surface on which to stack the books I continue to buy wildly, compulsively, like words are the solution to every problem I have and an appropriate celebration for every small, daily achievement. With the books accumulating and a picture of you propped against the stacks, it is starting to feel like home here.

Can you tell from the photo I sent you how hot it is in my room? Of course you can’t. New York got hot and it’s the kind of hot that alternately makes you want to do nothing at all and do something terribly drastic. I spend all day while I work thinking of drastic things to do, but the good thing about work is that it keeps me from doing them for at least eight hours.

The events of past summers are coming back to me very vividly in a way that makes me want a strong drink, but it’s also comforting to have seasonal context restored: summer makes you do crazy things, of course. It makes you want to cheat on your boyfriend or else marry him. It makes you want to go macrobiotic or else order a personalized sheet cake just for fun. It makes the pursuit of immediate pleasure seem very important and everything else, like the niceness of having someone to say goodnight to every day or the security of putting part of your paycheck into savings or the long term health benefits of good posture while you work — it all starts to seem secondary to sleeping around and spending and slouching.

I think I’ll start taking my life advice from rap music again, or maybe I’ll eschew words entirely for classical. What do you think that would to do my mind, which spends all day processing words from one language into another, and all evening trying to quiet itself down enough to sleep? Meanwhile, when I open my window at night the air smells like bars, like nightlife, like people out on the prowl for pleasure, and I appreciate being able to take part in that without even leaving my apartment. The proximity alone is comforting; it squelches my eternal fear of missing out. Also, here in the construction zone that is my apartment, my comb is coated in dust daily, just like yours is in the perpetually transforming city of Beijing.



Dear C,

Just about a year ago, I went home to see a boy I had decided I was in love with. I wonder when I’ll be able to forget the coolness of the early summer cement in Wisconsin that weekend, or the scratchy dry grass I laid in while I tried to work up the courage to be real. A love that takes as long to blossom as that one did, even — or especially — if it’s fostered mostly in your imagination is crazy dangerous. 

A month later, he came to visit me in New York.  I bought new sunglasses on St. Marks Place for the occasion and took him to the Met because he considered himself something of an artist. He said the most impressive thing there was a velvet rope cordoning off some sculptures, which should have been a sign but was not. There were a lot of signs; there always are, with almost anyone, but in the variegated, cataclysmic history of good times, has anyone ever chosen not to ignore them?

A love like the one I had then is only possible in summer. You can spend late July nights saying insane things to each other, like that you’ll move to Bahrain and build a house together, and then you can end it before it’s cold enough that you have to sleep in clothes again. In some ways this is harder than you think it will be, and in some ways it’s not hard at all, because autumn changes everything. But when summer comes back around, the vestiges of that last love – an anthem from that season, a meal you ate together often – will return to you in a terrible, almost paralyzing way. It will make you cry to your new boyfriend, and you will know this is wrong but you feel that because someone else hurt you, you now have the right to hurt someone else.

Something I was just then starting to realize, not on late night small town barstools but in the clarity of the early morning bus rides that followed, is that sometimes you might think a person is crazy for you but really they are just crazy. Another thing is that maybe when you devote yourself to loving someone intensely, you are just trying to balance out a negative elsewhere in your life. You think having someone’s hand in yours makes you invincible and capable of ignoring your shitty job or decrepit apartment or the guidance counselor nightmare that is an utter lack of direction. It can, but only for a while.

It took me another year to learn that it is possible to be an okay person who loves someone who is not good. You can cope with that by doing destructive things to convince yourself you’re not that good either: you can drink a lot and resent other people when you are with them. Then, when you are alone, you can try to be good enough to compensate for your companion’s poison, perhaps by studying for the LSATS or running loops around your neighborhood, as though you can actually chase down the person you want to be, or the person you truly want to be with.

I got very in shape doing that, and it made me write more than I had been, but that’s about it.


