Late one night, dangerously late, at that hour when stillness and darkness cloak the sleepless, and when an aching heart silences reason, Angie posted to Twitter.
The days are long, the nights are cold. I miss you, still.
As a rule, Angie does not speak from the heart, not in writing, and certainly not on social media, which she largely disdains. She’s a scholar. For the sake of networking, and curiosity, she follows and has a small following among fellow historians and a handful of quirky intellectuals. She also has a penchant for muralists and photographers, a longstanding crush on physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and admires the brainy Maria Popova. Social media can be a handy distraction from the repetitive nature of teaching and the seasonal onslaught of indolent students. She favors Twitter for its economy of words. Angie also disdains excess.
What was that? her friend Joyce asked when she called the next morning. Joyce calls every morning, sometimes again late afternoons, because Angie, naturally reclusive, has been nearly hermitic since the split with Alex three months ago.
What was what?
I don’t know what came over me.
I see that. I actually wondered if you had been taken over by aliens.
Still makes me sad. Still makes me mad.
Joyce introduced Angie to Alex and she takes her friend’s broken heart personally.
All good things come to an end and they were the best two years of my life.
Until they weren’t.
Yes, but first they were.
A few days later, in the light of day, in another uncharacteristically impulsive state, Angie shared a similar sentiment on Facebook, which she reserves for a small circle of friends and family. She rarely posts there either, although she will occasionally click thumbs up to feign interest, despite an unequivocal lack of interest in the plethora of uncomfortably intimate and self-congratulatory postings, the procession of political tirades and false narratives and, her pet peeve, moronic videos.
He might notice the Facebook post, Joyce said.
Do they have a share only with ex’s option?
If they don’t, they will.
A designation for the great romance?
You’re joking, but they are cutting this pie so fine, they might. Whatever he is…
He checks Facebook and I still follow him, just to know what he’s up to.
Don’t tell me.
Unless there’s something I absolutely have to know…
He may still be watching you.
He must have unfollowed me, Angie muttered.
Don’t think we will be friends, Alex snarled as he charged out the door the day he moved out. We will never be friends.
He meant friends as in friendly ex-lovers, but she knows he meant Facebook as well. He’s a highly socialized social media browser.
Alex is the man Angie believed was the love of her life. They met late in life, long past broken marriages and identity crises, and they pledged forever, which made the split all the more unfathomable. A sudden harsh break that sent them both reeling, but in different directions.
I do better on my own, she cried to Alex that fateful day. I’m exhausted. I need time to recalibrate, she wailed, in a voice even she didn’t recognize, which Alex would describe, in one of a series of scathing texts, as a screech. Like a crow and just as murderous.
She should have seen it coming. Her last book died on the vine and a year of research into another was going nowhere. Her bank account was too low, so in addition to her college course load she took on writing projects she had hoped by this point in her career to avoid. And then her younger daughter had a third child. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days she had no classes, Angie drove eighty miles to help out. She read books and constructed puzzles with the two toddler grandsons and took them for snacks at a nearby coffee house so her daughter might sleep when the baby slept. In the afternoons, when the boys napped, she walked her granddaughter in the stroller, and while the baby dozed she sat on a park bench checking emails or returning phone calls. When there was time, she washed and folded laundry, she loaded or unloaded the dishwasher, she tucked away toys and books into bins scattered around the house. On the drive home she listened to podcasts to stay alert, although occasionally wobbling dangerously until at last she landed, so tired she had little left for Alex, who had been besieged for months with a slipped disk in his back that subsequently required surgery.
Sheer madness, that’s what it was. Like something out of Ibsen, Angie cried to Joyce a few days after the split. I used to be more resilient.
I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize it was so bad, Joyce said.
I never wanted to be one of those women who rant.
Ranting is essential, my friend.
This may be the closest thing to a breakdown I’ve had. Do they even call them breakdowns now?
Not nervous breakdowns, too sixties.
There must be a category between heartbreak and psychotic break.
Check into that, please, and let me know. I’m planning a breakdown myself one of these days. Joyce laughed and Angie knew the sentiment was meant to be kind. Joyce is a rock. Just tell me this. What exactly were you breaking down?
Joyce, a pastry chef, breaks down ingredients to their finest essence before reconstruction into the delectable. A chemist with a sweet tooth, and a thriving bakery business, she is also a rarity to Angie’s mind: a happily married woman. All that chocolate, keeps me giddy, but not trim, obviously, Joyce often remarks good-naturedly.
Chocolate therapy would be perfect, if I had an appetite, Angie grumbled.
My dear, you hit a wall. Going in too many directions. No wonder you wore down.
Not since Angie was a junior professor and divorced mother with two young children has she felt so inadequate. She found herself trembling in the middle of the day, for no reason, muscles as sore as if she’d been mountain climbing, then sinking into deep sleep early evenings and waking with a start when Alex woke for the first of the night’s hot showers, after which she massaged medicinal cream into the sore spots. A menthol scent seeped from her fingertips for months.
When Joyce asked how it happened, Angie explained that it started with a minor disagreement.
Couples argue, then they make up. What really happened?
This argument blew up like a dust storm. We had dinner with Rich and Jim. Hadn’t seen them in ages. I was happy to be out, but I was tired. Could not stop yawning. At one point Alex gave me the evil eye, as if I could do anything about an involuntary reflex. Anyway, he and Rich were deep in conversation, Jim was answering a text, and I wasn’t really plugged in, so when Jim looked up, I spoke to him, apparently irrelevant to the conversation, according to Alex, who gave me one of those cringe-worthy looks. He barely acknowledged me the rest of the evening and in the car, declared I had been rude. Disrespectful, he said, to his friends and to him. I was dumbfounded and I had no will to argue. I apologized, but he was clearly not appeased. Something else must have been on his mind, or some other disenchantment he hadn’t voiced, but I was too tired to deal with it. When we got home, I went straight to bed.
Was so annoyed he slept in the den for two nights. I left early the next morning, you might say I slunk out of the house and spent the whole day at the university, and then the next at my daughter’s, and slept there, too tired to drive, and slept badly, of course, her couch is God-awful, and the baby was up three times. When I got back the next morning, Alex was waiting for me with obvious hostility and when we sat down to talk, instead of sitting near me on the couch, as he would usually do during an important discussion, he sat on the chair facing me, like Churchill at Yalta. I should have known he was too upset to be reasonable. I saw it in his eyes. And when I tried to explain the fatigue, which of course came out as relationship fatigue, which to some extent it was, he muttered something sarcastic and I just lost it, Joyce. I said okay, maybe I’m better off living alone, which I think I am, at least, I was, for a long time, and he went ballistic.
What was the response you were looking for?
I wasn’t looking for a specific response. I had no plan, other than maybe to fall apart. If he had been calmer, if he had been willing to listen to me, I would have been calmer. But when he’s hurt, he tends to a short fuse, and then I shut down.
Did he even ask you what the trouble was? Or offer any path…
Nope. No discussion, no remediation. We were done in a nanosecond. Look, he had a lot going on as well. He was still in pain and behind on his work while he healed from the surgery. I should have done a better job explaining what I was feeling, but I was so wiped out…
Have you seen a doctor?
Yesterday, yes, nothing but a little low on iron. Just stress. All emotional.
Men don’t handle emotional well.
Alex was better than most, but I hit a nerve and he was out the door before there was a chance to make it right.
I’m still amazed. That man loves you.
So he said. He has such a tender heart, you know. I should have handled it better. Although, I don’t know, he’s been so distant of late. I blamed the pain, the disappointments, but maybe it was me. Maybe he was done and couldn’t face it. Maybe he was looking for an exit.
All for the best, Alex declared, also in a text. I guess we were not meant to be together after all.
That was the comment that plunged Angie fully into despair, because she believed they belonged together. He said the same, from the first. Every relationship has a fault line, she knows, so maybe she should have felt the rumbling, but she wasn’t paying attention. Neither was he. And that was that.
On the other hand, how often has she heard women say they cannot live with the men they love, and cannot live without them, they say, and yet, they stick. They work through conflict. They don’t flee when it’s too hard, only when it’s impossible, which is when Angie fled her marriage. They were young – graduate students who mistook infatuation for a deeper bond. He was a stoner, she worked long hours. They had children too soon. After the divorce, Angie, clinging to the caution that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, resisted emotional entanglements. She came to the realization that she believes if it’s meant to be, it won’t be hard. Or, with Alex, the corollary: too good to be true may be too good to last.
She focused on tenure and publication. She raised her kids. A small solid circle of friends. She enjoyed occasional liaisons. What more does a woman like Angie need? And then, one day, in one of those random life-altering events, she met Joyce at a local cafe for lunch and there was Alex with a colleague of Joyce’s husband. When introduced, Alex stood, removed his sunglasses and looked directly at Angie with the penetrating gaze and broad smile of a man with heart – the sort of man women crave, even a loner like Angie. Tall and lean, he sipped latte from a porcelain cup like a European, and when he spoke, his gravelly voice syncopated like a sacred chant. When Joyce mentioned Angie teaches history, Alex crooned from the Sam Cooke song, don’t know much about history. Although, he said, a sparkle in his hazel eyes, I’m good at geography. Angie laughed. She thought, few men make me laugh. She smiled at him flirtatiously. She hadn’t smiled at a man like that in way too long. When Joyce whined she was starving, Angie handed Alex her card. Should you wish a history lesson, she said, and he nodded with a knowing smile. He called three days later. He had taken the time to read her last book before the call. She told Joyce she was touched. Joyce laughed. That’s called foreplay, my friend.
They dated for a year before he moved into Angie’s little house. All their stuff fit, even if cramped. They didn’t mind. They had similar routines. They woke with the sun and went to bed early. They liked the same foods. They liked each other’s friends. Their kids approved, although Angie’s daughters tentatively – there had been no man in their mother’s life for so long, they were concerned her heart might be broken.
I wake up smiling, she told them. Whatever comes next, that’s okay.
It was not okay, in the end.
Two days after the first post to Twitter, Angie posted again…
Stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Like that old familiar saying – can’t live with you, can’t live without you. I thought it was a foolish cliché. I get it now.
She tried to keep her focus on work. There were midterm papers to grade. Faculty obligations. She was researching an article about Kandinsky in the years leading to the Russian revolution. He had become a proponent of the avant-garde, cultivating a new abstract style. One night, again in the middle of the night, she tied the artist to Alex in a tweet…
Kandinsky, an aesthetic theorist, wanted to liberate painting from its ties to traditional imagery. He depicted images based on what he called “inner necessity.” You made me believe I was your inner necessity. An abstraction, I see. #abstractart #Kandinsky
The next night, after a particularly sleepless night, she was scanning material about other expressionist artists for context and was inspired to tweet again…
Rothko, also Russian, painted images that suggest serenity, until you look closely. Layers of angst in those color blocks. Abstract bordering on dreamlike. I stare at them and weep. Were we so saturated we were surreal? #abstractexpressionism #Rothko
A week later, Angie ran into a colleague who believes that gossip is the equivalent of storytelling. He once confessed he reads People magazine at the student library. He would never stoop to a subscription; however, he argues, the content is essentially history in the making.
I hear Alex is seeing someone, he reported, with a sly smile. A philanthropist, I’ve met her at university events. Spending her late husband’s money well. Attractive. Smart. I guess he has a type. What about you? Ready to get back out there?
Angie could barely breathe, but she was loath to reveal the shock. Not yet, she quipped, even as she wanted to spit in his officious face. Some of us don’t transfer affection so easily.
She should not have been surprised. Alex was not the sort of man to be alone long, although he said from the first she was the woman he was looking for all his life. She was, he proclaimed, his last love.
Late that night, enraged and hurting, she tweeted…
You said I was the most interesting woman you ever knew. You showered me with love. And yet, how quickly I’ve been replaced. Someone a little like me, I hear. Perhaps she’s more present tense. But what are you telling her?
The next morning, when Angie picked up the phone, groggy from yet another restless night, Joyce said, my friend, your tweets have been noticed.
The tweets had been re-tweeted hundreds of times and she had as many new followers.
Welcome to the insanely hyperbolic voyeuristic world of social media, Joyce chuckled.
That afternoon, Angie’s editor surprised her with a phone call. Launch a blog, constructed around your tweets, she announced in lieu of hello. Post regularly. Build a fan base. Might be a book in this. Maybe a historical study of ill-fated romance.
The editor was one of a dying breed, devoted to scholarly material but always on the search for commercial projects to subsidize the highbrow. Angie pictured her at her oversized mahogany desk, the sightline nearly obscured by piles of manuscripts in cardboard boxes like miniature coffins. She imagined her shuffling papers from one pile to another, a pen affixed to one hand, even as she expounded on blogging, the last thing on earth Angie ever expected to hear from this champion of the intellectual.
A blog? This is personal, Angie said. Frankly, I don’t know what came over me.
A good blog is as intimate and revealing as the diaries and letters you scholars cherish for source material. Personal expression is in the details, right? Think Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. F. Scott and Zelda. Or Hamilton, talk about riches – a life, a biography, a musical! Angie, there’s a history lesson in this. Find it.
With that, she hung up. Angie stared at the phone in her hand as if a grenade. Madness, she muttered.
Beyond the freelance journalism Angie pens to enhance her income – book reviews or profiles of historical figures – she has in the last decade edited a collection of essays on class structure as an economic engine and a biography of George Elliott focused on the historical context of her writings. Both barely sold out a first modest printing and her agent has been on her case ever since to come up with something marketable.
The agent, a tough-minded foul-mouthed Brit, and the only one to take a chance on Angie, fights for her writers like a prizefighter. You don’t want to become yet another brainiac who falls to the wayside, she said, when Angie called to report the conversation with the editor. Think of a blog as sharpening your literary pencil. This is brilliant!
Angie laughed loudly, the first good laugh she’d had in months. To put the words literary and blog in the same sentence is an oxymoron.
Don't be such a snob, the agent barked. There are many good blogs out there. And serious books having to do with the inquiring mind let loose. Vivian Gornick. Teju Cole. Maggie Nelson. Literary flaneurs. Patti Smith is in a renaissance. Existentialism meets social media.
These writers are in a whole other class.
Which you could be. Think big, Angie.
I’m a historian. I’m all about the past.
Don’t most historians use the lessons of the past to explain the present? Flip it. Use the present to explain the past. Weave the past into the present. The culture of romance. Or romance into culture. You’re the writer. Make magic!
Ridiculous, Angie thought as the call came to a close. Make magic? She barely had the energy to meet her deadlines. She was consumed with what went wrong with Alex. Besides, Angie has never learned to live in the moment. Not like Alex, who never dealt with anything until it smacked him in the head, and rarely looked back other than to lick his wounds. Angie is always looking back, relying on hindsight to sort it all out.
Alex told her once the most important thing to him was to speak truth in real time. He was good at that. She tried to be, but she prefers to mull things over first. Professorial to the core. Perhaps, if she’d been more thoughtful the day she wailed she was falling apart, they might not be here. On the other hand, he let her go without debate.
We were doomed, she told Joyce. Maybe I’m well out of it. He was chaos in motion. He managed his life the way he made the bed – pitching the sheet and blanket over the mattress and tossing the pillows sloppily on top. No pressing, no tuck.
Joyce laughed. Men don’t do beds, Angie. Some things are just what they are.
All day that day, Angie wondered what would happen if she ran into Alex. She was certain he would ignore her, or worse, speak to her cordially, as if they’d never been a couple. She’s no more than a wrinkled sheet now. If he noticed the Facebook or Twitter posts, she knew he would not make contact. Pride takes precedence.
How did they get here? They were madly in love.
She had several hundred Twitter followers now and marveled at the crazy state of a world in which people equate intimacy with anonymity. Why not blog? she wondered.
What have you got to lose? Joyce encouraged her the next morning.
Exactly. What have I got to lose? On the other hand, what’s to be gained?
Be bold. Might open another door, might help to dispel the inertia.
Reason enough, Angie replied.
And so, Angie the historian became a lovelorn blogger.
Methodical to the extreme, she first had to choose where to write the blog. She prefers a separation of labors. She researches and writes first drafts of most text chapters at the university library and then edits at an antique desk under a window in a small second bedroom turned into a den. Mounds of rubber-banded index cards fill empty Amazon boxes piled in the corner. She writes articles at a café to summon the muses of great journalists. She decided to write the blog at home, at the dining table, as if to insulate the profound from the prosaic. The pine table marks the intersection of kitchen and living room, with room for six comfortably, eight squeezed, although she cannot recall the last time she had friends over for dinner. The table was cluttered with library books and magazines, the vestiges of projects run aground, which she stacked on a chair, dusted the tabletop and lay a placemat on one end for the laptop. She filled a tall glass with sparkling water, squeezed in a wedge of lime, and sat down to write. And then she realized she had no clue how to begin, so she slipped back into research mode. A comfort zone.
She read history blogs. She scanned fashion and food blogs. Travel, music and art blogs. She perused Huffington Post, TMZ, and the Business Insider, blogs with huge followings. Some were interesting and some well written. Few inspired her. She discovered a blog about how to build a blog. Know your audience, the author emphasized, but she had no idea who she was writing for. Stay on topic, was the other salient advice, but she had yet to zero in on the topic. Title the blog. Organize the content. How will she name or structure the longings of the heart?
What was she thinking? she thought in exasperation. However Angie is not one to shy away from a challenge. She is, after all, a polished essayist. A good synthesizer of information. Surely she can do this. All day Sunday, she typed whatever came to mind, an uncommonly amorphous endeavor, and ended up with a long rambling polemic. She realized she would have to be economical with her words. She told Joyce the next day she felt like one of the beat generation, freethinkers who sprawled on floor pillows at café’s, in vans or flop houses, spinning thought into prose or poetry like Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold.
Keep it personal, Joyce emphasized. That’s the appeal.
The next night, Angie came to the realization the best form of the blog would be expository, like the historical letters the editor alluded to. She chose a title for the blog and added a subtitle with a nod to the Victorian poets: Letters to a Lost Love. A Lament
She designated a sidebar on the homepage to confirm her status as a historian: Blog is short for weblog, a type of technology file, and was meant to be an online journal. However, in the 19th century, blog, as a noun, meant servant boy, perhaps the origin of the term bloke, and also a verb, used by schoolboys, meaning a trouncing. Defeat. I begin this blog defeated, by love as well as a most unusual form of expression, for me. Mea culpa.
#1... I miss you most at night. You kept the bed warm, you kept me warm. The heater you called yourself and I looked forward to that moment of bliss when you curled your knees into mine, your long body enveloping mine, your face burrowed into my shoulders. The sublime intimacy that makes sleeping with another person worthwhile. Except, so often, in the middle of the night, in the midst of a deep sleep, you would awaken me by tugging my hips to you, pulling my butt to you until barely air between us. Closer, you whispered, pulling me so close I had to sleep coiled into a fetal position. You’d be snoozing again in minutes while I had to force myself back to sleep, awakening groggy and stiff while you woke smiling, chipper, reaching for your phone to check email, Facebook, the news. I never complained. You were impossible to resist. I took naps now and then to make up for lost sleep. I was never a great sleeper anyway and these days I sleep ever more fitfully, even if unrestrained, greeted by the emptiness of first light and the dog awaiting a walk. My joints no longer ache, only my heart.
The next afternoon she posted again, the brevity and uncensored sentiment more satisfying than she could have imagined.
#2… I miss you, late mornings, when I returned from an early class and you were still sitting on the couch with your laptop on your lap, CNN on television, a half cup of cold coffee on the coffee table, because you rarely finish while it’s hot, and the breakfast dishes still in the sink as you hustled to get a document ready for a meeting because you still operate as if cramming for a final exam, smart enough to get away with it until those inevitable moments when you hit a snag, followed by loud cursing at the Internet or the client or something or someone in your way, the way you curse at what you call the morons on the freeway who slow you down when you veer across three lanes to make the exit you knew was coming up, but why move slowly when you can race? Careless to the point of reckless, that’s the truth. Like waiting until you’re down to fumes to fill the gas tank. I hated to listen to you curse so furiously. Too much for me, I don’t handle anger well, even if not directed at me. In truth, I was often relieved when I returned home to find you were already gone and the house was quiet. You never understood how much I require distance from the chaos of a world that wears me out. Your life, our life together, perhaps too taut, too urgent.
The next night, when she went online to craft the next post, the blog already like oxygen, or an antidepressant, 3850 people had viewed the first two blog posts and she had 4236 followers on Twitter. The world has gone mad, she thought.
Now I understand the Game of Thrones phenomenon, although that has historic value, she told Joyce.
You see, there is something to be gained. Keep on.
#3… Remember when I confessed to you that I am especially frisky near the full moon? You might say I have missed you most four cycles now, peaking at the crest, because the sex, I miss that. I miss your touch. Our bodies fit so well. Never enough for you, though. Your libido, which you insisted was passion for me, perpetually on high like an adolescent in a constant state of arousal. Of course we behaved like adolescents, especially that first year, making out in the car, snuggling on banquettes at jazz clubs. I was high on it all, but I feared I might never satisfy you, not in any way, even though you told me you loved me, every day, and, every day, I wanted to make up for all the women who disappointed you, a tall order as it turned out. What did you want to do for me?
She posted every day for two weeks, exorcising demons, venting despair, connecting to an invisible throng of sympathetic readers. And she tweeted…
Now I understand when people say crashed and burned. I thought to crash is bad enough. Do the remains have to be ground into ash? I crashed and burned. You smoldered, although I seem the one left in the embers.
#15. Profession of love is grand. You always made my heart swell. On the other hand, talk is cheap. I wish you had inquired more often what I was working on, or reading, or thinking for that matter, as if only the moments we shared were significant. I always wanted to know what you were up to and what was on your mind. Did you realize we ate when you were hungry? We slept when you were tired? And when I was away, visiting family or lecturing, and I called to describe a conference panel or a museum exhibit, you listened the way a busy mom listens to a toddler’s tale, distracted by the day slipping away and the chores yet to do. At the same time, you were so easily threatened by anyone who captured my attention. Remember when I discovered Juan Gabriel Vasquez? The Colombian writer. I wanted to read all his fiction because he blended the historical and the political so well. He calls himself the un-magical realist. Instead of inquiring more about him, or reading his work, you said you were jealous of my writer-crush. I laughed it off. If I was your last love, and you mine, what was that nonsense? Was it even possible to reassure you sufficiently to trust me? On the other hand, I let you down, didn’t I? Like all the others. News flash: you let me down too.
That night, another 2358 tweeters followed her and nearly as many new blog subscribers, including someone who claimed to be Juan Gabriel Vasquez and when she checked his profile, looked an awful lot like him.
#22… I miss you most when an especially vibrant sunset streams into the living room, especially those evenings you’d had a good day, when you chatted exuberantly about a new project or an old friend who’d made contact. Or, stretched out on the couch, flipping channels, searching for the right news team or the sport of the season, while I prepared dinner. I loved cooking for you. Remember the ceviche? As good as anything you’d had in Mexico, you said. The green curry? Just spicy enough for you, not too spicy for me. All those autumn root vegetable soups? Or, when I was too tired to cook, happy hours at bistro bars, sharing small plates of food, so when we kissed, we tasted the same. These days, I have no desire to cook. I dine on carrot sticks and hummus, disinterested in anything more extravagant. My taste buds are also wretched.
Joyce pronounced during the next day’s phone call that all relationships are a work in progress, including a long marriage like her own. Listen, Angie, I love my boy, as you know, but sometimes I would like to push him through a wall! Or wave a wand and make him disappear. Coupledom is a continuum. A constant work in progress. There is no there there.
Gertrude Stein, Angie muttered.
That’s Stein’s quote, about her hometown.
Well, love is a hometown, but in a constant state of transition. Relationships are always in flux. You have to pay attention. Men are only half the problem. Women should be better at this. It’s our nature to nurture, but we have to speak our minds, without judgment, and yes, we also have to choose our words. It’s a fine art. I don’t forgive Alex for being so insular. However, he was good for you and you were good for him. Easy for me to say, I know, but my dear, I fear you let the water rush the damn. I’m glad you’re soul-searching for the blog. I’m sure it’s cathartic, book or no book. But it takes two to tango and blogging is a solo sport.
Angie spent the night replaying all two years with Alex in her head as if she might have a Eureka moment. In the morning, haggard and crestfallen, she was fumbling around the kitchen making coffee strong enough to jumpstart the day when she noticed a message from the agent urging her to add SEO keywords, and in a matter of hours, as if ordained, one of her graduate students stopped by her office to offer to work with Angie on the blog. As a research project, she suggested. What do you know about keywords? Angie asked.
#34… When my friends ask what happened between us, I say life got in our way. A rapid-fire series of events that left us breathless – from the rush of passion into the cauldron of emotional and physical overload. Too much happened to us both in too short a period of time. Think about it. We were just moving in together when your father died. And then your dear friend succumbed to cancer with hardly a moment’s notice. Soon after, your best client pulled out, and another project hit a serious snag, slowed down a year. You had to hustle for work and dip into your reserves. And I’m always stressed about money. All those late-night trips to the emergency room when your back ached so badly you could hardly breathe. I had to nurse you back from surgery when my daughter needed my help. Too little time for us to build a solid life together. Not so much a perfect storm as a steady rain that seeped into a foundation that hadn’t yet settled.
At the graduate student’s urging, she abbreviated every blog post with a tweet and a link to the blog and added more hashtags: #lostlove #lastlove #brokenheart #heartbroken #truelove.
The agent left her a voicemail. Readers are riveted. Have you read the comments? Other than the usual nut jobs, people are rooting for you two to get back together. Keep it up, Angie. A unique opportunity has fallen into your lap. Don’t let it pass you by.
Apparently, Angie realized, she has a reputation for not seizing opportunities. For letting things go, like the love of a good man. She hadn’t thought to read the comments and was shocked by how many there were. Was she meant to answer them? She asked the student.
Silence is the better strategy, very Elena Ferrante, she answered.
Strategy? Angie asked.
Let them dialogue with each other. That’s the essence of social media.
To Angie, the greater mystery is why so many people would read the words of an older woman missing a man. An ordinary woman trying to make sense of something beyond her ken, although, given the response, maybe not so ordinary. She cannot comprehend the consolation so many people take in the unabashed regurgitation of private matters. Maybe the editor was right.
She wakes these mornings with a flurry of thoughts and takes notes to transcribe later in the day, the blog revisiting their romance and dissolution. Like therapy, was a frequent comment.
Most of her followers were women, all ages and ethnicities, from most of the English-speaking countries, also from Asian and European nations. Angie cannot imagine how her words translate into those languages or cultures. They all seem to be experiencing, or fascinated by, the longings to which she has given voice. Now and then, male readers tried to explain masculine behavior, or defend Alex, although these too yearning for something they might cling to without fear of losing their grip.
