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Lily: I know you hate exes sliding into your DMs. But when we broke up, I thought we’d stay in touch. At that brunch with your parents, after you had quaffed half a carafe of mimosa and then turned to me, while your parents were busily discussing how to redecorate their upstate lake house, and said, “This is it, Alex. It’s over.” And you then went on with your eggs benedict, asking the waiter for another round of toast so that you could mop up the pool of yolky hollandaise. Perhaps for a second your father seemed to think something had gone down. He ignored your mother, who was droning on about the feature wall in the master bedroom. He looked at you then made eye contact with me and asked if I were okay. You waved your hand in midair and announced to the table, “Alex has to go. An appointment with his therapist.” I tried to think of something to say to your father, but the words wouldn’t come. I just stared at the oversized YALE on his sweatshirt and knew that you saw me as a step down for having attended a state school in Indiana. “You’re running late,” you said to me. “You better run along.” Then you turned away and asked your mother about converting the garage into a writer’s studio. I tossed a few dollars onto the table, which you pocketed, then I left the restaurant and walked in a daze through Carroll Gardens. I drifted by some clothes boutiques and our favorite coffee shop. I even stopped to look in the window of that fancy store, where I helped you choose that vetiver cologne for your father. You had no idea what to get him for his sixtieth. You kept saying your relationship was “fraught,” that he expected more of you. Later on at his birthday party, I talked to him on your behalf. I know I never told you this. I walked with him to the lake, just the two of us, and asked what the issue was. He motioned to a white yacht skimming across the dark water. “Nothing in life is free,” he said. “Sometimes, my daughter is under the opposite illusion.” He talked for a while longer: he wanted you to have more of a plan for your life. He worried about your aimlessness. He never envisaged his daughter as a poet. “She’d be a great lawyer,” he said. “You can never have too many lawyers in the family.” I told him you had a preternatural talent for lyrical language, that you were a finalist for a poetry fellowship, even had poetry forthcoming in some online magazines. I might have even foolishly asserted that your work was sui generis. Your father smiled, said he was glad I stuck up for his daughter. “Go find her back at the house, Alex,” he said. I left him, still unsure of how he viewed me, my IT job and its prospects, my love for you. I searched the packed marquee and then the living room and kitchen. Outside a guest bedroom, I saw you curled up on the bed, on the phone with someone else. Even after a year of dating, I was unsure who was on the other end and why you looked so joyful. I thought about that moment again on the day of our breakup. I had walked for miles and finally found myself far away from Carroll Gardens, in an electronics store browsing new cellphones. And I bought a sleek, overpriced Android. I ditched my old phone and changed my number and created new social media accounts and started to follow your friends, then you. I hope this is okay. Or at least understandable. I wanted to know who this other person was. There were some Brooklyn-based men I didn’t recognize: Jacob, Daniel, Theodore, Dylan, Frederico. But I never solved the mystery. But it doesn’t matter that much. I’m writing to you because I realize now that I had upset you the night before the brunch with your parents. I didn’t fit in at Ingrid’s dinner party and even less so when we all said our pronouns, and I stupidly—though in White Claw-infused jest—said mine were fuck and you. I am not a misanthrope or hater of trans rights, as Marcel accused me of being. All night I eavesdropped on his conversations with Ingrid and Noah, and when he wasn’t pontificating about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, he’d glance my way and shake his head. It was a mistake, Lily. You know that. I don’t want to be the subject of your group chats anymore (so I’ve heard): Alex is into Black men now. Like his boss. Did you hear Alex lost his job? He fucked over his colleagues. Alex has joined up with some TERFs in the UK and is pitching articles to The Guardian. Who was ever even friends with Alex? Alex is always being defensive. He’s so insecure. So Indiana. So doesn’t belong here. And so on. I don’t mean to slide into your DMs, Lily. Not like this. As you’ve never checked in with me, I thought I’d let you know that I’m doing okay. I’ve even had a few dates. Nice girls, not MFA types. They have office jobs and 401(k)s and don’t want to change the world. They curate online designs of latte art and cute pictures of misbehaving pugs, and maybe when vanity strikes they dream of being Instafamous. For wheels of macarons and unicorn cookies and orchid crowns. All of this is to say, Lily, is that I’ve “grown,” as you always wished. I really have. Maybe it’s only a small amount so far. And I understand that I have some issues to work out. Maybe you can appreciate that I’ve stopped drinking so much and cut back on my work hours and even Zoomed with a therapist. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I know now that I was never progressive enough for you. I tried my Midwestern best. I’m an IT consultant, not an activist. But come on, I’m not a TERF or homophobe. I just have a bad sense of humor. I grew up watching Adult Swim cartoons and Jackass and other stupid shows, and not spending my time reading the poets you admire: Sexton, Lorde, Bishop. We are so different, and I’ve moved on from us, whatever we were, and I hope you do the same. However much I deserve it, I’m not a punchline for you and your friends. And I don’t want to appear in any more of your poems, even if my name is changed or redacted. No Alec or Lex or Xander or A___. Please, write about someone else. This is it for me, Lily. Don’t respond. Don’t acknowledge me. Don’t use me as lorem ipsum. Remember I defended your poetry to your father. So don’t waste your talent badmouthing me. Write an ode to your father or Plath him. Either way, just let him know that I’m doing okay.


About the Author

Christopher Linforth's latest book is The Distortions (Orison Books, 2022).


Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash