A Letter to My Ex-Boyfriend in Prison After I Stopped Sending Him Letters

Hey! It’s me. Long time no talk. I changed my phone number — and yes, you’re the reason why. You wouldn’t stop calling me, specifically from the cell phones you smuggle into prison, and it had been ten years. Ten years. We talked for over ten years.

First, I want you to know it’s a huge pain in the ass to change your phone number! I had had that number since I was 12. And my new number — with a New York area code — used to belong to someone who must be very religious, because her friends and family are always texting me about God and His plan and have a blessed Easter blah blah blah. I always feel like a dick responding “Sorry, wrong number!” Although I hold back the temptation to add “Also, God isn’t real! LOL”

You are who taught me that actually, that God isn’t real. All those nights you called me when you were on acid. We were only 15 — and 16 and 17 and 18 — those calls went on for a while. But it was the first ones, the ones when we were teenagers, about the universe and second lives and dreams — those were the ones that taught me. Remember when you were tripping and thought I was literally coming out of the poster on your wall?

So how are you? I’m assuming the same. I haven’t seen you since… well, over FaceTime, around three years ago now. You FaceTimed me from your prison cell on a smuggled phone. I met your cellmate, Louis, and you gave me a tour of your cell as if it was MTV Cribs. “Welcome to the pad,” you said, and I laughed from my bedroom eight states away. “We used to have a rug that really brought the room together, but someone stole it.” Your door was locked most of the day because you and Louis were on probation — on top of being in prison, you were in more trouble. You showed me how you “cook”: wires from an outlet stuck out of the wall, which you had clipped and stuck into a Tupperware of water. This electrocutes the water to make it boil, you told me. Louis was cooking you ramen. But what alarmed me most was not this explosive contraption, or the stab wound in your leg, or the illuminati tattoo you gave yourself on your arm or that the toilet was right next to your makeshift stove, but your fingers. Your fingers were brown. When I asked why, you explained that you smoke out of used coffee filters, and over time your fingers become seeped and stained with the deep, rusted tints of coffee. I can’t believe you used to touch me with those fingers. I can’t believe after all this time, you are still not sober.

Anyway, I’m good. Still in New York. Still not sure what I’m doing with my life. I live in Brooklyn, by the park. I have gotten really into plants! I have nearly 30 now. Speaking of 30, can you believe we’re almost 30? Your birthday is coming up — next week actually. I used to write you letters for such occasions. I’d print your inmate number on the envelope and send it off, the return address my roommate’s P.O. box for her job, because I thought when you got out you might just show up at my door one day. And they say our generation doesn’t know anything about mail.

Oh, I did shrooms finally! The other weekend, in upstate New York. I loved them, as you always said I would. Hate to admit it, but *you were right*. I want to do them again, but not too many times because I think your brain can get stretched out that way. That’s what I think happened to your brain. How else does someone decide to give themself an illuminati tattoo?

I do hate you, you know that? I hate you for what you did to my brain. I hate you for all the other stuff too, for the bruises you made on my skin, for clamping my hair straightener down on my arm, and especially for that time in Blockbuster when you twisted my wrist until I said “uncle.” That fucking hurt, you idiot. I hate you for making me stand in place while you threw broken glass at my legs. But what I hate you for the most is what you did to my brain, because you broke it, and it has been annoying and expensive to fix.

Maybe I should Venmo request you for brain repairs, for the therapy I’ve gone through because of you. Do you even have Venmo? Are you even still in prison? Are you alive?

I went to the ER the other day because I thought I had broken a rib. Turns out it wasn’t broken — embarrassing, I know. Don’t tell anyone. In my defense I went to Urgent Care first and they told me it looked broken and to go to the ER. And anyway, I thought about you a lot while I was waiting in the hospital with my unbroken rib, because there were so many times I got a call from you from the emergency room. The time you were on acid and broke your leg, badly, and you told me that you saw my face in the pool of blood collecting by your side (which I’ve still never figured was a compliment or not). The time you did too much heroin. The time you attempted suicide.

I haven’t Googled you recently. I think that’s for my own good. Google is, after all, how I found out you where you were. I called the jail from the article I found about your stupid crime. You were there, although the article was from months ago, just counting the days until prison. And because I was young and very dumb, I asked if it was possible to speak to you. I could hear the woman on the phone roll her eyes. “This isn’t a hotel ma’am,” she said. “You can write him a letter.”

You told me I was the only person who ever wrote you letters besides your grandma, MiMi. How is MiMi by the way? Please tell her that I’m sorry if I let her down. I know for a time she believed I could help you. She thought I might be able to convince you to take your medicine, to stop using and to take care of yourself. But I couldn’t and she couldn’t, and I guess you couldn’t either. Maybe you still can? I told you I would never give up on you, but eventually not giving up on you meant giving up on me.

It’s been years now since I’ve written to you. I have finally moved on — outgrew you. But you are sealed in me a way I can’t quite explain, I think because we met when we were young, in the ocean, when you asked to borrow my boogie board, our hair both long and braces across our teeth. I think you can’t forget that person. Besides, adolescent brains aren’t fully developed; they’re caught in the waves of maturity, dangerous syntheses of blooming hormones and fluttering synapses. My brain formed — finalized — with you in it.

The question I wrestled with the most when I changed my phone number was if it would mean missing The Call. The one where someone, probably MiMi, would tell me in her exhausted, southern voice that you had finally, successfully died. In an overdose or act of violence, or your mental illness got the best of you. I can’t let it get the best of me too anymore. God, maybe I should believe in God.

But anyway, it doesn’t matter that I changed my number because you found me on Facebook. And you will probably continue to find me across the internet — there are only so many ways you can hide in the present. But I’m not writing back anymore, okay? I forgive you, whether or not I should. Go on now. I’ll see you in the next life, maybe.

I live in Atlanta and write satire and memoir. I have been described as having a heart of gold with a big black spot on it.