What an amazing world we live in, to connect anonymously in personal longing with a throng of the longing.
#38… I no longer wear the ring you gave me, the one you surprised me with on the third month anniversary of the day we met. Blue topaz, the color of a summer sky, my favorite color, you knew, not aquamarine, no, a purer blue, pure like your heart, you said. I’m sure you’re glad I don’t wear it anymore. I’m sure you don’t wear the ring I gave you when you moved in, the one you threw in my face when I said I wasn’t sure we should live together anymore. A carved band crafted by a local artisan. The unmarried band, you called it, because it only fit your ring finger. Elegant, but understated, like us, you said. You loved the ring, although you would have preferred a real marriage band and you insisted I wear the topaz like an engagement ring, although I was clear I would never marry again. Marriage is an illusion. Consider the divorce rate. You hated when I said that, especially in mixed company, as if impertinence aimed at you. Commitment is all that matters. And I was committed, I was. If we were married, we’d be in couples counseling, which you despised, you said, or we’d be just another statistic. A friend of mine called the ring an act of possession. Do you want it back?
The number of followers swelled. The agent grew giddy with the prospect of a book contract.
Angie sits at the dining table every night stunned by it all. She also recognizes the obsession, the nearly out-of-body experience rendering raw emotion into words. She’s not writing for a book contract. Not for blog followers or tweeters. Nor is she writing to detox, which Joyce suggested. She is writing to Alex. She is writing to say what she couldn’t or wouldn’t say, although, sadly, she knows, too little too late.
She tweets that night…
You told everyone you finally found the right woman. You said I was perfect for you. Shame on you, shame on us, letting go without a fight. Yes, I slipped away. You should have held on. You should have been my ballast. You took joy with you.
One night, sitting at the computer, she’s suddenly frightened by the exposure. She is not a woman who reveals herself. She has to get a grip. She decides to take a break. She’s a historian, not a blogger. She turns her attention to a book review deadline. She lasts two days. The blog reaches out its arms to her like a lover and she surrenders.
#40… My friend Laura visited this week from Connecticut. You may not remember her, you met only once when we traveled to the East Coast to introduce each other to friends. Not our first time in New York. Remember the first time? Four months after we met, having been apart for two weeks while you worked a project overseas and I taught a summer workshop in Connecticut, you decided we could not be apart so long. You took the red-eye and the hotel let you check in early to rest, and after the morning session, I boarded the train to Manhattan and sprinted from the station, picked up the other key at the front desk and tiptoed into the room, slipping as gently as possible onto the bed to watch you sleep, but you felt my presence and pulled me to you so fast you knocked the wind out of me and smothered me with kisses like a puppy left too long alone. Laura is the friend who often teased me about my reserve. The one who encouraged me to invite you to spend the night sooner than later. Laura is a romantic. She likes to make a man breakfast. She told me yesterday she wasn’t surprised we split, no matter how charming you were or how delighted she was I no longer slept alone. She wondered if we would last when I visited her last year and you called me three times that afternoon, I don’t remember why, but Laura said she remembers thinking I would suffocate from the intensity. She knows me better than you.
Comments piled up. Angie scanned them occasionally with dinner. She graduated from hummus to veggie burgers and she indulged a fondness for fine French wine while reading the bizarre statements people post in a frantic desire to declare their heartache. After dinner, walking the dog, she considered all those suffering the sadness of disappointment and how her blog reverberates for them. She chuckled at the thousands of subscribers, grudgingly impressed with the power of the medium, although not so different, she realized, from story serializations by writers like Dickens and Conan Doyle.
The next afternoon, she shifted gears, reverting to historian.
#41… Serialization of fictions swelled in popularity in the late 1800s as the world achieved greater levels of literacy, as well as the sudden abundance of writing in print. An astonishing time in history, although not so different from this turn of the century phenomenon, the blog, linking the rise of the Internet to new forms of communication. Those early sequential stories were titled by numbers and were also called numbers, which makes sense, like chapters in a novel or classical music movements, but also referred to as fascicles, a word that means stories in parts, and also means any bundle of structures, like nerve or muscle fibers. Blog posts, like fascicles, bundle threads of thought or threads of emotion that might otherwise cause the spirit to break down. Like what we used to call a nervous breakdown.
The next day, the student pointed out the flood of comments in response, all the same sentiment: Blah, blah, blah. Have you seen him? Where will he find you? Does he know how much you miss him?
Properly admonished, she returned to form.
#44… Remember the first time you told me you loved me? We knew each other four weeks. Exactly four weeks. Such a rush it was. We had lunch, we had dinner, we listened to music and watched movies, and then we blended our bodies. I was high, morning to night – atypical for a typically guarded woman. My friends were shocked. I was shocked myself. And then, one night, after a lecture at the library, we were seated at a hi-top table at a busy bar and I was scanning the dinner menu when the waitress put down our drinks. You raised your glass, I raised mine, and as we clinked, you said, here’s to love, and then you leaned forward and said, what I mean is, I love you. I was speechless. What first came to mind was that you had told me you were engaged to your second wife in just three months. I knew you were impulsive. My guard went up. You said I recoiled. You were so upset. I didn’t so much recoil as revert to type. Tentative. Doubting. No one had ever captured my heart the way you had. I thought about you all day. I looked forward to your calls. I felt the heat under my skin waiting to see you. I was gasping for air day and night. It was such a mad dash – too much too soon too fast, for me. You’re a sprinter, my love. I’m a pacer.
