26

When I woke up this morning, I remembered how we used to decorate our friends’ lockers on their birthday. I saw the wrapping paper and curled ribbon tacked to top locker near the room where I took History with Mr. Wilson vividly, and last night’s dream came back to me.

I was in a somberly lit hall, not unlike a museum, with doors to different lecture theaters, and I was reunited with two men I had loved in high school. I say men, because it was the boys I knew then as I imagine them to be now. I was reminded how innocent those feelings were then. How common it was to pine over someone for months, even years, with a passion fueled by the most innocuous interactions. Those years, where all you needed was the feeling of an arm brushing against yours.

How simple it is now, with physical affection exchanged frequently, easily, and thoughtlessly. In the rare cases when I’m forced to wait, I turn to the nearest willing participant and pull them on top of me in order to suffocate those feelings

I don’t know quite how I managed to retain my sanity as I floated down the hallway behind these boys all those years ago, hoping for moments in dark corners backstage, scheming a hundred scenarios that could lead to just one kiss. None of my silly plots ever manifested that kiss, alcohol did. Drunkenness allowed us all to shed our reservations and fears, and swap saliva in an unflattering and ultimately destructive way. The things we wanted to do had consequences.

I’ll never regret those kisses. But, it occurs to me now that ultimately, both resented me for it. And now, I can only think of the times where a victory in love for me was a failure for him, a moment of weakness, a lesson to be learned, about what I couldn’t say.

I recognize the hunger I woke up with. It wasn’t for apples and peanut butter. It was to be back in that lecture hall with those boys from high school who I loved, and who I never questioned, and it sits in me.

It’s my birthday soon, and there is no locker to decorate… I have my own house. I guess I could fill it with balloons if I wanted to.

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Apologies to the Person this is Written to

Apologies,

I should stop writing letters. It’s getting to the point where even I cringe at the idea that people read these. Public displays of emotion in this format are especially embarrassing. Does the whole world really need to know I’ve had a bad day, or that I’ve eaten for two, or that I have had some break-through in my own journey of self-exploration. No. But there is so much I have to say to you, and so few places other than here where the intimacy of the moment isn’t so mind-crushingly terrifying that I can’t get the words out. When I write here, I don’t have to wait for a response from you, because I didn’t technically write this for you. I wrote it for me. And I wrote it for them.

People say it’s brave to be so open, but it’s not, it’s cowardly. Being brave would be calling to say “I miss you”, or admitting that sometimes I turn the key in the front door lock and pause for a moment because I don’t want to see that the living room is different. I don’t want there to be paintings instead of posters. I want the cat sleeping on the chair to be the one we talked about getting. I want to go back to playing house. I want my forks back. I want my creativity back. I don’t actually care about the forks. You can keep them. But I haven’t been able to write for two months. I try. But I don’t care anymore, you see. 

I want to write. I imagine myself sending this to you, full of caveats and explanations, and I feel sick. I imagine sending this to the world, written as it was meant to sound, and feel relieved. But if I said these things to you, then we’d both know I’d said it and you heard it, and then there would be this awkward sense of accountability. If I send this out to the world, then I can tell myself that maybe you didn’t see it. You can pretend not to have read it. And if we happened to meet then we could pretend it never existed because only things whispered out loud have to be acknowledged. I could not send this at all. It could sit in the pile of half-written letters, but there are things that need to be said, they need to be said somewhere, and I can’t hold them anymore. I want my creativity back. I want to feel a sense of childish wonder at the world. I want my heart to feel like it’s hanging upside-down. I want to write. But the only things I have to say are that life is much clearer but much grayer without you. 

Lili

Ps. If you bring me my creativity I’ll return your red laundry basket. 

Pps. I regret logging out of Netflix but it felt weird to use it once you left.

To The Tribe

Dear Family,

It worked. I thought I was above the hype, beyond impressionability. I thought I’d travel as I always have and return as I have always been. I rejected the notion of fast friendships and profound experiences before I even arrived at the airport. It wasn’t going to be me. I wasn’t a rube, I know nothing is free. Ten days of sleep deprivation and high school flashbacks passed, and I drank the Kool-Aid. I didn’t realize I was thirsting to identify with something, parched for a sense of belonging in a profound and meaningful way.

This whole experience has forced me to confront my deepest insecurity, a deeply rooted remnant of my earliest school days where I struggled and failed to be accepted by my peers. I wanted you all to like me. I wanted you to accept me. But I didn’t want to ask for it, work for it, risk not getting it. I didn’t want anyone to know how much it meant to me. I couldn’t even admit it to myself. I let myself stay separate from most of you, make assumptions about who you were and what you valued, found reasons not to participate, allowed myself to feel awkward and stick to socializing on a one-on-one basis. I’ve spent much of my life trying to stand out by standing alone.

Even now, as I write, I’m resistant to talking about this experience. I start to think about my friends who haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a trip like this, and that they’ll laugh at me for being so moved by it. I imagine how the affection we feel for each other could quickly dissipate once we return to our old lives, and that these words will seem sappy and naive. Or, perhaps you’ll think I’m insincere. That I realized I was late to the party and am trying to cultivate a sense of belonging. A sort of deathbed conversion to Taglit. But the outpouring of affection everyone has expressed for each other in our final days together softened me, and the genuine intentions to stay in touch and continue to build on the friendships we’ve cultivated has inspired me.

Those who haven’t had the good fortune to have participated on Birthright just can’t understand why we’re all so overwhelmed by the experience. Everything gets taken away from you in this trip. You have no personal space, no control over when you eat, when you rest, where you go or how you spend your time there. You’re deprived of sleep and over-stimulated by the beauty of the landscape and the history of a people you can’t help but feel connected to. Everything you associate with real life is stripped away, and all that’s left is the people you’re scrambling up a snake trail with and sleeping on top of. We formed our own little tribe; there were bands within it, but loyalties throughout it. We’re thrown together and suddenly the experience ends. It’s jarring, we’ve all felt that, especially me as I transition back into my solitary reality.

But, happily, I know something has changed. Despite my reluctance to participate and to share myself I’ve come away feeling listened to and encouraged. I feel accepted for where I am in my life and what I’m choosing to do with it. I am excited to cultivate the friendships I’ve formed, and grateful to have the time to get to know others of you better. I realized how important it is to me to feel like I’m part of something, and that the fears I had were from another time. I’m confident that from this point forward I’ll be a participant, not an observer. I’m thankful for what all of you have taught me, and look forward to sharing more experiences with all of you in the future.

All my love,

Lili

Lessons on Success from a Spectacular Failure

Dear Reader and Friend,

I think I might be the most optimistic disappointed person you’ll ever meet. For someone who is afraid of failure, I’ve fallen on my face with alarming frequency these past few years. I’ve gotten lost on a straight road. I’ve had eight jobs and moved four times in two years. I have tried to lose weight and only gained it. I have slept with, on average, one carefully-ish selected person every six months over the past three years, all of whom I have thought I was doing a favor, and none of whom agreed. My only claim to fame was when they put my picture next to “pratfall” in the dictionary. I am, for all intents and purposes, unsuccessful. It’s the only thing I’ve done consistently and with flair. My mother always told me to specialize, so perhaps this is a field where I have something to offer.

So, let me take the opportunity to share my expertise with you, my reader and my friend. Let’s take a look at the most recent humiliation I experienced over the past few days. Without going into too much detail, I developed the most inconvenient crush imaginable. There was nothing appropriate about the situation, it was fraught with personal risk at every level. And yet, despite being fully aware of the consequences, I lost the battle against every fiber of my being. I finally blurted out to this person that I thought he was the neatest thing since sliced bread and I’d like to hold his hand.

Let me be clear, I knew a huge rockslide of awkward was about to bury us both. I also knew that the combination of my terrible poker-face and flirtatious nature meant my admission wasn’t unexpected. We’d been dancing around the subject for weeks in a painfully obvious way. Conversations about our individual relationships or lack thereof had become more frequent. I suspected he harbored some feelings for me, and almost every interaction became an opportunity to test out that theory. I became flustered, noticeably quiet, and was losing the ability to look him in the eye. I knew once I opened my mouth that there would be no going back. I knew that, regardless of his feelings for me, he probably wouldn’t be on board because he is pragmatic to a fault. There was nothing simple or straightforward about what I was proposing. Every step forward would have brought a new complication. I’d have bet against myself if someone was offering me 10:1 on a spectacular defeat. But I was so attached to the potential that I saw in us. I was so content with the illusion that maybe, just maybe, we could make each other happy. I knew the minute our feelings were acknowledged, the dream would start to disintegrate.

Still I tried, as I have many times before, to bring the fantasy into the real world. And, like many times before, it floundered before it died. Our feelings for each other were aired, the complications were acknowledged. We kissed, and for a moment I thought that this might be the time that I got what I wanted. Maybe I’d met someone who was willing to be brave too, who would interrupt the quiet of their existence to try their hand at a life most people are too cautious to explore. Days passed, and I saw it all slip away. I could only state my position so many times, hoping that his ambition to create magical things would override his aversion to risk. I hoped that he would understand that there is a coldness in perfection, and that beauty comes from nuance. I tried to explain that nothing can be gained if nothing is risked. I tried to lead by example, and I failed. It hurt, I cried, and I seriously questioned how many more illusions I would let someone else shatter. This has happened more times than I can count, and to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting this to go any differently.

