Carrie & Coki: Diaries Of Unrequited Whatever

Let me be clear: this is not a book review. I’ve never written a book review and I don’t intend to start now. This is simply a commentary on a book and the impact it had, very personally, on me. That said, there are “spoilers” I guess,  so don’t read this if you plan to read Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.

***

I read this book for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were my love of Carrie Fisher and my sentimentality over her death. I kept seeing reviews for this, her final book, in which she chronicles (among other things) her Star-Wars-era affair with Harrison Ford. Reviews for this book almost universally take on a fan-girl quality; fans and critics uniting in mutual enthusiasm: Han and Leia were together in real life! They describe the book as “intimate and hilarious,” “an amusing jaunt down memory lane,” “witty and authentic,” “funny and touching,” “packed with one-liners,” ……you get the idea. They see it as rollicking celebrity gossip, or “wish fulfilment for Star Wars fanatics,” which leaves me wondering if any of them actually read the book.

I found it irrevocably and unshakably heartbreaking.

The Princess Diarist is not what I expected. I still can’t decide if it’s even what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong here: Carrie Fisher did an excellent job with it. I loved the book. I’ve reread it three times now, color-coding it with post-its flags of my emotions, and I haven’t even owned it for very long. It’s full of emotion and heart and vulnerability, and it is, at various points, amusing and self-deprecating. But I’d never call it hilarious, or lighthearted.

As someone who also, at 19, had an affair with an older and unavailable man, someone who also kept a journal during the experience (and never again afterwards), I knew before I opened the book that I would relate to it. If I’m being honest, it was the primary reason I bought it. I assumed I’d recognize some emotional parallels between my situation and hers. Knowing Carrie Fisher’s personality, I was ready for a funny, lighthearted, straightforward, possibly self-deprecating approach to her own affair. I hoped it would give me perspective on my own.

Carrie Fisher’s 19-year-old self is full of insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. “I forgave him for not loving me in the way one usually expects,” she writes, “and almost forgave myself for not expecting it.” You experience her heartbreak as it’s happening, and all the while she pretends it doesn’t exist. The worst part of her descriptions is that she consistently tries to trivialize her own feelings, tries to pretend her vulnerability isn’t there. She mocks herself for having emotions, tries to put a comical spin on it, but it comes off much more like desperation than actual humor.

All I could see at first were the painfully obvious similarities. In so many cases, her journal could have been mine, and mine hers. Our nineteen-year-old selves would have either been friends (bonded by the mutual misery of secret-keeping and unrequited love), or hated each other (for being the physical embodiment of our own vulnerabilities). Eerily similar phrases popped up in our respective journals, so much so that I actually went and found my own so I could compare them. I guess insecure 19-year-olds who are in love with unavailable and inappropriate men are all remarkably similar. You can see those similarities for yourself in the quotes I’ve entered below — just a few selections out of dozens of nearly-identical phrases and emotions.

On those points where our stories diverged, however, I found myself inordinately jealous of Carrie’s experience when compared to my own.

Carrie describes Harrison as sullen and silent, disinclined to discuss their relationship or their future. Even as she fantasizes about a potential happily-ever-after future, she seems to accept that it will never happen, writing, “No one was telling anyone that they felt misunderstood and as such there wouldn’t be anything leaving-wise in his instance. So that was that.”

I wish I’d had such clarity at the time. My own Harrison was charming, funny, interesting, and often endearing. It made it difficult to know what he felt for me, or ultimately for anyone.

I tried to seem indifferent to him, Whatever, I know you won’t leave her so I’d never embarrass myself by asking you to, because I refused to ask him for more than we already had. I refused to be clingy, or needy, or to push any boundaries or ask anything that might make him leave. So I faked indifference, all while watching his every move and listening intently to his every word. My focus was entirely on him whenever he was nearby — not that I let him know it — because I constantly hoped that hidden within his words or actions would be some clue or hint that would indicate our future (or lack of one). A clear answer on this point, like Harrison’s refusal to discuss it, might have been the reality check I needed.

Then again, having read Carrie’s experience, I wonder if it would have made any difference at all.

