To: The Price of Salt
c/o Patricia Highsmith
Dear The Price of Salt,
I ached when I read you. I am aching still, thinking about it. Was it really just a few days ago when we said our goodbyes?
You gave me Therese, and I love her. I love that you let me get so close to her, allowing me to see her interior life as clearly as the exterior. Therese’s sensitivity so often mirrored my own, it felt like a bell ringing.
If she ever had an impulse to tell Carol, the words dissolved before she began, in fear and in her usual mistrust of her own reactions, the anxiety that her reactions were like no one else’s, and that therefore not even Carol could understand them.
I love the way she loves, deep and effusive, not holding any part of herself back.
I feel I am in love with you, she had written, and it should be spring. I want the sun throbbing on my head like chords of music. I think of a sun like Beethoven, a wind like Debussy, and birdcalls like Stravinsky. But the tempo is all mine.
And the courageous impossible steps it takes to translate enormous personal feeling into something that is sayable.
In the middle of the afternoon, she went down to the first floor and bought a card in the greeting-card department. It was not a very interesting card, but at least it was simple, in plain blue and gold. She stood with the pen poised over the card, thinking of what she might have written—“You are magnificent” or even “I love you”—finally writing quickly the excruciatingly dull and impersonal: “Special salutations from Frankenberg’s.” She added her number 645-A in lieu of a signature.
But you know, I have read many stories like that, many beautiful words about love. Many courageous acts. But yours were different.
Your words were not just about love, but about what happens when you love someone, and there is an imbalance of power, and you are on the least powerful side. It is excruciating, and you cannot do anything about it.
Carol was looking for something in the refrigerator, and watching her, Therese failed to hear all of what Abby said next, or maybe it was another of the fragmentary sentences that Carol alone understood, but it made Carol straighten up and laugh, suddenly and hard, and Therese thought with sudden envy, she could not make Carol laugh like that, but Abby could.
There is a desperation, and a vigilance. You look for clues that your love is returned, or that it isn’t. You notice the tiniest gestures, things that would have meant nothing to you before. Now they mean everything. And what do they mean?
“I can do it in three minutes with a taxi. But I don’t think you will wait for me, will you?”
Carol smiled and reached for her hand. Indifferently, Carol squeezed her hand and dropped it. “Yes, I’ll wait.”
The bored tone of Carol’s voice was in her ears as she sat on the edge of the taxi seat. On the way back, the traffic was so slow, she got out and ran the last block.
Carol was still there, her coffee only half finished.
“I don’t want my coffee,” Therese said, because Carol seemed ready to go.
The evidence of ambivalence adds up, and you become afraid that you can never be loved as fiercely as you love. That you can never be as close as you want to be. That you can never be as important to this person as they are to you.
Was life, were human relations like this always, Therese wondered. Never solid ground underfoot. Always like gravel, a little yielding, noisy so the whole world could hear, so one always listened, too, for the loud, harsh step of the intruder’s foot.
But sometimes, the sun is shining, and their eyes are shining, and they are shining for you.
I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched, and you are raining down upon me.
You live for this, and yes, it is enough.
“I wonder if I’ll ever want to create anything again,” she said.
“What brought this on?”
“I mean—what was I ever trying to do but this? I’m happy.”
Thank you again for our time together. You reminded me again, how helpless we all are in the face of love. No one is immune, not one person. You may have made my heart ache, but you soothed it, too. I won’t soon forget it.
Note to reader: Remember, books are non-monogamous. If you’re intrigued by this love letter, consider this a personal introduction to The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. You two can take it from here.
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