So why on earth would I get involved in something so risky when life was trundling along pleasantly enough? Am I a masochist? Am I trying to fail? No, I’m trying to succeed. When I say succeeded, I don’t mean materializing every tauntingly beautiful and intangible fantasy I imagined. I mean not tripping at the starting gun. I mean getting the chance to roll the dice and move past “Go.” After that, every step has to be reassessed. There are new risks to be considered. The result is never going to be how you imagined, but you’re suddenly given a whole new realm of possibility to work from.

You may be wondering why, with constant rejection and disappointment, I haven’t walked out the sixth story window yet. Probably because I’d hit my head on the glass because I forgot to open the damn thing. Also, every failure is a fantastic experience. Don’t get me wrong, being hopeful, then vulnerable, then getting flat out rejected is bruising. It’s humiliating to feel tears stream down your face and have to accept a consolation hug from the person you’re crying about. That being said, the weeks leading up to that confession were ones of tumultuous optimism. For a moment, in the middle of it all, I got to experience what success would have felt like. It was better than I imagined. And, while it was fleeting and the resolution was ultimately disappointing, it stiffened my resolve. I’m limping back to the drawing board, but with a clearer picture of what I want and how to get it.

When it comes to failing, it all comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice, what precious object you are willing to destroy in exchange for the chance of getting everything you ever wanted. I think my buddies on Mount Olympus would agree that I’ve given them some good stuff. I’ve sacrificed my ego and my dignity numerous times. I’ve laid out a future I’m attached to and said “Do what you will.” I’ll do it a thousand times. Nothing of value has ever been gained when nothing has been risked. Pragmatism is fear rationalized. Inaction guarantees a stifled existence. Humiliation is a small price to pay when you think about the reward.

I hope you will all learn from my failures and find the courage to make your own.

Love Lili

Playing House

eventually i’ll tell you,

but can we just play pretend a little longer?

because in this game we’re going

somewhere wonderful,

somewhere down a rabbit hole,

and i’m the queen of hearts

it’ll be the most fun we’ve ever had,

if I could even begin to tell you.

but the words are stuck at the top of my mouth like peanut butter,

and i’m too queasy to wash them down with milk.

This is love, big time.

i’ve never felt so flustered.

i’ve never felt so awestruck.

you make it feel like the world is a playground,

and the sky is a trampoline.

i’m totally turned upside-down around you.

My skirt is over my head and i’m giggling

because i like the way the world looks from here.

ps. If you’re listening, and I hope you are, I just wanted to say, that minute I spent with you was the most fun I’ve had all day.

To My Parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

You’re driving me up the fucking wall. I keep repeating my favorite mantra; “as far as parents go, they don’t get much better than mine.” I’ve got empirical evidence that would confirm that, as emotional and financial providers, you did good. I don’t think I could do any better. This is why I’m rethinking having children altogether. If you did your very best, and I still don’t want to speak to you right now, that must mean that all children are ungrateful shits. Seriously, I don’t know what other conclusions to draw from this.

Having said that, you two need to accept the fact that I am an independent, grown-ass woman. I realize that after 24 years of molding and shaping you were hoping I’d have more direction and discipline. I realize my indecision and doubts scare the hell out of you. They scare the hell out of me too. But trying to coax me into leading the life you envisioned for me is not helpful. There is a difference between what I want and what you want for me. I need you to both to understand and respect that.

Last night I had a dream that I was driving Mom’s convertible without a seatbelt. I swerved into the left lane without looking and got stuck between an oncoming car and the car behind me. The car I was driving was crumpled like an accordion. I was able to jump out safely. Nobody was hurt. I wasn’t shaken up by the crash. I wasn’t worried about being arrested. But, when I was telling Mom what happened, I purposely didn’t mention the seatbelt. I knew if I admitted I wasn’t wearing one, that that would be seen as having caused the accident. The thing was, it had nothing to do with the seatbelt. I would have crashed regardless. It was just a bad maneuver.

You two are the seatbelt. Your function is to keep me from flying through the windshield if I crash. But, you can’t control how I drive. You’re not going to stop me from behaving recklessly. You can’t protect me from other people driving alongside me. Most importantly, if I had been restrained in my dream, I would have been crushed. Not being tied down meant I could escape safely. I know… that sounds ridiculous, but for me it’s true. I don’t want to be held back. I don’t want your advice, I don’t want your money, I don’t want your blessing. All I want is for you to recognize that this is my car and I don’t need any backseat drivers. This is my road to navigate. You two can come for a ride if and when I start loading in the car-seats. Until then, enjoy the fact you’ve upgraded from a volvo to a two-seater mini (with Maddie strapped to the roof).

