From Nebs, to the man behind the curtain

To the man behind the curtain–

Hey, buddy.

Hm. Well… I think that was what you used to call me. I don’t think I ever gave you a name of the same spirit in trade. I just used the name I knew you by. What a tawdry thing that is. I knew you in such strange, maybe-intimate ways, and I never got to the point of asking your real name. Or… did I just forget it?

My memory has never been as good as I liked to pretend. And where it touches you, touches that thing I had already named “us” even if I didn’t find out that I had until it was already over… well, then I’m spinning away in all the things I don’t know for real.

This letter’s for two people on the whole planet. It really is. It’s on a blog. I’m sure others will read it. But I don’t know how to reach you anymore, or if you’d want me to. I don’t know how many of the things I’ve written about you that you saw, since.

Point is, you’ll know I’m writing to you if you see it.

I can’t make this something other than sad, so I’m not going to try.

Alright, yeah. I know I can’t because I tried already. I’ve spent two years and then some trying to make myself hate you. What’s come of that? Pain. Pain has come of that. You said things that annoyed me, now and again. I’m sure I said things that annoyed you too. You know what I wish? I wish I’d just told you the truth from minute one. Confronted you, not all at once but a piece at a time whenever we touched on its edges with a chance flight of words, with all the things I couldn’t bury any longer if we wanted to have a real foundation.

I think we might’ve had a chance if I did.

I don’t know if reading any of that other stuff or any of what’s to come will help. I don’t know what’s become of the man I used to know, or how much the idol of him I built in my head looks like the real thing. But I guess one way or the other he’s lost to me, isn’t he?

It’s probably clear enough even if you haven’t read any of the rest. “Buddy”… no, I don’t think I can call you buddy. I wish I could hide behind something that benign.

But this is me we’re talking about. Finding all the right answers at all the wrong times.

So… hey, sweetheart. Darling. My love. Maybe I should be angry at myself. Maybe I should be riling myself up to judge you again. Maybe this is weakness. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t fucking know. I don’t know who I am when I get so tangled up in the things I feel about you, that I already felt about you back then, and I’ll never get a chance to say because… y’know…

Have to be honest. About my feelings, at least. I know what those are. How I feel about myself in all this.

I’m not a perfect woman. Far, far fucking from it. But I can at least generally look back on my role in the bad things that happen to me and say of myself with a bittersweet smile, “I wasn’t the only one who made mistakes. I didn’t just ruin everything.”

Darling, I ruined everything.

Here I was with all these characters and all this lore about tragedy, and picking up the pieces of our mistakes, and having to make peace with the dark side of ourselves. About how even a fundamentally good person can be warped by the realm they live in, the systems they work under, to the point of doing monstrous things?

And in communion with this, you gave me all your own forms of the same. Two effigies: one warped in mind, the other in flesh. One bereft of the thoughts they thought made someone human, the other of the appetites. Each with something other wedged into the hollow.

And there was me saying, “It’s okay, I still love you! Everyone has a place here! Anyone can be redeemed–you just have to give them a chance!”

I used you, I think. I don’t know if I meant to, but I know that the distinction doesn’t matter. I used you to play heroine, and when it got too real I panicked and threw you away and barred the gates.

Oh God. You believed in me, didn’t you? You actually believed in me.

And I tore your heart out.

I don’t know. Does it help if I tell you I couldn’t be honest with you because I hadn’t learned how to be honest with myself? Does it help to read that the feelings I felt for you, the feelings I still feel for you, were entwined with my womanhood, and how was I supposed to deal with my emotions as a woman when I hadn’t even figured out how to say “I’m a girl?”

Probably not.

And sure, I can point to things you said that weren’t great. A lot of folks who never left one forum for ten years and don’t know what it’s like to have to tear their roots and move, to live on the outside of the community, to forage for scraps of knowledge and be scorned and mocked because whatever mind-hovel they can build by themselves doesn’t match the exact standard of the temple wrought by a thousand hands–they’d say that was proof you were a bad person. And I listened to them. Those people never did a thing for me. They wouldn’t lift a finger to save me if I lost my home tomorrow.

I don’t think you could’ve stopped that, but you would’ve at least looked. You would’ve cared.

And you’re the one I shrieked at and cast away.

