An Open Letter to an (Almost) Kindred Spirit

For the purposes of this open letter, the subject will be referred to as Melanie. —Ty

Dear Melanie,

I see comments from you on Facebook here and there, left on the pages of people we both know. People we have both known for years, in fact. I can’t call them mutual friends because it seems you don’t want to be friends with me after all this time; you turned down my friend request several years ago.

I wish I knew why you did so. I wish I knew why you find even the safe and, if you like, casual distance of Facebook to be too intimate for us, given what at one time we went through and did together. I wonder what the moment was when you decided I wasn’t worth it.

It couldn’t have been the mere passage of time without hearing from me before Facebook. We emailed periodically and besides, based on what you said those first few times I noticed you had shown up in my indirect news feed, you were happily finding all kinds of people for the first time after years apart.

If it was something I did in college that caused the rift, you did a fantastic job of hiding it. In fact I even saw you after you left college twice and all seemed well. You stopped by campus the next year for a few hours, I don’t remember why. And though I was busy with having a girlfriend at the time, we did get to talk. As for the second time, after the atrocious betrayal by that same girlfriend, I tagged along on a pretty long road trip from campus to see you perform in a show of some kind. Your husband, who also knew me in college, knew I was coming, though you didn’t. He never gave any indication I shouldn’t come. Seemed pretty happy with me being there, in fact. As did you, once you saw me. Like I said, perhaps it was all an act on your part and I in fact ruined your weekend by showing up. If so, that was the better of your two good performances that night. Perhaps your best ever, if I could be fooled to that extent. I doubt this was the case, but I’ll leave the possibility open.

But you are not, nobody is a good enough performer to fake the friendship I felt between us in college. I’m not perfect, but I didn’t overestimate what we were during those few months.  I can’t say I haven’t ever overestimated my intimacy with someone or a group of someones, but I don’t buy it with you. The opportunity to reflect your actual views of me was too frequent, too easy, and yet you didn’t do so. And I didn’t force any illusions upon you from which you had to extricate yourself. I always knew the score. No, Melanie. I know that even if it was for but a brief moment in your life, you considered me quite important, because of the steps you took of your own accord.

Maybe it was the way you caught my eye and held it after my rare singing performance after a monthly talent show on campus. The nod of your head as I looked back and stepped off the stage. But giving the benefit of the doubt, you could have done that to any body.

So maybe it was the time I walked into the off-campus bar one Wednesday night, and the whole group turned as I entered and instead of saying hello tried to get me to do a body shot off of you. As though the idea of me doing body shots off of anyone in a bar wasn’t out of character for me to the point of stupefaction. Even more unlikely than that though, you didn’t wave any of them off. There were no body shots that night, by me, or by anybody else. Still one of the most bizarre moments I ever experienced at college, and it felt like someone, somewhere was forcing an issue. But, again, perhaps everyone was just wasted to such a staggering degree that they actually thought college Ty Unglebower and public body shots was something that not only should but could happen at that time. I’ll let that be a maybe. (Though I’ve always wondered what you would have done had I agreed.)

So forget those two times. I want to talk about two other times. These two can’t be explained away casually. In fact after years of reviewing them in my mind, I remain convinced to this day that they were indicative of one thing; I held a unique, even if not sexual place in your heart for those final few weeks on campus.

The first time, I happened to be on a walk and took a short cut through the lobby of the campus theater. I remember how striking it was that not a soul was there; that was quite unusual. An hour before an opening curtain, and not a sound. At least not until somehow you walked out of the house alone at that exact moment and saw me. You approached and said something to me about it being your final opening night on campus ever, and I told you to break a leg or something hackneyed. We talked a bit.

Before I processed what was happening, we were hugging. It was not the first time we had ever hugged one another, but it was the first time it felt like anything other than what a football player might give a team mate after a touchdown. You never were a particularly demonstrative type, and that’s fine. But you initiated that time.

Even more telling? I began to pull away, and you didn’t let me go; you held on to me.

Time stopped for me, and there was nothing else in the universe for a moment but you, me and that lobby in which we both had spent so much time. Even then I can’t describe what I felt as being in love because that takes time. Yet something as surprising as it was unique was happening and I couldn’t help but be moved by it. You just didn’t do those things, or at least you didn’t often, and certainly not with me.