“I was relieved when it ended,” Carrie writes. “I didn’t approve of myself.”

I didn’t either. I ended my affair multiple times. I’d walk away. I’d stop talking to him, wouldn’t go near him, wouldn’t interact with him at all. And then, for a multitude of reasons I could never quite define, it would start all over again. It was like magnets, or satellites — or, more accurately, like a slow-burn chemical reaction destined for an explosion at an indeterminate time.

“While there’s still time for Carrison to grow old together, that gateway is steadily closing,” Carrie mused. “If we’re going to get back together we’re going to have to do it soon.”

And this is the one that really broke my heart. Of all the phrases, all the emotions, all of the devastating musings of Carrie’s book, this present-day passing comment was the one that made me cry. Because here she is, all these years later, having at some point been married and had a child, and yet somewhere in her mind she still hoped that she and Harrison would end up together. Time and distance did nothing to erase that (admittedly dwindling) possibility. The fact that Carrie passed away after writing this book makes that dreamy, wishful sentence even more heart-wrenching.

I enjoyed the book, in the sense that it was very genuine, and very powerful, and very engaging.

But I’d never call it lighthearted. I’d never describe it as “amusing.” I wouldn’t diminish its power that way.

It’s an excellent read, I’ll tell people. And it’s heartbreaking.

[EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARIES OF CARRIE AND COKI]

Carrie: “…perhaps what disturbed Harrison was the implication that he was subsequently burdened with something very like responsibility, in that he had somehow been given a gift he hadn’t wanted or expected.”

Coki: “He seems to feel responsible for me, like I need education in all the ways I should stay away from men like him, all while being charming enough to keep me around.”

Carrie: “Harrison was on his lickety-split way to being everything to me.”

Coki: “I’m half in love with this man, and he isn’t mine. How’s that for absurd?”

Carrie: “How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me?”

Coki: “I don’t even know why he’s interested. Here I am, the nerdiest 19-year-old virgin you’re ever likely to find, and for some reason he thinks I’m something worth looking at. What??”

Carrie: “There were two reasons I wrote the diaries….it seemed to calm me, getting anything that might be chaotic behind the eyes onto the page in front of me where it could do me less harm….[and] I felt that I couldn’t confide in anyone else, because [he] was married. And not to me.”

Coki: “I have a lot on my mind and no good way to put it into words or explain it. And, after all, who the hell would I even explain it to? It’s not like I can go out for girl’s weekend and lament the tragedy of my love affair with [him].”

Carrie: “Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

Coki: “How did I arrive here, in this moment, loving this man who will never love me back? What choices did I make to get me here?”

Carrie: “He would wonder where I had been all his life and then recall with a bemused, ironic sinking feeling that I had yet to be born for much of it.”

Coki: “I get so angry with him sometimes because when we argue, he likes to dismiss my opinions as being ‘young’ or ‘naive.’ I am admittedly naive about this relationship, but not about much else, so it infuriates me. You picked ME, so don’t you dare act like my age is such a huge problem for you.”

Carrie: “The inevitability of his escape is most likely his most attractive feature.”

Coki: “It’s the chase. I tend to pick a guy who’s totally unobtainable and try to get him, like it’s a game, like no one’s going to be broken at the end.”

Carrie: “I’m quite sure, though, that if I had any principles what I’m doing now would violate almost all of them.”

Coki: “Of my top relationship rules, I’ve broken all of them….I shouldn’t have let it start in the first place.”

Carrie: “We could come to a full stop now if you think that would help. Because like any other B-movie heroine, I can’t go on like this. Can you understand? I don’t want to hurt you any more than I want you to hurt me. It’s now a question of surviving each other’s company instead of enjoying it.”

Coki: “This is wrong. I abuse myself for my own lack of morality every single day and yet I do nothing about it. I should walk away and never look back. So why do I let it continue? Why are there always people you can’t make yourself stay away from?”

Carrie: “I’m frightened of the power that he has over me and of how he will almost certainly abuse it, merely by not being fully aware he has it.”

Coki: “I can’t let him see that I want him more than he wants me. He could wreck me with a look, with a sentence, or with silence, and that’s the worst part of this whole thing.”