There’s a word for the way you would put things, sometimes. “Tone-deaf.” And maybe there was more under the surface that you hid from me. Maybe if I’d gone searching, I’d have found proof that I made the right choice after all. But… I’ve said things like what you said, in the past. I said them because people I looked up to, people I trusted to show me truth, fed me lies instead.

I didn’t look. I didn’t seek understanding or give you a real, true chance to talk to me. I owed you that much after everything we’d had, and I didn’t give you the chance because I was afraid… of what? That some random asshole on the internet would find out about it later and judge me for not judging you harshly enough? I was a coward, plain and simple. I deserve to pay my price for that. I just wish I hadn’t passed so much of the burden to you.

I’m glad those fucking books never found an audience. I couldn’t bear it if throwing you away to keep my non-existent authorial image clean had actually paid off.

Looking back now, I see so many moments I ignored or misused. Moments when you were trying to understand, trying to learn, and of course sometimes when we’re learning we put things in dumb ways that make people nervous. We don’t just stay pure and inoffensive when we’re surrounded by, sometimes forced to depend on, mean-spirited people who tempt us with kindness but keep lacing it with glass shards and saying “next time I promise there won’t be any.”

Eventually, you forget that voice screaming in your head, “Who the fuck would put glass shards in anything by accident?!” After all, these might be the only friends you’ll ever have.

It’s normal that when that’s what we think togetherness is, we spread a little of that same old ugliness into the first people who try to give us the real thing. Working through that together is healthy. All those chances to bring us closer one step at a time. Build that bridge between our worlds. You wanted to talk. You tried too many times for someone who just didn’t want to talk. Little gestures. Open invitations. And instead I waited until I needed you on my side of the chasm, and screamed at you for being too afraid to vault it.

Maybe I couldn’t forgive you for a lot of things because I hadn’t forgiven myself yet. Maybe I couldn’t reach out to the shapes of the man I thought I saw behind the mutual screen of RPs and usernames because I wasn’t ready to admit that I hated my job, that something I’d spent so much time talking about as some great opportunity was just full of agony and depression and testaments to my own futility in the futility script reading forced me to inflict on other writers.

But that feels like a pretty cheap dodge to me. I’ve tried telling myself it was about your pride, somehow. That your own job, your struggle to ascend from the assembly line to… to what? Managing a factory? Would that somehow make you happy? Could you put passion into that? I hope so. You deserve to have something out of all of it. Shitty jobs are shitty jobs, but if something is important to who you are, then it just is.

I still could’ve tried talking to you about it, though. Taken some risks. I’d done it before. It didn’t pan out, but that didn’t stop me trying. And if all else failed, if I didn’t know how to make good come out of it, I’d just fold over to make sure no one was trapped in a bad moment. I’ve so often been kinder to others than myself. Why not you? Why didn’t you get that same self-harming heroine bullshit?

Maybe I just didn’t have any kindness left in me.

Let’s… put the last thing in the open. You’ll know what this means, though no one else will. That dark-haired girl with the bright eyes and the violin? Her name was a lie to cover a truth I wasn’t ready to live. All those strange, intimate moments… there was never any character living them. Just me, hiding behind someone else’s name.

I finally know what my name is. I’m Ash. Call me that, if you like. If you’d rather not call me at all, that’s fair.

It wasn’t until this passing year, 2021–was it January? March? Later? I truly can’t remember–that I went through the old server and actually deleted all our interactions. I didn’t like it in the moment. I thought maybe it would feel right later.

It doesn’t. It’s just made this void in my heart bigger than it ever was.

I didn’t know. I loved you and I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I loved you. I loved you and I didn’t try to know. I didn’t give you the chance. One slip-up and a fall from grace.

I’ve been trying and trying and trying to convince myself that somehow you and the characters you came up with, the stories we told together, were somehow magically completely separate, that there was nothing of you in them, that they were just coincidentally full of so much that I still love, but I know that’s a lie.

Those moments we shared were real, even if they were only real to me, and so many of them were so beautiful and now I’ve poisoned all of it. You gave me so much good and now everyone I know only sees this ghoulish caricature I turned you into–a mirror to my own sin. I guess it’s a good thing my stories have given me so much practice with penance. I don’t know where I’d begin making any of this right. All I can do is see the monster in the mirror for what she is, and try to contain her. I can see her, even if she’s invisible to everyone else: this thing standing right where my reflection should be.

I miss you. Please don’t come back. Please stay away so I can’t hurt you again.

I’m so sorry, sweetheart.

-Nebs

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