I think I might love you.
I just said that out loud as I typed and now my wife—across the room—is laughing at me. Don’t mind her. She doesn’t know you like I do, not yet. She’ll love you too, soon, I hope.
Sugar, I’m a married a man. Baby on the way. But I think I love you—there it is. My only consolation really, is that you’re fiction. I mean, you’re Cheryl Strayed, too, but really you’re just a persona*. I know how these things work. Or you’re like 82% fiction, or at least 18%, or something like that. You’re fiction in the way that Phoebe Buffay (who I also once professed to love) is fiction. But don’t worry, my love is blind to such silly distinctions. And don’t worry about Phoebe either—that love-trip fizzled circa ’97.
I met you on a Friday, Sugar—do you remember?—at the library. (I know I could have found you at The Rumpus anytime, but I didn’t want our first encounter to be online; I wanted to hold you in my hands.) Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life had been reserved by 179 people before I got to it**. The wait was four months, but was worth it—there you were, on the library’s reserve shelf, decked out in mostly red (the color of love, of course), a receipt inscribed with my name tucked inside.
You were so chic, so sleek and pretty; I ogled you. But I really swooned once I looked deeper: You offer such insight, such sound and sage advice, and you do so with such lovely sentences, with such vernacular! You’re such an advice-column maven, Sugar! And the act, if it’s an act, never feels forced, and it’s this realness, this honesty, this sincerity—this bringing of oneself to the brink for the sake of troubled strangers—that has won me, and so many others, so completely over.
I don’t have a question for you, Sugar. I’m not chasing advice. I just want to say, publicly, how much I like you. I like you a lot.
I like this: “Attention is the first and final act of love.” And this: “My mother’s last word to me clanks inside me like an iron bell that someone beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love.” “The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.” “Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.” “We’re all going to die someday. So hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.”
That’s what I’m doing here, Sugar.
I like love, I suppose, I love it, and so I like all of this very much. But you offer more, too. You’re familiar with the other, darker side of things as well: “The reality is we often become our kindest, most ethical selves only by seeing what it feels like to be a selfish jackass first.” “Nobody will protect you from your suffering.” “The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.”
There’s no room for coddling in your world. You say it like it is: “…we have to reach hard in the direction of the lives we want, even if it’s difficult to do so.” You tell it straight. You tell those who ask what needs to be done. “Be brave enough to break your own heart,” you say, and I have actually since seen this emblazoned on a coffee mug. I am not above this commodification. I don’t mind it at all. I am asking for this mug for Christmas, even if that phrase, as good as it sounds alone, doesn’t really mean much removed as it is from its original context.
Of course you’re quoted on a coffee mug. Your lines, wrought as they are, are so comforting, and spurring. They are irresistible. You are irresistible.
You’re just such a humanist, Sugar, a more understanding and honest version of myself. You are saying things I’d like to say. You write as if lives depend on it. You write how I would like to write, which is to say, like a motherfucker.***
And I can’t help but love you for it.****
* You outed yourself last Valentine’s Day, after two years of doling advice incognito. And I don’t mind. While one personality could have potentially obliterated the other, in fact, this revelation has made both somehow more vulnerable and relatable, and sagacious and intriguing. One persona nicely complements the other.
** Your admirers are legion—my competition—I know. What chance do I have? Luckily for me, loves like these need not be returned. In fact, we should probably keep whatever might happen between us here on this page anyway—I am a married man, Sugar, with a baby on the way. And you’re married, too, with kids. What would Mr. Sugar think?
*** This line, also coffee-mugged, is available for purchase here; bought with irony and presented as kitsch, or gifted from the heart, either way you call it, no matter, this would make a great stocking-stuffer.
**** My wife is still laughing at me. Don’t mind her, Sugar. She’ll come around. Everybody’ll come around. You’re already a bestseller on my list.
Craig Reinbold’s nonfiction appears in recent or forthcoming issues of the New England Review, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Post Road, High Country News, and a number of other more or less literary places.