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Advice To My Younger Selves

Dear 19,

I know you feel like you’re coming apart at the seams,

shadowed eyes and bloody fingernails,

sleepless nights and bruises and whiskey,

and they all want to pretend they don’t see what he’s doing.

But help will come from unexpected places,

so when you hear sirens, I promise,  it’s the beginning of the end.

Don’t let go. Keep fighting, every single day;

put that blade away in a drawer,

and I promise, you will make it through.

Dear 20,

I know he seems kind, after all you’ve been through,

but he has secrets of his own

so I advise you to go looking for his skeletons

and don’t wait for them to arrive on your doorstep.

Listen to his words but pay more attention to his actions,

and you’ll discover who he becomes when no one is looking.

PS – If you’re wondering, he is. Trust me.

Dear 21,

He doesn’t love you, (no, he doesn’t)

and I know that won’t stop you from trying,

but when he promises forever,

protect your heart a little better.

Don’t let him leave you sitting alone and silent,

and yell at him, this time, before he slams the front door.

Straighten your spine and know that you will be smarter, next time,

With whose hands you lay your heart in.

Dear 22,

Of all the things you will feel in this life,

This one is the hardest, I swear.

Breathe. Cry. Breathe.

Feel all the things you need to feel.

Don’t fight it, let it out; yell whenever you need to.

Trust me, you’ll need to.

It gets easier every day. I promise.

Dear 23,

When you’re feeling apprehensive about that date,

it’s for a reason — don’t go.

You’ll make decisions you shouldn’t have,

have conversations you’ll wish you hadn’t,

and you will be in tears by the end.

Give yourself a little more time to heal,

Being in love is not a tax you pay to exist.

Dear 24,

It’s going to be a tough year for you,

But you’ll survive it just fine.

Take your control back.

Be self-assured even when you don’t feel that way.

Fight for the things you’ve earned; make people hear you,

and if you don’t get what’s yours,

make sure you go down swinging.

midnight train

your love

and my love

ride different trains

Your love pulls me in,

invites me to your problems,

includes me in your fears,

drags me into fights.

My love protects you from harm,

covers your ears at loud noises,

stands before you when bombs detonate,

throws up shields when words attack.

Your love buries its hooks into my skin,

tugs at my hair,

burrows into my chest,

bites at my lips.

My love is committed,

building you a fire,

wrapping you in blankets,

saving you from drowning.

Your love is involved,

clawing for favors,

pulling skeletons from closets,

dragging me to the bottom of the ocean.

My love is

protection

warmth

future

Your love is

fear

desperation

now

your love

and my love

ride different trains

can’t

get

off

this

ride

kerosene-soaked bridges

The truth is, I know when I’m setting fires.

I watch myself light matches,

I let the smoke rise, I let the flames catch.

Knowing I should put it out.

Knowing I won’t even try.

Because I want to see what happens next.

Don’t burn your bridges, they say,

but I build mine of kerosene-soaked timber

and laugh as they are destroyed.

We can all pretend we don’t see it coming but

I do — I see — and I stand in the ashes when it’s over.

You can’t blame flames for destroying,

for consuming everything they touch.

Can’t blame me for standing transfixed

As pieces of my world break apart,

watching it fall into a storm-wrecked sea below.

Destruction fascinates.

Even though you won’t admit it,

even whispered to yourself in a dark room,

even when consequences hang in the air all around you.

You know it — you feel it — you see it all the time.

The twisted metal of a car you weren’t in.

Clothes ripped in half, because taking it off was taking too long.

The shadow-pain you feel when pressing on a bruise.

Glass shattering into a fragile spiderweb.

You can’t look away.

You want to.

I don’t.

I know I’m causing destruction,

I just like to watch.

Guest Writer: Sidney Allen Quaid

Relationships are like winging a recipe.

You know they should be healthy, so you reach for whole wheat flour.

You know they should be sweet, so you add some sugar.

But if you put in salt by mistake, you can’t take it out. You can’t take anything out once it’s in the bowl. You can only keep adding to it until you can’t taste the salt anymore.

