Return to Sender

Posted on: February 6, 2014

The cold wind makes me rush into you, and I am well aware this heat between us is not passion. The force of your face toward mine causes my lips to retreat, and you to kiss meat-covered teeth. It’s awkward now. A fallen leaf scrapes a line between us on the concrete. All I can think is how glad I am that I drove. You say, "your lip is bleeding,” and I reply, "Oh," as I hurriedly lick the sweetness away. Our feet start moving because our tongues won't, and three years later we find my car. The night ends with a hug, I hold you too long, and rub your back as an apology for earlier. There are moments between seconds in which I do not want to let go. I do, though.

If only I’d met you before the ex...

But that doesn’t stop me from saying yes to a second date.


I write letters to my ex because I don’t know what to do with the leftovers. Just because he wrote an expiration date on the relationship doesn’t mean I have to throw us out.

I let my best friend read the letters.

You left because you think you don’t deserve me. You don’t. Now someone else is calling me beautiful, and it’s not the same, like when you speak a word over and over again until it no longer sounds like itself. Ex is a misnomer because it implies you aren’t a part of me anymore. There’s not a hole in me big enough to let you out.

She says to me, "I don't know how he can read those words and not respond."
I shrug, "You'd be surprised."

I know in the back of her head she wonders why I do it.
She hopes I receive a return letter, a late night phone call, an unfamiliar knock at my door.

She says, "I think you guys will end up back together."
I say, "No, we won't."

She envisions him reading my letters and six digit dialing me each time.
She doesn't imagine them left unopened, set ablaze on a pyre of cigarette butts and stale chewing gum.

And I can't lie; I can't say there isn't a part of me that indulges in the futile fantasies of failed romantic gestures suddenly being appreciated for their awkward beauty like all those John Hughes movies.

But that's not why I write him.


On the fourth date, you made love to me like broken light bulbs—properly screwed in socket, but never turning on. Walking home uterine contractions force out evidence of tonight’s event. I smiled because you didn't even notice I was bleeding, cried because despite my efforts even my biology will reject you. It reminded me of the time I was cooking eggs and as I broke one open, I noticed the yolk was red and thought oh, my! This egg has a heart. I whisked until it wasn't there anymore, but couldn't bring myself to pour it onto the hot, buttered skillet.

As I painted dotted lines on the sidewalk like a road marking machine, I wondered if it was a mercy not to be eaten, if I cut open my cramping belly would I find the yellow that was missing on that day?


Associations last longer than people.
Songs, smells, locations, a sock, your hair in my brush,
mother saying, "what happened to...?"

The awkwardness of my heart put back in my chest
where it was never meant to be again,
like when you accidentally use a toothbrush that's not yours,
and you know it because the bristles don't fit the grooves of your teeth the right way.

You don't exist anymore, but you live on in all these things,
like step children I want to give back
because they were never really mine.


By the tenth date you said “I love you.”

I convinced you that I was a contemporary woman and those words were meaningless predilections, overused and underrepresented in today's society. I suggested instead that we speak in code, and showed you affection in the only way I still could. In bed, as your body tensed, you said, “peanut butter,” and I said, “jelly.”

I wanted to say it back. In my dreams, I run wildly into the night and collide with you, full force destruction into five second flight, punching the ground, chortling bloody I love you’s. But he stole the phrase from me. Every story you've ever told that ended with the sudden stunning realization of absence, with I was going somewhere with that, is how I feel if I attempt to string those words together. I wish I could say this to you, but these words would give you hope that there could be something between us.

This morning, you woke up and found a note next to you that simply stated, I'm allergic to peanuts.


My mother has a friend who was electrocuted at the age of 9. The injuries she sustained led to her arms being amputated at the shoulder and hair only grew on one side of her head. She learned how to do everything with her feet; she flips burgers, writes down grocery lists, smokes cigarettes, and even drives a car. I wonder was it ever as hard for her not to be able to hold anyone as it was for me not to be held? Did she have a fear of zippers, of slow songs, of falling down? How could she be deformed and not broken?

The ticket ripper at the movie theater was so old that he had growths on his skin like grade school mold experiments and contorted knobby trees. He said, “theater 10 is to the right,” I wanted to respond with your death is showing, but instead said “thank you,” and went to learn what it’s like to watch a film alone. I write letters to myself now.

Written by: Monica Johnson
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

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