Over the course of a summer, writer Kyla Marshell exchanged nearly 400 personal emails with a magazine editor she’d met only briefly. He was married; she had a boyfriend. He was white; she was Black. He had power; she had very little. What did it all add up to? What did their correspondence mean? Marshell interrogates the line between need and desire, beautifully conjuring a sense of precarity that will ring familiar to any reader who has been young, unmoored, and unsure where generosity ends and manipulation begins:
The boyfriend and relationship were my first, an imperfect test-run whose flaws I had discovered early on. But for years, I’d had a bad habit of cutting people off instead of dealing with the conflict; I was determined to stick it out, no matter how much it hurt. “So you think you and him are in it for the long haul?” the Editor wrote, late one evening in September. “Kids, house, the whole thing?”
“Yes,” I wrote back, because that was what I had taken up saying — that I wanted to be with my boyfriend forever. “Then so it will be,” the Editor replied from his side of town, putting his children to sleep or pouring his wife a glass of water or wine. Then so it will be is what you say to young people, whether five or 25, who believe things you know not to be true; then so it will be is a kind of grace.
To: The Editor
Subject: re: re: re: so
Message: Half of what makes me me is the audacity to do certain things; the other half is the sense not to.
I kept thinking about how much simpler things would have been if I were still a virgin. It hadn’t been that long ago — the inevitable impasse all my early relationships had come to because of it. Instead, he and I had before us the specter of sex, the will-they-won’t-they that had hung over boy-girl relations since time immemorial. Will they? I wondered when he told me about the Rumspringa from his marriage he’d been granted several years prior, after his second child was born — apparently, the point at which many men realize they’re fucked. Will they? I wondered, when I wrote that I’d been texting all day, and he asked why I hadn’t sent him any. Because you don’t have my number, I thought. Because I know how these things begin and we have already begun. Will they? I wondered, every time he made note that his wife and children were out of town. Will they? I wondered when I touched myself and his face was the face that sprang up.