Love, your daughter, Lili

To The Grown-Ass Men

Dear Menfolk,

I realize this is taking a twist from my last letter to one of your kind, but the next time I hear one of you complain about how difficult it is to get laid I want you to come see me so I can give you a big fat slap across your sorry ass face. It’s not hard, you’re just too damn stupid to seize the opportunity standing in front of you. I’m going to ‘splain a little something for you, and if I don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize for restoring harmony between the peoples of the world I’ll eat my hat. This is probably going to resemble the romantic advice column I wrote on MSN messenger in 5th grade, and yes, that’s a direct reflection of how capable I’ve deemed you to be in understanding the subject. We’re going to do this in two parts.

For all the single men out there;

I will bet that every last one of you know at least one female who you are either friends with or are acquainted with through work or hobbies who you find mildly attractive and who also finds you mildly attractive. Maybe you have feelings for someone you know who is admittedly a little out of your league but enjoys your company, even seeks it out. Maybe there is someone who you wouldn’t normally find yourself attracted to but whose company tickles you. These women probably aren’t that into you, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t change their mind if you proved yourself to be even a smidgen more thoughtful and attentive than the idiot they are interested in. (Note: I’m calling him an idiot because he didn’t have the good sense to read my wise words, go show him who’s a smart boy).

All we’re looking for, all you need to do, is show that you enjoy being around us and think about us occasionally when we’re not there. It’s so mind numbingly simple. Do it with confidence, and focus your attentions on one woman at a time so you don’t you look like you’re desperate or a slut. It will make her feel special. Feeling special is an aphrodisiac. That’s pretty much it. If it turns out she’s not interested, at the very least you’ll be a candidate when the dark days strike and she’s feeling a little lonely. And when that day comes, you better catch the signal with both hands and run with it because it’s a limited time offer, buddy.

For all the men who are currently sleeping with someone but not really dating them;

You like sex, right? You like sex with another person, right? Do you remember before how frustrating it was when you wanted to have sex and actually had to go around and find someone to sleep with and usually failed? Do you want those days to return? No? THEN PICK UP THE GOD DAMN PHONE! If you spend 5 or 10 minutes out of your day having a little text conversation with the girl you’re boning, that situation is going to stay pretty stable. Just think about it, 5 minutes a day maintenance and you probably get to have sex on a regular basis. It’s like the 4 hour work week, or the 4 hour body, except it’s sex, and that’s even better. You can do it when you’re looking at your phone on the toilet. I know that’s what you’re doing  when you’re in there, so don’t even…

“Oh, but I don’t want to be in a relationship right now, and if I show her attention she’s going to want one!” First of all, shut up, everyone wants someone to care about them. I mean, God forbid someone actually gives a shit about you. “Oh, but it’s so much effort!” No it’s not. It’s like having a good friend, and you spend a lot of time talking to friends right? If you’re smart, then everything stays the same except you get to have sex too. Think about it. That’s not a bad deal.

If you’re sleeping with someone but you don’t enjoy their company, then stop and go start sleeping with a friend. I’m serious. It’s going to be more fun because if/when it’s awkward, or you’re trying something out, you’re already comfortable with each other. And, when you’re done fumbling around you can go get some food just like you would before you saw each other naked. Doesn’t that sound nice? Exactly.

Closing statement to all the grown-ass men out there:

Start acting like it. This isn’t even about the sex, it’s about not dodging the conversations about what it involves it and what it means. I don’t take this lightly, and I don’t sleep around, but it’s probably more because you all scare so easily. Yes, I want a relationship. It’s nice to think that when you’re opening yourself up (I get the joke guys) that it’s with someone who isn’t going to run away and make you feel like there is something wrong with you. At the same time, don’t turn down the offer of a night in my bed because of my feelings. We’re both adults, we’re doing adult things, so let’s take responsibility for ourselves. I already took account of the risks and rewards when I decided it was a good idea to jump you.

And really, when you think about it, we’re all a little lonely and we’re all looking for someone to wrap our arms around. Why not stop trying to hide from committment, turn to that person who always makes you laugh, and say “hey, I’ll be nice to you if you’ll be nice to me.” Then get naked.