Dear C, 

When I send you my frenzied late night e-mails, library computer terminal e-mails, typed-beneath-the-table restaurant e-mails, all begging you to come home, often what I am trying to convey is how much I miss having someone with whom to traverse all my troubled topographies: a bus stop where I cried out of job search despair or the first date restaurant of my last relationship. If you were here, at each stop on the landmark tour of my minor daily tragedies, you would say, “Don’t be ridiculous,” but the glimmer in your green eyes and the grin emerging at the corners of your mouth would tell me that you were sympathetic to the miles of difficult memories I’ve created here, that you, too, know that the past does not always stay where it should but can in fact sneak up behind and overwhelm you if you’re not careful. 

Joan Didion says that we keep notebooks in order to remember “what it was to be me.” These letters to you are records of a certain time, a sometimes self-conscious and sometimes totally uninhibited portrait of who I am – or at least that is how it will seem years from now. You know better than anyone that I am always on a dual quest to forget everything that happens to me and to record it all for eternity. I am furious when I cannot forget things fast enough, when memories stick to my ribcage and eventually gang up on my insides, flooding my lungs and making it hard to breathe. But I’m so afraid, too, of losing memories, of losing what I knew in a neighborhood, in a man, in a dress I once wore or a song I once heard.

Despite my best efforts to adopt a new model of experience, the past informs everything I say and do; who will I be next if I don’t know who I was before? I am forever hoping that recording things will make them easier to forget, that if I can file them away in a digital card catalogue, I’ll free my mind up for new acquisitions. I wonder if this process is what makes a person a writer more than any classes or strict writing routines do. I also wonder if this is the most efficient way of making yourself miserable on a day-to-day basis. 

Every day, I used to write my little urban experiences down in my phone, and a lot of times I sent them to this boy, but sometimes I didn’t, sometimes I kept them just for myself. When my phone was stolen last fall, I was disproportionately devastated for all those lost mementos, those fast-captured paragraphs recounting the moments when I was twenty-one and twenty-two and learning a lot about things, although not fast enough to suit either of us. I am sorry for all the things it took me so long to learn from you, and that I did such a terrible job of following the advice I so often doled out.

It took me a while to see that it is not a good idea to spend time with men who make you dislike other women, or make you forget your own plans, whether it’s the train you meant to catch or the career you want to have. I learned that sometimes being nervous around someone is thrilling but sometimes it keeps you from being your full, best self, the way you are in the company of friends. I also realized that break-ups are the kind of mistake it’s okay to cop to, that my dad was right when he told me that heartbreak is a disease 99.999 percent of people survive, except for in Tolstoy. 

Do you remember the time in Washington Square Park last spring when a man came up and asked us, “Are you looking for love tonight?” And we said, simultaneously, “I’m good.” It is my recollection that we were good – in the sense of satisfied but also morally – because we were together. But you would say there were so many more factors to that moment, the way there are to every one, that things don’t just hinge on a single person or event: that the temperature then was one of hopeful May and not oppressive August, that we had just seen two men somewhat absurdly, comically carrying a piano right through the park, that we had, as usual, eaten too much for dinner and gotten cookies and ice cream for desert anyway, and that you were going back uptown and I was going home to Brooklyn, and we each had so much then to look forward to. 

The walls in my apartment are all painted now, so I hung up some pictures of us. There’s one of us in a candy store in California a handful of summers ago. We appear accidentally identical: dark brown hair swooping in front of our faces, navy blue sweatshirts with DIY thumbholes on the sleeves, sunburnt cheeks wrought large as we bite into candy apples at the same moment, in the flash’s glare. We are nineteen years old but in our uninhibited delight and with our unselfconscious appetites, we look like we could be much younger. When I see this, I sometimes panic about time passed or wasted and think, “Will we ever be that young again?” On other days, though, I look at it with relief, because I know we never will be, and that is the proper order of things, forward moving, and for the best. Right?


Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about the break-up. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

"Some Other Time" - Jill Scott (mp3)

"Quick" - Jill Scott (mp3)

"Making You Wait" - Jill Scott (mp3)

The new album from Jill Scott, The Light of the Sun, was released on June 21th.

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Reader Comments (5)

Really loved this.

June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda


June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPMW

I always love and look forward to your work on here.

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you're my favorite writer on Tumblr and I'm not just saying that.

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