I know better than to try to put a title on the weekend I once spent with Tom, because there is no title for him that sounds in my head like that memory feels. They were two very unexpected days after a few years of platonic friendship; a nice moment that either paused or accelerated something between us, but at this point, that is impossible to say.
Before and after that brief undefined period, our main form of communication was through the written word: texts and emails about what we were watching or reading, what music we were playing. The kinds of information you share as a shortcut to answering the question "Where are you these days?" because the song I have on repeat is an easier reply than trying to explain what I'm feeling. Besides, he has great taste, and I hope he feels the same way about me. I'll read what he recommends, and he reads what I recommend, and when we do see each other we can compare notes. Maggie Nelson ("The most I want to do is show you the end of my index finger. Its muteness"), Richard Siken ("Names I called you behind your back/sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable"), Marguerite Duras ("One must also, in such cases, hide the love of one's husbands from lovers"): we've always traded our newly found favorites between each other, loaning copies or sending pictures of our preferred passages. Before that weekend, I thought this practice was a natural kind of generosity between us, sharing what we liked in the hopes the other one would like it too. Now I suspect it is a carefully devised replacement strategy: instead of a conversation of our own words, we rely on the words of other people. A conversation made up of our own words feels very, very far away, representing a kind of geographical and emotional intimacy we don't have. These books are, at least, physically close.
I do often think — normally right before I press "send" on one of these exchanges — about how quickly this strategy could turn against me. I have a list of songs I'll never listen to again, for example, because of their ties to former friends or boyfriends, songs that put me in a place and time I've worked very, very hard to extricate myself from. There are movies as well, and a few television shows: I watched that because _____ told me to. We watched that together. The mediums all develop their own messages, and after a certain threshold of pain, the message is a blinking light that reads: Stay away, emotional danger ahead.
So I've always weighed the collateral damage of recommending a book carefully: on the one hand, I can say something nice without saying anything at all, participate in the most honest version of a conversation without admitting I don't know what I actually want to say. On the other hand, what if I tie one of those books or essays or whatever to the person I'm giving the recommendation? I know the problem with attaching emotional significance to an object, because it is the same as attaching emotional significance to a person. The good feelings remain but are buried under the bad feelings, circulating in some parallel stream, thoughts and emotions in direct competition for prominence in my frontal cortex, an experience I once described as being "physically too much for one person": We can only hold so many feelings at once! I complained to a nearby friend, worried that past a certain threshold of reminders and recollections I would simply burst, flooded by attempts to verbalize what I was thinking or feeling.
But in one of these recent exchanges, I experienced something I hadn't anticipated. Tom texted a photo of a page in a book, and I read the passage quietly, feeling a little exposed because I knew anyone looking at my face would see how much I loved it: