Male Bag

By Christina O'Brien

This column is devoted to love letters, hate mail, and other correspondence from guys that I've saved over the years. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

Iíve been exposed.

I had just finished my column for the last issue when I got an email from the publisher. It was sent by one of my ex-boyfriendsóin fact, the very one I had chosen as the subject of my column. He had stumbled upon this site somehow, and he was asking the publisher to forward his email address to me and a couple other contributors he knew.

The email itself was benign, but its effect on me was profound. Iíve been writing these columns under the delusion that the subjects wonít ever read them. Thatís why I havenít bothered to change their names. Thatís why Iíve written things about them that I would never write to them or say to them personally. But that email made me feel like I do in that dream of mineóthe one in which Iím walking around in public naked, not totally oblivious like that infamous emperor, just hoping no one notices. And, ultimately, someone does.

So I scrambled for my clothes. I scrapped the column and wrote another one about a different guy. In retrospect, I think I chose this particular guy because the way I felt when I thought about him paralleled the way I felt when I got that email. It was hard to write that new column knowing that this guy might just as easily find it and read it as the other guy did. And it was harder to scrap my original column knowing that I was doing it out of shame and fear. But it was hardest of all to resurrect that column for this issue knowing that the other guy would probably read it. In fact, I knew heíd read it, so I rewrote it to address him personally:

Joe, I still have all of your letters. There must be hundreds of them. Theyíre in a large cardboard box in my basement, separate from all the other letters Iíve saved. This is partly because of their sheer volume, and partly because of some lingering sentimental value. This box has remained sealed during the course of several movesófrom my apartment in Oak Park, to the first apartment I shared with Carter, to our second apartment, to the house we live in now.

When I opened the box to find the letter I wanted to write about, it was right on top. It was the last letter you wrote me, the letter you slipped under my bedroom door at the Oak Park apartment, the apartment I shared with my college roommate, the roommate you started dating after I broke up with you and started dating Carter, the guy who was everything you could never be and who meant so much to me that even a false, flippant insinuation that I had done him wrong was enough to send me into a tearful rage, a rage that you could not soothe with your hands and your mouth because I was not yours anymore and my bedroom door was between us anyway, and so you wrote this letter.

I donít blame you for saying what you did, but I know it was more out of jealousy than out of any ďrespectĒ you may have had for my relationship with Carter. When you and I were together, I played the drunken fool with lots of other guysómost of the time behind your back, so Iím sure it was disturbing to have it in your face that night, to watch me dancing a little too close to that guy who was not Carter, who was not you. I donít blame you for calling me a whore.

But I do blame you for making it impossible for us to salvage anything good from what we had together. Itís really sad, because we shared so muchóback in high school when we were young and stupid, and then all those years later when we found each other again, New Yearís Day. I was your fraulein, I was your little bird. You showed me how to play in the dark. You turned me on to Leonard Cohen and Tori Amos and PJ Harvey. You made me read Sandman comics and watch Godzilla movies. You encouraged me to keep writing and creating and dreaming. You taught me how to love.

I stopped being angry with you a long time ago, but I never thought about trying to reconcile with you. You moved out west and got married, I got married, you got divorced, and itís all too complicated now. I did think about asking if you want your letters back, but I canít give them up just yet. That must mean somethingóIím not sure whatóbut now I know where to find you if I want to.

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Copyright© 2003 by Christina O'Brien.

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