That embrace between us may not have been the single most significant one in my life, but I can tell you that even all this time later it out ranks most of the embraces of people I have dated, slept with and even been in love with. If my intuition is worth a damn, and if I am looking back with enough distance now, I’d say in that extended few moments you wanted, no, longed for something that at that moment only I was able to provide. Not a marriage, or  romance or a sex act, but a concept within me, an energy between us that clearly affected you in a way that transcended that of casual friendship. I have no definition for it.

Do you? Like me, do you ever sit up in the middle of the night and remember that moment and try to define it even all of these years later, long after we ceased being a part of one another’s lives? Or have you forgotten it somehow in the intervening years, miles and rejected Facebook friend requests? Or is it a moment you recall but try not to acknowledge to yourself anymore?

And do you feel the same way about the next big moment I refer to when I determine I used to matter a great deal to you? It was about two weeks later and I told you I loved you, and you replied with the cold and somewhat condescending, “thank you, Ty.” But I can let that pass. I have told plenty of other people of both genders that I love them, and not meant anything romantic by it. Certainly I found you attractive, most of the men did, but that was not the impetus for me telling you I loved you during what was to be our final encounter at college. I said it because that is how I felt; there are a million ways to love someone, and I loved you. If you’re one of those who just can’t ever say it to someone, fine. Frankly I think you could have mustered it up then, especially after our moment in the lobby, but oh well.

No, it wasn’t that deflection. It was why it came about in the first place.

Most well written stories about two people physically parting ways after a whirlwind friendship of seemingly great depth would have ended in that lobby. That’s the moment that made the most sense from a story arc standpoint. Surely as a dramatist yourself you sense the poetic perfection that would have evolved from that encounter being our last? Two performers sharing a moment unexpected in its tenderness and vulnerability before an opening night in the middle of an otherwise empty theatre lobby. It doesn’t get more ironic than that.

But then came the epilogue. The awkward, wonderful epilogue.

You came to my room two weeks or so later, during finals. Though you were in my dorm’s common room various times, you never came to my room before. And you certainly never before stood in my open doorway as I packed my stuff away for the end of the academic year, making awkward small talk about what I was doing. You never before searched for something to say after, “In case I don’t see you…” or whatever it was.

And a hug again. The appreciated but deflected, “I love you, Melanie” from  me, and a sense that I shouldn’t pull away this time. I deferred that authority to you and once again several long moments later you utilized it. The you stepped out of my room backwards, and after some other words of little consequence left my room and the dorm. For all intents and purposes, you then stepped outside of our intimacy forever, I suppose.

So I regret whatever happened to cause this chasm. If it was something I did, I’d make it right. If it was your husband who decided he didn’t want us to be friends, I’d follow it (been there before with others) even though it would be insulting. But to go through what we went through and be met with the silence of the years and the rejection of the cyber-gesture is like turning around on the clearest, brightest spring day and getting punched in the shoulder. You recover, but you’re like, “what the hell happened?”

I guess you don’t think of me, or don’t think of me fondly. But I think I miss you anyway. Not because of two extended embraces during a May long ago. Those embraces were merely the confirmation and culmination of what I had known already for months; ours was a rare, perfectly balanced, like-minded mega-friendship for a brief, brilliant flash of time in my life. Born of mutual participation in a significant event in my creative history and fed thereafter by instant, inevitable, lasting laughter and joy whenever you were nearby. No human being in the history of anything has been so consistently able to make me laugh so heartily with so little effort as you. If ever a mind and spirit existed onto which my own connected so completely without judgement or fear, it was yours. It was so far beyond good chemistry, so much more than merely finishing each other’s sentences, (which we did more than once), so much more than finding unparalleled creative common ground and intellectual congruence that I entertained your very existence as proof of reincarnation; surely in a bygone epoch of human history during a life previous to my current one, you were the best friend I ever had.

At least that is how I felt in a lobby of a theatre and the door frame of my mostly empty dorm room for a few moments one May.

If ever you were to read this, would you say, “Thank you, Ty” again? Would it anger you? Creep you out? Again, all possible. But you know what, Melanie? As cynical as I have become by this point in my life there remains a fragment of my tired and scarred heart that can’t help but believe you would recognize every thing I’ve mentioned here.

Maybe one day you’ll let me know. Until/if that ever happens, be well. And if even the memory of me and my antics can still make you laugh in spite of yourself, maybe in some ways we really are still in that lobby together.

sincerely, Ty Unglebower

This post is part of the Open Letter Continuum.

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