The editor invited her to lunch with her agent. She is over the moon about the blog. She wants to build a book about the implosion of romantic relationships in history. Like Stieglitz and O’Keeffe. Caesar and Cleopatra, Henry and Eleanor of Aquitane. She mentions paintings they might adapt for a cover. Maybe bookplates. She chats exuberantly through the meal, more effusively than Angie has ever seen her, and then, as coffee is served, she leans toward Angie, places a hand on her arm and says, in a conspiratorial whisper, Angie, you were brave to leave. Women are not always brave. So much easier to stay, no matter the conflict. I’m second to none in my adoration of Lennon and McCartney, but love is not all you need. Love is just the beginning. She sits back in her chair and returns to business mode as abruptly as she turned confidante. This book has stupendous potential. Better than memoir or mindfulness, a hot topic these days, or even the nature of happiness, always a bestseller. This is the real deal. Speaks to everyone who has loved and lost, which is just about everyone.
Flummoxed by the revealing response from a woman who seems impervious, and again astounded by the nerve she seems to have touched, Angie went straight home, poured the last of the morning coffee into a tall glass with ice, doused it with extra sugar and milk, and abandoned the day’s workload to blog.
#45… Women think I’m brave. They admire what they believe is courage. Yes, I was brave enough to leave a misguided marriage, for my kids as much or more than for me. Beyond that, I have never thought of myself as brave. I simply hide cowardice. The people who know me best know this. Do most women lack the courage to leave? Is it the fear of loneliness? Poverty? Condemnation? Have we sold ourselves a narrative that consistently precludes our own needs? Certainly the number of unhappily married women would suggest so. Men, on the other hand, and I know this is a vast generalization, but men settle more easily. They like being taken care of and if they’re unhappy, they accessorize. Yes, women also seek comfort with lovers. Less often I’d like to think, although who knows. Everyone wants a warm bed. Speaking of beds, remember when we spent the weekend in Palm Springs? We gleefully rolled around the hotel’s king size bed and I said it was fun to have so much room so maybe we should upgrade at home from a queen to a king, and you replied, why would we ever want to be farther apart? Even now, remembering, my heart swells. You are the most romantic man I’ve ever known, even as I flinched in fear of being hostage to your intensity. Maybe you were simply more than I could handle. Self-preservation is not the same as bravery.
Spent from the verbal theatrics of blogging, Angie collapsed on the couch to watch the news and then took a long evening walk on a path high above the Pacific Ocean. Couples strolled hand in hand or power walked in sync. She wondered what sort of struggles they endure, what sort of compromises they make to stay together. She stopped to breathe in salty air. She watched the sun send shockwaves of color across the western horizon. There are lovely sunsets across the globe, she thought. Maybe she should make a move.
She posted to Twitter…
Perhaps I need a change of scene. Somewhere we have no footprints. Where I won’t catch the scent of you on the breeze. But how can I leave the place you are? The place we were?
That night, after only a couple of hours of sleep, Angie awakened in thrall to an erotic dream. Her body convulsed with pleasure as if she had been touched and she marveled at a post-menopausal woman dreaming like a teenager. Disconnected from reason into rapture. Afterwards, she bundled into her robe, moved into the living room, turned on classical music and lit a candle, its wavy edges casting willowy shadows on the wall. She curled up with a novel she’s been meaning for some time to read.
The stillness was bliss. She gave up late night reading when Alex moved in. He was a light sleeper and groaned when she left the room, preferring she turn on a light and read in bed. More often, not wanting to disturb his sleep, she plugged in headphones and listened to a podcast. Lately, spending so much time bemoaning their past, she has overlooked the pleasure of living her own life. The novel was engaging, but in no more than an hour, when her eyelids grew heavy, she threw a throw blanket over her and slept, and in the morning she thought of Alex while in the shower, but longed for him a little less.
That day, as if a cosmic joke, six weeks into the blog, five months after they parted, and just when Angie glimpsed light at the end of the tunnel, she ran into Alex.
She was on her way to pick up an iced tea before class and as she passed the post office, he emerged and stopped in his tracks. He smiled. She smiled. He reached out his arms for her and she stepped into his embrace. They hugged: a clutch of a hug, warm and lingering. She told him she was on her way to the college and he offered to escort her. As they walked, they chatted, as if merely old acquaintances. She asked about his kids, his work, his back. He asked about her kids, her grandchildren. She admired an iPhone watch he wore.
A gift, he said with a sheepish grin.
Angie knew at once the new woman must have given him the watch. She said, she must like you a lot.
Alex shrugged. She has come and gone.
There was an awkward silence as they awaited a green light to cross to campus.
And what are you working on these days? Alex asked.
Believe it or not, a blog, she answered.
A blog? he replied. So, help me understand what makes a blog a blog? Isn’t it just a short essay? Or an Op-Ed? A client suggested I blog, but I don’t see how it fits, for me.
I’m no expert, lots of different blogs out there, but it has to do with personal perspective, I think. And some level of expertise. Or wisdom. Mark Twain would have been a good blogger. Jonathan Swift. There should be a message, more than a hook, a message.
And what’s your message?
Good question. Not sure I’ve nailed that down yet.
I’ll read yours. You’re a good teacher.
Angie froze. If he read the blog, would he appreciate the longing or be angered by the disclosures? She searched her memory – she never mentioned his name, did she? She should have written under a pseudonym. And what is her message? How will she find clarity otherwise?
Don’t waste your time, she protested. Merely a writing exercise. Wouldn’t interest you.
Everything you do interests me.
