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Dear S & Dear B

In letters and phone calls the ties that bind us can remain beautiful and clean.
Dear S & Dear B

Dear S,

I spent the last few hours rereading your letters. I have them bundled together and bound with silver string in the back of a desk drawer. They’ve followed me to a house and three apartments since we lost touch.

By the time your mother called to tell me you died, we hadn’t spoken a couple years. Our friendship——if that’s what it was——cost us both plenty. Two broken marriages, dozens of friends estranged, so many drunken blurry nights and days. We only “worked” in counterpoint to our other entanglements. Our bond served to torpedo the success of any connection to others.

Yet we were never enough for one another. I was never what you wanted. There were times when I’d talk myself into believing I was in love with you. But the truth is I was just lonely and you were there and vulnerable and I felt like you needed me. It wasn’t physical attraction. You were every other guy’s type, but not mine.

My pile of letters is out of sequence. I took the time to gather yours aside from other correspondence but didn’t bother to order it. Perhaps it isn’t necessary. The themes recur and recur and recur. Whatever guy you’re with falls in love with you and you’re shocked and put out. You can’t understand why they can’t just be friends without needing to fuck you. The frequency of your writing always increases when the paramour du jour is pressuring you into commitment you don’t want or need. You always leave the door or window open a crack for your other admirers when things get serious with the one you’re with.

We get along best when you’re far away. Face-to-face contact confuses things. In letters and phone calls the ties that bind us can remain beautiful and clean.

Dear B,

I was surprised to hear from you. It’s been awhile. I thought maybe we were done with each other after that last visit. People grow apart. It’s what we do. Kids don’t know that. They think their friends will be their friends forever. Rarely happens. Still, for all those miserable school years, you’re all I had.

Now I don’t even remember what brought us so close. Sounds cold to type it out in ink on paper. When there are gaps in friendships, it gets hard to pick up the thread. What felt so sturdy, so permanent, now looks tired, insubstantial. I get weary trying to reconstruct whatever it was that tied me to you.

Why did you write today? Are you feeling cast off by whoever you’re with? Is it a cry for help? You always played so tough, but underneath the bluster, you’re soft and weak. You romanticize childhood in embarrassing ways. Do you really want to go back to that kind of helplessness? All we were in charge of was what cartoon to watch or what junk food to swipe from Jaffe’s. You recount those awful years as if they were a paradise.

I feel pity for you if that’s what you truly believe. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and chalk up the whining and wallowing to the current breakup.

When a thing falls apart, we shrink, retract into our shells, nurse our wounds. I guess your cocoon is packed with Strat-o-matic, popcorn, and Warner Brothers cartoons. The chick walking out the door is tired of paying for your pot, tired of hearing your elaborate reasons for not getting a job, sick of indulging your monomaniacal kinks in the boudoir. But all you can think of is a nostalgic yesteryear.

—I wrote about a play full of old memories, the Reader reran my Navalny review, and a new one of the first Barry Levinson movie worth seeing in at least twenty years.