But sometimes, nothing you add can drown out what’s been put in. You’re stuck adding things one after another until it becomes a total mess.

Sometimes the only way to get rid of the bitterness in your batter is to throw it away.

-Sidney Allen Quaid

libraries

step into my office and

see how our stories live,

not interconnected webs

but unique entities,

rows of mismatched novels

lining mahogany shelves.

circumstance alters which shelf we sit upon,

whose covers rest against our skin,

how intimately we let them touch us.

you can build a book together,

you will hold chapters of other names,

you will contain multitudes,

but other stories do not become yours

you do not become theirs.

go somewhere new and suddenly

your shelf shifts,

tipping you into a pile of strangers

all touching, piled around,

but not becoming, not intertwining.

and then your cover slips, for just a moment,

and you allow them to read some pages

not those ones

just a few here and there,

let them see the parts you like best,

close it again before they see too much.

sometimes you rest against

a story, a shelf, a life

that changes the rest of yours.

but they do not have the power

they do not have you

you have not become one another.

touch them, witness their lives,

let them read yours

until you can’t make eye contact anymore

and know

know

that you are a story, a life

a complete entity.

and know beyond doubt that

even

broken,

you

are

whole.

I Didn’t Want To

I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I dragged the words up
from the pit in my stomach,
fighting them, pushing them away from me.
The first time I said it, the story collided
with the horror, the empathy,
the well-intentioned pity
on the face of a friend.
You have to tell it again, she said,
you
have
to
make
him
pay.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
I stared at perfect creases
in dark blue uniforms
and vomited the words again and again.
Bright white flashes in a cold room,
photos of the ink-like stains on my skin.
Cold metal under my fingernails,
dry cotton inside my cheek,
sterile fingers pulling at my hair,
taking more pieces of me.
You have to tell it again, they said,
you
have
to
be
strong
now.

 

So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
A suit and tie I’d never met
asked for details no one would remember
but I tried, I tried, I tried.
I watched his furious scribbling
and, knowing the stakes, recalled
every single hurt that I could.
My hands suffered from aftershocks
so I hid them, clenched in my lap,
burying my shame and weakness.
You have to tell it again, the suit said,
you
have
to
prove
it
happened.
So I said the words.
I didn’t want to.
Everyone rose for a man in black robes
and we began their war of credibility.
He’s there, right there, at the corners of my vision
and suddenly my skin is made of glass,
ready to shatter if anyone presses too hard —
they’re all pressing too hard — this is all too hard —
I just want to go home.
Their questions imply things of me,
Asked-for-it / deserved-it / wanted-it / liked-it.
I feel their words pouring over me,
try not to breathe them in,
hope that I can reach the shore before I drown.
I tread water for hours, days, a week,
Before a dozen strangers come back.
You have to say it again, said the man in robes.

Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
Guilty
“GUILTY.”

They said a word.
They heard all of my words
and gave me back just one,
and that word was supposed to give me more,
give back the pieces of myself that I lost.
But my stomach feels empty without that pit in it.
What now?
The chains tethering me to that moment
have finally been unlocked;
I don’t have to tell it again.
There’s no one left to make me say the words.
So I wonder:
was
saying
the
words
worth
it?

…..let me

Let me complicate you.

Let me breathe smoke into your lips,
and feel it as your tongue touches poison.
Let me snap the padlock of your standards,
cross the line, invade you, change the way you see.
Let me draw a blade along your spine,
watch the bloody dewdrops march along behind.
Let me ruin sex for you, forever,
because you can’t let go unless you might die from it.
Let my eyes whisper sins,
and awaken the dragon who sleeps inside you.
Let my hands paint a story,
overlapping circles of black and blue.
Let me take an axe to your ethics
and revel in the purity of destruction.
Let me light a match and touch it to your skin,
see you feel the sting and the surprise.
Let me feel it when your boundaries bend,
when you touch, even knowing you shouldn’t.
Let me take you to forbidden places,
where backs arch but you have to stay quiet.
Let me watch as you realize
there are bells you can’t unring.

Let me complicate you.

 

 

Brace For Impact

They are flying.

Forty feet between their shoes and the ground.

They feel so free.

How funny, then, that all that stops their freefall is a cage.

Metal grates that are painted black but never quiet.

Footsteps vibrate the length of the paths.

Unless, like they have, you’ve learned to step softly.

He stands behind her, has her bent over the railing.

Their silhouettes merge and separate and merge again.

A sound escapes her and his hand covers her mouth.

Their shapes move faster.

The metal grates shift beneath them. Neither cares.

Faster.

They can hear others, down below. It adds to the high.

Faster.

She cries out against his fingers.

He slides his hands to her throat, gripping, still moving against her.

Her hands curl around the rail.

He gives a quick shout, releases her.

The two shadows separate for a moment as they dress.

He steps forward, whispers something against her ear.

Then he shoves her as hard as he can.

He watches her tumble over the rail.

Forty feet, he thinks.

Brace for impact.

this game called “when we catch fire”

I’ve heard people say that it’s awful watching an ex be happy with someone else, especially when you’re miserable yourself. But I wonder if it’s worse when the opposite is true.

What’s worse: Watching someone you love be happy with someone else, while you’re miserable? Or watching them be miserable with someone else, while you’re happy?
I don’t have an answer for that. I guess it depends on how much you loved them. Or rather, what kind of love you felt for them. Whether you subscribe to “true love comes once in a lifetime,” or if you’re more into “if you love something, set it free.”

I set you free. You ended things, and I made it simple for you to walk away. I didn’t fight you, I didn’t stop you, I didn’t cry and guilt-trip and complain. It hurt like hell, but I made damn sure you’d closed the front door behind you before I let any tears fall. Because I knew you believed it was what you wanted — and I probably knew, even then, that we weren’t right for each other. Not in the ways that mattered, not enough for forever. Love, ultimately, wasn’t going to be enough to save us in the end — whenever the end came for us. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same, after all.

Fast-forward four years. It took me a long time to get past it, past you. Arguably, in some ways, I’m still not entirely over it — I admit a strong case can be made, given the fact that I’m writing this to you now. But now — four years after you walked out, after I went through hell and high water, through the literal hardest decision of my life — I can say I am, at the very least, at peace when it comes to you.

And here’s the crazy thing: I’m happy. Happier than I ever was with you, happier than I’ve ever been with anyone else. He challenges me, and makes me laugh, and pushes me to do better. It’s the first time I haven’t wanted to run. The first time it hasn’t terrified me to talk about the future. The first time I believe I have one.

But I still watch you,
(I loved you so much then that if you had asked, I’d have married you. It would have been a mistake, and it probably wouldn’t have lasted very long (that’s if we even made it to the altar, which I doubt more and more as I get older), but I would have said yes. I said yes to you even when I had doubts piling up around me like storm clouds, because I loved you too much to let them scare me away. Because I had fought too hard for you to let you go so easily)
and I don’t think you’re happy.

You left me, and six months later, you were engaged. Just like that. Ready to spend forever with someone else, after years with me. Years of “us.”

It broke me. I won’t lie to you because after everything you and I shared, you deserve better than lies. (You may deserve a few big ones just for the sake of balance, but I’ll resist the temptation). You broke my heart. I’ve never felt actual pain in my chest, never understood why they call it heartbreak, until you. Hearing you were getting married so fast hurt even worse than when you left. Of all the ways we’ve hurt each other over the years, that was the worst of it. That casual sentence, that flippant comment about your fiance when I didn’t even know you’d started dating again, broke me — in a lot of ways, for a long time. You’ll never understand how much. I’d never admit the extent of it.

But several months passed, and when I decided to remove you from my life for good, the farewell letter I wrote told you that I hoped you’d be happy. I wished you the best. And as much as I’ve gone back and forth about that sentiment since then — as many days as I spent full of hurt and anger, where I wanted to be vindictive and take that back — I can honestly say that I meant it. If you weren’t happy with me, I loved you enough to actually hope that you’d be happy with someone else. With this other woman, whoever she was.

So I still watch you.
Because I loved you once. Because your life and your happiness still matter to me, even if I’m not a part of either one anymore.
I check in on your life, now and again. I don’t contact you, I don’t intrude, I don’t even ask other people about you. I just check around, see what I can find, make a mental note of any major updates.
(Partially so that if I ever run into you, and you tell me these things, it won’t be the first I’m hearing of it and you won’t have to watch the emotion brewing in my eyes.)

Your engagement photos were the first place I saw it: you were uncomfortable.
In all those photos where you should have been huggy and kissy and all a-twitter with love, you looked…stuck. Like someone had asked you to pose in a photo with someone you barely knew. Like you didn’t know how to stand, or where to look, or what to do with your hands. When to hold her, how to look at her, where to touch her.
Some of that was just you; you always hated photos. But it got me wondering. It’s the first time I questioned that maybe you chose the wrong woman….again.

I wasn’t right for you either, I know that now. But we talked about getting married often enough that I knew what you wanted. We agreed on an old beautiful barn, with exposed beams and hardwood floors. You wanted bare lightbulbs hung in strands across the beams. Acoustic guitar and shoes kicked off, warm soft colors and everyone singing along to our first dance. Just the two of us, in a theatre of our own making — where, for one day, we’d been cast as the leads.

I saw your wedding photos. That was the second place I saw it, or rather, didn’t see it: I didn’t see your touch on anything. I saw stark white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, crisp white tablecloths, shiny silver chairs — this buttoned-up, banquet-hall, country-club wedding. It looked flashy and expensive and cold, and you were nowhere. I didn’t see your warm lights, your soft comfortable colors, your hardwood floors. Your personality was strapped into an immaculate three-piece suit that someone chose for you, and I looked straight past you in all the photos because you weren’t even present. Someone took a cookie cutter to you and kept cutting pieces away until you fit. Until you were just the groom, irrelevant; just stand on your mark and pose. Your personality, your laughter, your warmth and charm, were invisible in that clean white spotlight.

Those pictures made me sad, but not for me. This time, I hurt for you. I wondered whether you were happy with your choice, or if you just wanted to be married so badly that the bride and the wedding and the photos didn’t even matter. Where was my laughing carpenter, full of bravado, who always smelled like sawdust, and smiled at me across rooms and winked? Where was the mischief and quirkiness that I used to know so well?
It was supposed to be the happiest day of your life — where was all your joy and anticipation?
I didn’t see you in any of your wedding photos, and it made me impossibly sad. I had hoped to see your smile again, the genuine one that started from your eyes.

When you bought your house, you were so excited to show me around. We walked through the back gate and around the yard and through the bedrooms. You kissed me in the kitchen and we watched Pulp Fiction on a mattress on the basement floor. We watched Blues Brothers curled up on the couch in the living room, and laid in your bed reading books late at night. We watched fireworks from your front steps and ate ice cream sitting by your garden in the backyard. You were building your man-cave in the basement, planting herbs in the garden out back, and getting a dog now that you had a fenced-in yard. You were so in love with it, every part of it. You said you wanted to spend forever in that house.

A month ago, you sold it.
I checked in on your life, expecting things to be the same, and saw it for a third time: the loss of you. Your house, I learned, isn’t yours. That house that you loved so much was just…..left empty.
I am that house. Loved, cherished, altered; then abandoned for something new. Part of you, loved by you….and then, all at once, not yours anymore. I felt the loss of that piece of you.
And I knew, the way you know from “hello” that a friend is upset, that it wasn’t your idea. I knew with every fiber of my being that someone else made that call. Maybe they even convinced you it was your idea. But I am absolutely certain that, isolated from outside influence, you wouldn’t have let it go.
I don’t know how many pieces of yourself you’d be willing to give up, for the sake of “happiness.”

I often wonder about your life, wonder if you’re okay. I hope you’re happy, even though that would hurt me too. But I would rather know you’re smiling somewhere, that everything you and I went through counted for something, that we both arrived at happiness somehow. If you’re miserable, I can’t — shouldn’t want to — save you. I can’t contact you, because I swore I wouldn’t. If you’re unhappy, it is of your own making, and there is nothing I could or should do to change that.

But the fact that I loved you for so long makes it hard to watch you be unhappy.