Love Lili

To The Guy who messaged me on OK Cupid

Dear BBB86,

We don’t know each other. I should start out by saying I often write letters to strangers. Yours wasn’t a letter so much as an overture that, as far as I know, is your standard first move in that smoke and mirrors game we call online dating. You noticed I mentioned red wine which, funnily enough, is the least telling thing about my profile. Who doesn’t like red wine? It’s fine, at least you sent something. I rarely send the first message. Nobody wants to be even more vulnerable than they already have made themselves by putting up a very public advertisement of their singleness. Can we not just put our faces on flashing billboards and write “I’m lonely too!” with our number underneath. Don’t you find it a little sad that we can’t even admit between ourselves that we’re desperately casting our net into the… Net? No, we write confidently (and with as much humor as we can muster) a self-deprecating candy-coated profile speckled with pictures taken on our best day three years ago. I’m not being dismissive. I threw my hat in the ring near on two years ago and I’ll be damned if I’ll criticize any person for seeking out another warm body. In fact kudos to you and thank you for considering me based on my sparse profile and ample cleavage. Okay, that was a little dismissive, but I’m disillusioned, and your message in my inbox this morning just reminded me that I’m still single, and that the likelihood of you changing that is negligible at best.

If I could write an actual profile, it’d say this: I’m 24. I moved to California two years ago and miss home like crazy. I have friends who I adore. I’m tired of short-lived relationships with men who don’t want (or know how) to be in one. I try to be thoughtful and patient. I get silly when I’m happy. I struggle with my weight and my career choices to the point where sometimes I get caught in a cement block of anxiety. I rely on the people I’m close to for a lot of things, but you better believe I’ll be there in a heartbeat if they ask me for anything, and I hope they know that. I sing a lot secretly hope someone will walk by and ask me to be the lead in their band. I’m indecisive and impressionable, so if you’re going to change my mind do it responsibly. I write, and it’ll probably be about you when you make me crazy. I have a temper, and I’m fond of it. I have a loud laugh, I’m fond of that too. When I fantasize, it’s about living in a small house with lots of books and a vegetable garden. When I ask people how they are it isn’t a courtesy, so I expect them to answer me honestly. I’m tactfully blunt because if I don’t bring up awkward subjects I think about them obsessively. I’ll cook for you, but you should offer to bring ingredients. I want to hear from you every day because then I know you’re thinking about me, and I want you to be thinking about me because you can bet your ass I’m thinking about you. Most importantly, I want you to be very clear about how you feel about me and sometimes show it with flowers. I want you to think I’m worth your time and attention, and I’d love the crap out of you if you thought you were lucky to have me.

In an ideal world, you and I would be the success story that people tell their friends about when they mention they’re trying online dating. I’m not so optimistic. You see, when I fall in love, it’s with someone I met through a mutual friend, or at a bar with the guy who ordered a girly drink. And it isn’t because we’ve rated highly on tests that show where we’re similar. It’s something else. It’s that rare moment where you lock eyes with someone and catch a whiff of their cologne and get a flutter in your stomach because maybe, just maybe, they’re hoping you’re that person they’ve been looking for.

I hope you find that person too,

Love Lili

To You

You know who You are,

I just re-read that conversation we had and, really, you’re an idiot. I couldn’t have asked for a smaller gesture, the simplest of asks, but you couldn’t do it. It had nothing to do with what I wanted, it was an excuse for you to get out. It was about to get real, and real is really disappointing. How do I know it was just an excuse? I know because you were drunk, you provoked me in your first line, and when you had the chance to end the conversation you just kept going. There were so many points where you could have kept the fight at bay, but you wanted it. Well, darling you got it.

Yes, it’s Valentines day and I’ve had a glass or two of wine, but I’ve wanted to say “fuck you” for a while now. I’m more disgustedly disappointed than angry. I’m still shocked that at your age you are so utterly incapable of having a real relationship. How sad for you that the farther away I was, the more comfortable you were. How sick are you that you had to chip away at the minutes we could have has together, and didn’t even realize what you were doing? What on earth happened to you that has resulted in this textbook rejection of intimacy with an actual person. You are going to end up alone, even if you wind up with a girlfriend or a wife you’re going to be alone.

As much as I dislike you for failing me in every way, I should thank you too. Thank you for pushing me away, for cutting me free. Genuinely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. If we had seen each other, I’d be right there on the same page of the twisted story of our relationship with you. I’d still be in the fantasy, and it wouldn’t have had a fairytale ending. That, now, I know for certain.

I hope, in time, I’ll forget about you.

Love Lili

ps. Your life is has no resemblance to “Two and a Half Men”, “Californication”, or “How I Met Your Mother” except for the disgustingly inappropriate attempts to sleep with women who are much, much too young for you. It’s creepy and sad. Surely it’s time to move onto age-appropriate bars.

Peace out