You gave me a little journal once, a (yes, unfortunately) Moleskine; it was small, less than a hand’s height when stood on its end, and it was some limited or themed special edition that had, in limegreen linework on its black cover, a spiral strewn with images evoking abstract concepts of travel, adventure, experience. You found it in your glove compartment while we were riding somewhere. It was still in its shrink wrap. It wasn’t for me, originally: you told me forthrightly that you had bought it a year or two before for another person, one of those insufferable figures in your life that adored you and that you kept in your social circle as something between a friend and, when you were bored or idle or otherwise dispirited (although I don’t think you actively thought of it in those terms), a sometimes lover.
I took it with no specific malice or intention at the time. And then one day, I dropped you off for a rehearsal and, because the theatre was in Cleveland, decided to wait for you in a cafe instead of driving all the way back home only to turn around again to get you. I had the little journal with me, and as I thought about it in the cafe, became freshly jealous and outraged.
It ate away at me that you would spend your time with somebody so inconsequential, so incorrect for what I interpreted you to be. This anger moved towards him, and also towards you, and it flowed from multiple sources, not just the journal. I was also angry at myself, and it was an anger in multiple hues: anger at being jealous, anger at the yearning the glittering effortless-looking hipsters in the cafe instilled in me, and also the this lingering feeling of inadequacy I always felt around you, because you strode so bold and clear-eyed through life and were always doing something, inexorable as the dawn; by contrast I felt inert, rudderless, adrift in the metaphysical blank between what I wanted to be and do and the massive inertia of the world’s indifference. You were constantly, inadvertently, shaming me with your energy and drive.
For as bad as it tasted, this anger was temporary; it wasn’t the kind of feeling I would bring back to you, when I saw you in a few hours; but did scald my brain while I sat in that cafe watching the patrons pose and move in grungy, picturesque elegance.
I had the little journal with me and formulated a way to revenge myself on him, through it. I decided I would write, as fast as I could, and as angrily, any thoughts that came into my mind, filling the whole thing up in one go, turning my jealousy into a material thing, an artifact, a private screed; and somehow this would be revenge.
So I took out my battered purple Space Pen, which I’ve had since middle school, and started to fill the little journal. My cursive handwriting is malformed as Lancelot, and it gets uglier as it goes along, unspooling and slanting until it looks like what barbed wire would dream of if it was having a nightmare about barbed wire.
I didn’t finish the project before I had to go get you, of course.
Another time we were driving somewhere and decided to put in a CD to listen to. I started browsing through what you had and found a mix someone had made you, with the words “Mix Tape 1” written in black marker across it.
You told me that your ex made that tape for you.
I said, “Oh interesting!”, facetiously, braced the CD between my palms, steepled my thumbs over it, and squeezed down until the disc snapped in half; and then I threw both halves out the window.
“What the fuck” you said.
“What?” I said. I was smiling, the insipid, changeable smile of someone who hasn’t rendered a verdict on what they’re smiling about. I could decide, inside, if what I did was okay or not by my own compass; by smiling and saying nothing I could maintain the possibility of a defense; if I decided to apologize for it later I could I always say I was smiling because I was embarrassed and didn’t know how to act.
“I wanted that!” you said.
“Sorry,” I said in a near-toneless ‘tough shit’ kind of way.
We drove on in silence. Or you drove, because you almost always drove, and we always rode in your car. In all arguments, external and internal, my pace is glacial: in a fight with another I can withstand any seige of recrimination or insult; somehow silence and time are my cruellest, most effective weapons. In arguments with myself it means that I can end up in an attritional agony for hours, days, evaluating every angle; and in that scene I kept my external silence towards you in the hope that you would say something and resolve both the outside and inside debates for me, because you were bolder and braver than me. And you did eventually say at some point, with a rueful half smile:
“I’m still mad, but I also kind of love that you did that.”
When I think this verdict, it’s clear that you understood the intention behind what I did before I could put it into words myself – when I was even unsure of it, maybe doubting the strength of my position in your life relative to him, or that such performative acts of angry love have any place in a real relationship, between two real people, particularly people who, as we were, were both domineering, two tyrants really – when I think of it, of the way and degree to which you were able to see me, to occupy my brain with the authority of total ownership, it becomes clear, again, why, from the first time we talked, I instantly and always loved you.