I had another dream about you. We were at a party, and we wanted so desperately just to talk to each other, to talk like new friends who disregard time and hunger and tact, to talk like old friends who linger over a meal and encourage each other to have just one more biscuit. But we kept getting interrupted, people stopping by to chat, the drinks in their hands buzzing with need —
and would you believe it? This letter just got interrupted by a workman at the door, coming to fix my cold-water shower handle that won’t turn, and to look at where the rats come in and out under the eaves. If I were Shelley and I could claim genius, I might say the words that were lost because of him would have changed everything, perhaps even brought about Paradise.
But all I really want is to go back to that dream, find a quiet corner and a couple of comfortable chairs, and talk with you. In the dream, you see, I wasn’t self-conscious about your fame or my cheap clothes. I wasn’t riding in the back of our 1970s blue Dodge station wagon, youngest, with the least right to be heard. In the dream, we would have talked about how everything comes back to childhood, our adult lives just lures on the end of a fishing line, thrown out into the rushing water and then reeled back, every time.
Corresponding is like walking a dirt path through the forest and knowing there will be others on that same path getting mud on their sneakers or whistling or stubbing toes on arthritic roots. Maybe we’re not walking side by side, mingling sweat when our arms touch, but we’re walking through the ghosts of each other and hearing the same birds.
There are parts of me only kept alive through the words of others, like the flickering belief that I might be beautiful, this pale, shivering body capable of inciting fingertips to want more, to slide under and in, while someone’s mouth says yes and love and together.
What do you need kept alive? What do you need touched gentle inside so you can bloom again?
I imagine you reading this letter to your wife. I imagine she reminds you what you aren’t: a statue, a moth, glass, someone else’s reason. I imagine you want to curl up into the beauty of the inside of her elbow, to be so clever you make her laugh with her whole body.
I am not always self-absorbed.
In an interview you said nothing had ever happened to you. But the world happens to us every moment — the bed happens exactly as you lie down on it, the cat with its eyes closed in the sun is happening perfectly when you see it, the doubt happens slimy in your throat at the worst time (because every time is the worst).
You were being humble. I am not trying to contradict that. I only want to say that it matters, this moment with the window closed, keeping you in.
Do famous people think more about their legacies than the rest of us? I know fame is both relative and transient, but aren’t we all a bit obsessed with that game? What will people say about me when I’m gone?
I want them to say, It smelled of gardenias wherever she went. I sang once, because of her. She knew about birds, and that was useful.
What I fear they will say: She couldn’t save them.
Listen to me, sifting through the window like ash. I’m the fallout from some huge explosive catastrophe. We all are. We’re carbon: diamond, bone, burning. Every day I get older and for some reason the world doesn’t panic. I’m a grizzly bear standing on my hind legs mistaken for Bigfoot. I’m a sundog, a mini-rainbow, winking down at you in your curly brown hair. I’m the dry boots someone is holding above her head while she wades the river. There’s going to be an other side. You’d better fucking believe it.
These letters are selections from a chapbook in search of a publisher, entitled Letters to Colin Firth.