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i'm trying to tell you [A&C]

emails, thirteen, and doing too much

I walked with a friend into a wooded area behind Young Orchard, my heart beating too fast from hearing seven people talk about internships for an hour. I don’t smoke, but watching my friend smoke a cigarette had a vicariously calming effect on me. I kicked around a stick and took deep breaths as they said: “Something I really admire about you is that you aren’t afraid to show people that you care about them.” I didn’t tell them that really, I am afraid. I just do it anyway.

When I asked my brother for music recommendations a year and a half ago, he sent me “Thirteen” by Big Star, a song I’d heard a hundred times but never really listened to. The melody repeated in each bar for a few seconds—a few comforting guitars communicating in their own metallic language—until the vocals kicked in. To me, the singer’s voice sounded the same as any other folksy man from the ’70s, but there was a sincerity and uncertainty that I clung onto. I decided to really listen for the first time: Won’t you let me walk you home from school? Won’t you let me meet you at the pool? I knew the song was from the point of view of a thirteen year old, but I heard it clearly at eighteen.


I don’t know how to tell people how much they mean to me. I tend to go overboard, unable to hold a conversation without saying, “You’re so amazing,” “You’re incredible,” “There’s no one like you,” etc. I knit scarves for people I’ve just met and respond immediately to texts after a week of radio silence. They’re usually either annoyed or think I’m really nice. To the latter, I respond, “I’m really not, I just like you.”


My freshman year, over winter break, I wrote emails instead of texting. I would call friends to do crosswords or talk about our days, but in an effort to be more intentional with my time, all the time I spent on my laptop was with a working document on one side of the screen and a friend’s email on the other, matching my responses paragraph-for-paragraph. I sent 15 emails to one friend, totalling 15,000 words. We exchanged songs and poems and stories; we discussed our days and families, our experiences with religion and vulnerability. The only text sent between us for a month was a photo of a poem titled “Eleanor” that he saw through a store window at night. Another friend told me it was “the most romantic thing she’d ever heard,” but it didn’t feel that way at the time. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s like that. I just care about him.” He and I never talked about it. Caring was enough for me.

Emails make a relationship feel tangible. It’s time I dedicated to that person. It isn’t just a text that I sent while I was making breakfast. It’s an hour of picking the right things to say, the right poem to send, the right place to split paragraphs. It’s edits and rewrites. It’s black on white. It’s care.

There’s a sort of urgency in those halfway-to-antiquity modes of communication. They tell the recipient that you spent 1,000 words’ worth of time thinking about them, and they demand being seen immediately. I don’t have the patience for a letter. I don’t like wasting time putting pen to paper or finding a stamp or waiting for USPS to drive past your house. I care about you, and you should know that today.



Walking up Brown Street, I tucked my nose into my scarf and listened to “Thirteen” again. I focused on stepping twice between each crack in the sidewalk and tried to count how many guitars were playing at once. Distracted by the strings bouncing off each other and my inability to decide between two and three, I tripped. The last verse always comes before I think it does: Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of? I felt it caught in my throat. I make fun of people for asking, “Do you hate me?” but really I’m the exact same way.

I force myself to make mature choices, but it’s completely out of my nature. I’ve been taught that growing up implies some sort of emotional detachment. No tax-paying, 800-credit-score-having adult should care so deeply what other people are thinking. I try to stifle my feelings, but my insecurities don’t dissolve through logical thinking. I backtrack, I relapse, I bounce between “I think we’re becoming friends” and “I don’t think they like me very much” on the daily. I want to ask people to tell me what they’re thinking of. I want to tell them that I’m thinking of them. I write an email instead.


Throughout the spring and summer, I wrote letters in Word and texted them to a friend, saving them all to a special folder on my desktop. Reading them back now, I come across the line, “I hope you like your nails! I can change them if not,” while listening to “Thirteen” on repeat. Would you be an outlaw for my love? If it’s so, then let me know. If it’s no, well I can go. I won’t make you. Stress and care pull back-and-forth, sawing me in half. I’ll write and edit a series of letters, but still worry whether the other person likes me as much as I like them. I’ll paint your nails, I’ll make you mittens, I’ll eat a hundred meals with you, I’ll ask you to be an outlaw for me, I’ll show that I’ll be an outlaw for you, but insecurity remains. I feel a need to qualify everything I say to avoid embarrassing myself or making them uncomfortable. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t stop me from showing that I care. I worry about being overbearing, but I love either way.

Sitting on a friend’s carpet, she tells me that I shouldn’t wear my heart so visibly on my sleeve. She warns me that I care too quickly and leave myself too vulnerable. She talks about the guy she’s seeing, sending him passive aggressive texts during our conversation and saying that she doesn’t care about him. I wonder if she could let herself care if she hadn’t been hit in soft spots before. I twiddle chopsticks between my fingers and watch clouds move outside her window. I know that I’m incredibly—and often stupidly—emotional. I spend an embarrassing amount of time lamenting. I feel pathetic most of the time.

Still, I think she’s wrong. I would rather people know I care about them and not reciprocate than remain detached. The pain of unrequited care is worth them knowing they are loved. I can live peacefully loving without being loved back. I want to spend time caring, even if the object of my affection doesn’t feel as strongly as I do. I would rather hit send than leave love unsaid.

I know she was just trying to protect me from regret, but I don’t want to keep myself guarded out of fear. The care I expressed for someone years ago wasn’t a waste of time just because I don’t feel the same way now. The past is the past; the present is the present. There’s always a possibility that someone will say something that hurts me and irreversibly damage our relationship. Still, it’s nice to come across a photo of something I made for them or an email I sent to them. There isn’t shame in having cared.

When I had a fight with a friend that resulted in us not talking for two weeks, I came across the folder of our virtual correspondence. I didn’t open the letters, but I didn’t delete them either. I think it’s nice to have a record like that. Something that once was.

I end emails with “yours always” because it will always be partly true. I’m nineteen writing this article, I’m seventeen writing poetry with my friend about a guy I no longer like, I’m fifteen at a sleepover with two girls I barely know anymore. I wear fluffy socks to bed that were given to me by a guy who called me a whore. There’s an album cover on my wall that was shown to me by someone I try not to think about nowadays, but I know that some part of my life was spent happy to be around him. Part of me still lives in all of these pockets of the past and still cares about people who aren’t in my life anymore. The time I spent caring for them wasn’t wasted, the attention not misplaced. Even if we hadn’t made up after the fight, part of me would still be hers always.


I’ll happily endure any pain that comes with sharing affection. I’ll care, even if I know it’ll end with me getting hurt. I’ll spend time on you. I’ll write you an email. I’ll hit send. I’ll admit that I care a lot, and I’ll be a little embarrassed by that fact. I’ll walk you home from school. I’ll meet you at the pool.

Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of?

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