And there they ran out of words, and time. Alex took her into his arms for another hug. She trembled with the pleasure of him. Abandoning restraint, she whispered into his ear. I miss you, Alejandro.
Although his name is Alexander, she called him Alejandro. An endearment. A secret language lovers share. Something she would never disclose.
I’m sorry I wore you out, he whispered and abruptly let go and walked away.
Later that day, Alex texted. Nice to see you, Lina. Short for Angelina, her full name, and sexier, he said, the first time they made love, and from then on, they were Lina and Alejandro.
She turned their encounter into a blog post.
#46… Today a close encounter of the third kind. I was shaking in your presence and afterwards you sent me a text saying nice to see me. Nice? Such a bland word. Lovely to see you, or happy to see you, anything more than nice would have meant more. You seemed pleased to see me. That hug suggested more than pleased. Did you mean to be passive? Are you really over me? On the other hand, you called me your pet name for me, a name that represents the best of me and I was, in truth, my best with you, until I wasn’t. When I saw you today, my heart swelled, and I’m truly glad your life seems on an even keel. Not the roller coaster ride we shared. But can you understand that everything that happened to you happened to me? What I went through, I went through alone. No wonder I shut down. I’m not as strong as I seem and I don’t wear my feelings on my sleeve. When I said I was worn out, I was genuinely worn out. I needed you. I needed your strength, even if I couldn’t express that need. You didn’t even try to consider where I was coming from. You picked up, moved out and moved on to another woman. Outraged by my failure. In truth, we failed each other. Perhaps nice was the right word after all. Still, you seemed so glad to see me.
Late that night, sleepy and restless, a comment from one of her followers caught her eye. Do you really miss him or are you lonely?
She answered in a blog, weaving the historical into the sentiment.
#47… Even if you have forgotten British history, you might remember Elizabeth the first from Hollywood and BBC versions. The grand fictions. You know, the redhead with the collar rising up around her neck. The so-called Virgin Queen. Her long reign was stained by familial struggle for the throne, the partitioning of Catholic and Protestant, and war. She is also acknowledged for her patronage of the arts. Above all, however, Elizabeth’s story is a love story. She was a child when she famously declared she would never marry, saying she would have “one mistress and no master.” Although there were many suitors and companions, she longed only for one man throughout her lifetime. They were childhood friends. Their intimacy – platonic and/or sexual, never confirmed – is legendary. When she ascended to the throne, at age twenty-five, she named him Master of the Horse, an honored position that gave him a place in the palace, although he was already married. He had free access to the queen and she trusted his loyalty. There is speculation that during a period of time when she was bedridden with a “bloating” illness, she was in fact pregnant, and years later a young man claimed to have been the love child whisked away. Again, never confirmed, but possible. Later in life, the widowed Dudley mounted a full-on courtship in the hopes of at last bonding with Elizabeth, but she resisted, fearing repercussions, and during the years their friendship faltered, she was bereft. A queen, from youth to age, surrounded by constant attention, is nonetheless very much alone. This queen particularly. She took her royal responsibilities seriously. Dudley may have been the one person she truly loved. Their relationship lasted fifty years, more than most marriages. She signed her letters to him, “As you know, ever the same.” One can appreciate the comforts of solitude without suffering loneliness. So to answer the question posed in a comment, no, I am not lonely, but I miss this man I love.
She tweeted the synopsis…
One can be a loner, one can learn to live alone, one can be an independent spirit, without being lonely. I am lonely only for one man. We should be together.
The next day, Angie receives a text from Alex. Take down the blog.
She takes a deep breath and texts back. Can we talk?
Nothing to talk about. People know it’s me. You used me. How could you?
That was never the intent.
Take down the blog.
Readers are strangers, they don’t know you.
Take down the blog.
Did you read it all?
Take down the blog.
Please Alex, let’s talk.
Personal perspective you said. This is a monologue. Completely one-sided.
You don’t think we deserve a dialogue?
After no response, Angie texts again. Please, let’s talk.
Take down the blog.
I will, she responds, hesitating a few seconds before she hits send.
A half an hour later, an excruciatingly slow passing of the clock, and as Angie is growing frantic, Alex texts again. Tell me where and when and I’ll meet you there and then.
She smiles. She feels her heart settle down in her chest. At the same moment, a follower sends her a direct message on Twitter… Never give up on someone you can’t go a day without thinking about.
She ponders the significance of that sentiment. The intricacies of second chances. How often do lovers last the second time around? Can they move beyond the distrust? All the water under the bridge. Angie is trained to study the past, although her beloved grandmother advised her to look back and learn, but never go backward. Keep your eyes ahead, she cautioned. Never return to old jobs, neighborhoods or lovers. Angie has forgotten the context of the conversation, but not the words. She has, as a rule, abided by that principle, but in this moment she adopts a different perspective: what if?
She sits at the dining table scribbling notes about shifting the subject of the blog to second chances. She might examine renowned relationships, as the editor urged, but with an eye on reconnections. How many couples of significance have split and returned to each other? How many successfully? She has a following now. She will need two years for the research before she writes. The editor will be delighted. Perhaps the agent will get her a good advance. She might take a sabbatical at some point. She is elated by the prospect of such a project. She hasn’t felt this enthusiastic about almost anything in many years.
She glances at the clock. She needs to leave. She will be late to meet Alex and she has yet to take down the blog. He will be sitting at the bar, the same bar where he first told her he loved her. He will be scanning his phone, glancing up expectantly now and then to the door. Hopeful. Trusting. Loving.
How long will he wait?