Saturday
Dec232000

« The Big Letter to Shelby—Time and Space, Unraveled »

With the writing of this letter, I basically brought a dozen years of emotional enthusiasm to a standstill. What started in 1988 as a massively hope-filled encounter with her at a church Christmas play and after party crashed and burned exactly 12 years and five days later after a few hours' reconnection the day after she returned from a nearly 2.5 year stint in Tanzania for the Peace Corps. We sometimes called ourselves "space" and "time" because she was the traveling one and I was the one who tended to have a memory of things and was always seeking meaning in events. She was well traveled and I was quite rooted in San Diego. I wrote long letters, but ones that were far more restrained and measured than this one which just dives in and says everything that had been stacking up for all the years of our relationship, but particularly in the Peace Corps time. I knew I was losing my ability to keep on with my fanciful notions of our friendship ever turning into something "real," i.e., overtly amorous. Until I found this, I forgot that I had basically written a similar blowout letter to her at the end of August four months before. That it did not arrive in her hands was cause for a lot of consternation for me. I really wanted to not see her face to face without this message having been conveyed. So the day after she returned, I went to her mom's house and she showed off all sorts of items from Africa. We went to lunch and had an awkward experience that nearly perfectly mirrored one from 1991. We went to Costco and got her amazing volume of photos done in one hour. While there, I made a gesture of sitting next to her and she sprung up like she sat on a tack. On the way out, I told her I had been in touch with Robin during 2000, in an effort to start mending my life. Shelby told me Robin was "a rock in [my] garden." It was a tense experience that day that brought up all the wrong stuff and finally I broke. I came home and wrote this letter, and just as soon as I ran it through a copy machine, I drove it straight out to her mom's house and stuck it in the mailbox, not wanting to mail it on account of it being a Saturday night during the few days before Christmas. This had to happen NOW. I don't remember if there were any calls, but the months following had a few sharp tongued emails that were just as bad as I could have imagined, Shelby tearing into me for "falsifying the pretenses of our relationship and demeaning it in the way that [I] did." I took the opportunity to finally say more that isn't quite so pining as this. Crash and burn. It was a period that lasted as long as my schooling. Hopefully I learned a few lessons along the way. It was sometimes an arduous thing to put myself through. 

Images and more commentary appear in the Friends and Skool Daze galleries.

Shelby—

I can't fucking believe I need to write this letter again. Damn postal service! But I can't just let it slide past 1/3/2k1 [Shelby's short stay in San Diego was ending less than two weeks after she got back from Tanzania two days before this letter was originally written]. 

I don't know how to start. Twelve years of starry optimism may just be on its way out. I've enlisted the help of a few friends: Kevin Gilbert, Jeff Buckley, Nik Kershaw, Karl Strauss, and Radiohead. All the ideas here were generated while sober but the balls to put it on paper is Karl Strauss' fault.

To be blunt, I can't help but wonder where the trajectories of our respective sides of our relationship cross. And I'm only all abuzz right now because another year of confusion is simply intolerable. I should have done this in '98, but clammed. That's all I ever do around you (particularly so in person, like in '95). Our relationship is, except for a few days or weeks every few years, intangible. It's abstract. Imaginary. It only exists on paper, in space, in my heart—and I'll dare say, in yours too, though the huge question mark is to what degree it exists in your heart. Presently, and um, in the future

At the heart of this letter is my assertion that you're a very interesting, exceptional person. I've never changed my tune since we met 12 years ago. It's something I thought then and still believe it today. But to be frank, I want to move closer to your flame. It's something I've seen from afar for a long time. I know you turned this sort of thing down in the past. It's something at the front of my mind every time I think I've got the balls to speak up, but clam up instead because of the feeling that timing wasn't right. Well, fuck timing. I've stirred in this for so long now I've had ridiculous delusions. I'd not be one bit surprised to hear you say the same ting as you did when I propositioned you in high school [images of the naive personal ads are in the Friends gallery] and right afterwards. But for me to not try anyway is stupid. We're maybe almost ten years older than then. We aren't the same people. Things have changed for us both. It's not beyond the realm of reason to bring up currently relevant issues and give it another shot. I don't know what went into your declining my advances then, but I can understand. But now that the stakes are higher and we have a lot more history to support such discussion, I simply can't settle for imaginary relationships.

In one way I see our relationship deepening, but falsely so. I'm perfectly content to say nice things about you and my compliments are genuine, both between us directly and in my comments about you to other people. Any of my letters that "dug in" to personal dymanics and relationship talk were meant to hook you some. Why kid around? I think you're a great person and would like to escalate our involvement, despite such distance we are used to. I'm not even in a hurry—not in a hurry for that, especially after the whirlwind that was the Robin period. I saw that quick [plunge into a relationship] didn't suit me. So what's left? I'd not yet had a relationship that few over time into one that could support such levels of commitment.

The fact is, you're a person I could, in a strange way, envision that scenario working out. I respect you. I know you're a very "together" person on your own. I never had a chance to develop that perspective in advance of a relationship before—before heavy drama played itself out without the infrastructure to support it. It was the story of a castle built on sand. Look at how much baggage I carried after that episode. I'm scared of meeting people for that reason alone—girls, obviously, because they could crash like they did with Robin and I'd have shown no progress or growth even after years since breaking up with Robin. I've since mellowed in my assessment of Robin, but the relationship still has things to teach me. Sure, I've tried to let it go, but I wanted to raise the bar and try not to be caught like that again. As a result, I haven't yet met anyone that suits my current picture of what a relationship should be. Sarah came as close to that as I think I'll get, but she wouldn't go for it. She let me in on some things well after the fact—things I've taken to heart and tried to fix.

Sarah was to me a microcomic version of you, scaled to about one sixth of our experience. What saddened me is that it didn't pan out. It's useful lifespan was about a year. I got a lot of brushoffs from her; discreet ones. I'm not telling you this because I think you're a last resort. Contrary! You've always been the north star for me. I have no shame in saying that. Everyone else I've seen has been measured against some picture I had in my head about something that might exist between you and I. 

I'm not dense. I can read your letters and see things that tell me "no." I guess I just have a vision. I've had it for a dozen years. I don't know how I could top anything I've said to you already. I've laid it on thick for years. And you're not going for it. I'm not surprised as much as I'm baffled. Baffled at such gestures as avoiding any physicality except a hug or a knee slap or whatever. I still don't know what makes you tick. Maybe that's the hook for me. I may never actually figure you out, but the sport of trying is interesting. I guess I don't know what makes you jump up to avoid my sitting next to you, like at Costco today. The standoffish bit is funny sometimes but as regularly as it happens worries me. Do you just not like people at close range? Has anything I've said or written done anything to bridge the gap, even after 12 years? Does it offend you to be close to someone who is seeking your trust and compassion? Would another 73 years help? Does a head on your shoulder scare you? Do you need to put your head on anyone's shoulder? Forgive me but sometimes your independence bothers me if only because it distances me (at least) from having anything more than a spoken relationship and entry/exit hugs. I just marvel at the absence of such simple contact. It made sense in school, but after ten year of growth and change, love and loss, it seems that a 12 year old friendship could support some random contact. I feel so awkward needing to analyze it all this way. I wish I could just put my head on your shoulder, or vice-versa, and have the message come across from that gesture alone.

Maybe you do that on purpose. I dunno. There's so much speculation, empty spaces and gaps to fill in on my own, things I don't know about you. I also feel the pinch when I need to police my every word and action sent your way. Even before my early '95 Robin/abortion letter [Shelby's delayed holiday card response] I had to bite my tongue or hold back, lest you disappear for a while. I guess that day at the church with Judy was the model for how easily you're set off. For all I've told you, there's a lot that got put away because in self-censorship I decided not to risk it. Distance is already great enough between us and silence is no icing on that cake. I have a bunch of letters just filed away, some barely started, some almost finished, some in envelopes and so on. I didn't think it would be right to send them. They date back to 1994. Yet, a lot of them are good.

As I said, regardless of what your response is to this chatter, I can't let the next year slip by with this issue not being addressed. In fact, I need to wash my hands of it. I have far too many other relationships to work on now with my mom and family back in the fold. Key relationships, all. My dad and I just might as well have erased four years of progress in one day. I have to see that set straight, or at least my end of the bargain. I still consider you a key relationship but in the realization you may never look my way I just need clarity. Sure, I almost expect a ready "no" unless there's some wild card up your sleeve, but my sad realization is that since our relationship exists on papers and in my head, I don't know what there is beyond that. Our in-person visits are few and far between; strained at times and amazing at others. If I were to withdraw love interest from my end of the relationship I'm not sure what would remain because it's been my main focus for three years now, and one that obviously goes back to 1988. I'm scared that could be the case. You have been a real charge for me at times, a genuine friend that keeps it all going, and part of my interest in you is that we've had some elasticity over the years. That makes me believe in it. I think you're a beautiful person inside and out, and to be honest, I can't think of someone I'd rather have a chance with—someone I respect, someone interesting in tangible and intangible ways; someone who dared to be kind to me and others; someone unique. Those are some top-of-the-list things for me. I haven't met anyone ('cept Sarah, maybe) who lined up points like those. I'm willing to understand your wanderlust because it's one of the things that makes you someone I dig. I can't guarantee it, but you ma not meet someone who has the perspective of time to get to know this about you. You may meet people more impressive than I, whatever definition you give that, but I stake my claim. I saw that in you first!

[Here's where it gets interesting, particularly with the characters involved!]

At this point, I'm going to throw all caution to the wind. My friend Kelli and I had a few beers over a game of pool in March '98. I told her all about our little parking lot meeting [8/10/97] and told her how abuzz I was that you'd be back in San Diego after some five years and more. She responded with this line after I spewed forth a bunch of pro-Shelby talk:

"Why don't you just ask her to marry you?"

Yeah. Why the fuck not?

"Shelby, will you marry me?"

THERE! I said it! Something! Anything!

Amen.

If I never hear from you again, I'll understand. But I hope I do. Sorry for the mixed tone of this letter. Twelve years is a long time to be latent. I love you.

ed

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