If every letter is not a love letter, then what could it possibly be?
I feel that I’m part of a generation of authors inspired by Chris Kraus, I like to flatter myself sometimes.
But if every letter is not a love letter, then what could it possibly be?
I Googled myself and cried for ten minutes because a woman who finally met her adopted child quoted me in her story. “There is truly no other place bearing so much love as airports.” I sometimes forget what I wrote, even a couple years ago, and each time I come across my own words attached to someone else’s happiness, my heart plays a gentle melody and my eyeballs sweat in the same time. It makes me think, what an extraordinary gift, to mean hope to a stranger you may never meet, and to be capable of discovering that while you’re still alive.
I lived all my life as if it could become a work of cinema, at least at some point.
If I could do what the characters in “How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days”, or “Van Wilder” did, and publish a story in a newspaper that washes away all the blame and hurt I caused to someone, and delivers them back into my arms, I would do it.
If I could shout through the prison’s megaphone like the man in “La Vita E Bella” to let his wife know he’s alive, I would say “I am sorry” at least twenty-six times and “I love you” until the jail man puts a gun to my head.
If I could be as bold as Nicolas Sarkozy, I would text you “Si tu reviens, j’anulle tout”, the same way he is rumoured to have texted his former wife Cecilia, just days before marrying Carla Bruni.
If I could shake up the world through social media, I would ask all the women out there to write you “I think you should go back to her”, only so that I can be the last one to fill your inbox and say “Me too.”
If I could dance like Kate Bush did circa “Running Up That Hill”, before her work took a more cinematic turn and her videos began resembling movie scenes, I could still not refrain from leaving the stage for thirty five years as she did, but I would invent a dance for each of your songs.
If I could be a taxi driver like Winona was in “Night On Earth”, I would tell each passenger I carry that I never had a crazy passion for cars but I took the job only hoping one day you’ll end up in my back seat and I’ll say a very cheesy Leonardo DiCaprio-esque “Where to, miss?”.
If I could be like Estella in 1998’s version of “Great Expectations”, I would run away and deceive you for thirteen years, just to be able to say to you, in the unbearable lightness of a Sunday morning between stark white bed sheets “I want you inside me”.
If I could be like John Preston in “Sex And The City”, who transcribed “Love letters of great men” into emails and sent them all to Carrie Bradshaw as an apology for bailing out on their wedding, I would carry on writing all the chapters of this book on Patreon, only to hope that one day, as Carrie randomly guesses the password to her email folder containing all the letters, you will randomly come across all this body of work and allow me to write its ending into a happy one.
Good endings don’t sell well, but I did not plan to make a fortune out of writing this story. The fortune would be to have you.
Benjamin says “I don’t recognize you anymore”, but in fact I don’t recognize him either. Or I have not been paying attention to his changes because I’ve been changing myself into something else.
When did I lose all my career ambitions? Last night I told my friend Saskia I wanted to get a job in a bar. She greeted the idea and said But that’s all I ever wanted too. A life lived slowly. I have the same want since I am back in Berlin, unlike the first time I arrived here, a time when I dreamt of big pay checks and a big prize for my editorial management. At work, I used to stroll on the hotel-like hallways of Haus der Bundespressekonferenz and gaze for long minutes at the Wallstreet Journal’s office next to the elevators. I always took the elevator next to their office door. I peeked inside, a long floor filled with people working in their cubicles, I craved to be there too. Make something happen in this world. Contribute to importance. Don’t just stand there.
I am a woman. I am a lover. I am a writer. I am a name travelling back and forth the continent to preserve grace into my emotions. I am nothing at all.
Two hours into a phone chat with Alice I have a breakthrough. I walk around in circles into the kitchen and back on the hallway as I talk to her. I did the same earlier, when I called my father to discuss whether I should set up a new company or not. The same in the doctor’s office the other day, as I dialled my insurance company’s call center. I have done this all my life, my leg twitching if I had to be seated, my fingers rolling one cigarette after another if the premises allowed me to smoke. I have done the same studying for my finals, from high school to my master’s graduation. I have done it taking important phone calls with clients, through long debates with my parents as I was living abroad, whenever I questioned my decisions and I requested the person I was calling to assist me in making the optimal outcome, and each time I spelled my full name and personal numeric code to Maria, the robot taking calls at ING Bank Amsterdam.
Finally, somehow, it hits me how with him, I never even left my chair, or my bed. Going further into memories, I realize I never walked as well as a child, spending countless hours on the phone with – this time – a real Maria, my best friend from the block when I was twelve, or Alexandra, my class mate in school for four years, or, to be perfectly honest, with none of the men I was in love with. If I can name it, it is stress. I have felt anxious at all times, talking to people, the bad and the good, moving my legs back and forth, always moving, always walking, except for the times I was so comfortable and in touch with my feelings that I stood still and I was present.
I was not walking with him, not even when we had our last call and final argument. I stood by the kitchen window, held the phone next to my ear, lit up a cigarette, took two steps to the door to close it and returned to my initial position of surveillance. A man walking his daughter, and their dog. A woman brushing away dead leaves from the flower beds in the cemetery. Sometimes my attention got turned away to something else during our conversations and he could always sense it, and try to get me back to the present tense, or I would let a thought linger without letting it slip through my lips and he would then suddenly ask me to “say it”.
He was mostly walking during our calls. When he said that, and I confessed the opposite, I hadn’t had this image yet – that maybe anxiety comes more often to those running from something, and stillness to those who have found something. If we’ve come so far in our minds that we claim to be able to analyze the body language of a person whose body we never really saw, I must either thank technology for making intimacy happen, or ask myself what else is there for me to find out after this ongoing audit?
Today I thought I’d like more time on my hands to work on this novel. My first book took seven days to write.
If by the end of this second novel I’ll have listened to the same one song for 30240 times, then I will have to reconcile with the fact that it was designed to fuel my heart to completion. It has put me into flow, the state of things Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about in his books, the books my friend Alec was talking about when he also gave me Stephen King’s “On Writing” for my birthday. Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is this state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.
“You are a strong woman, Liv. And I admire you for all the sensitive letters you sent to men, even when they didn’t want you, regardless of how they felt about you, or treated you”, I tell my friend who has made a habit out of reaching back to her romantic interests with highly charged, vulnerable deliveries of text.
“Yes, I have sent a lot of letters to cowards”, she laughs.
“I now understand it fully. Because I am also writing an entire chain of letters into a book for a man who may never meet me, but still, he made me feel and become aware of incredible things going on inside me”. I pause. “And aware he may never read it.”
She admits she sent those e-mails away to release herself.
I cannot follow her example, but I have hopes whatever comes out of me will funnel so much love into the universe that this love reaches him as well. And if it doesn’t, I can hope it at least reaches other people – this whole woman’s work of a love that I won’t get the chance to experience in real life, that has already, nonetheless, changed the way I live.
In one of the emails he wrote me the days after we separated, Benjamin said You don’t need to move to keep things whole. You are whole.
I remembered his words during my phone conversation with Alice, as my legs followed imaginary circles on the kitchen floor. But this means something so extraordinary, she popped. I know, I said.
Angela brought a balloon with my name written on it the day she waited for me at the airport. I let it sit in my living room, tied with a hook next to the chimney, and I watch it deflate each day with thoughts such as when it goes empty, my year of magical thinking will be over and I might as well be dead. I wait for it patiently, like waiting for the second season of Stranger Things or the second coming of Jesus. I like to think what is mine is put aside until the moment a surreal force drops it in my lap.
If I really die, I’m going to be very, very disappointed.