I hate love stories. They require a dissociative break from reality. I can’t suspend my disbelief with I see the grand gestures of love, the borderline stalking, and the codependent behavior. When Tatiana Ryckman’s I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) (Future Tense Books, 2017) landed in my Facebook inbox, I was worried that I was about to read a love story. She’s been my favorite writer since I discovered her, and I was afraid I was going to lose the connection I had to her work.
To her testament, Tatiana got me to love the love story. The book quickly drops you into the lives of two characters (the main character and “The Other”). Tatiana effortlessly creates characters who lack gender and sexual identification. Her decision to make the characters nebulous allows for the reader to find themselves absorbed by the writing. You feel like the book wasn’t written for you but, instead, about you. Every page feels like a punch to the stomach.
Thankfully, this isn’t a gutless love story that turns villains into heroes. As I read from page to page, I was overcome with embarrassment for the characters and myself. The main character attempts to cobble together a love that isn’t there, and it reminded me of my own shortcomings and short-sighted tendencies when it comes to romance.
Tatiana doesn’t settle for just a love story. Quietly, in the background of the book, there’s a soft story about how love fits (or doesn’t fit) into our current world. Tatiana intertwines religion into the main character’s struggles:
Disappearing inside love was a habit they’d encouraged in my youth: ‘He who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit,’ First Corinthians read. A reminder that we are what we worship--a conveniently narrow separation between worshiping something bigger than ourselves and the best thing we can come up with.
The book also serves to remind us that no matter how aware or empathetic to the world we are, oftentimes it only serves as a commercial break from our self-obsessed (and loathing) lives:
I kept quoting this line while everyone on the Internet rallied against the ugliness of the world. I slotted concerns about police brutality and racism and rape and the lineage of injustice between thoughts of you. I kept quoting this line when I rolled over in the dark cloak of my own tendency toward self-destruction. Were you the rocks I elected to break myself against? Are we all as helpless as we feel—when we watch the news?
Somewhere between the embarrassment and humility the book brought me, I found the subtlest truth in a passage where the main character develops hives from touching poison ivy. These passages highlight the fragility of our ego, as well as our determination to be loved—even if it’s against our will:
You were on your way and I was sitting very still. I was not drawing the bathrobe. You were going to arrive after dinner because distance, because traffic. But there were more pressing concerns—the poison ivy spread. My fingers looked boiled. I worried over where the rash would appear next. The itch was retreating into something bearable, but unpleasant. Even with an injection at the ER, the creams and the pills, the situation was slow to improve. Saying “ER” was how I found myself insinuating my pain had credibility. It was the way I could say lease care. To say ook, I’m serious.
That’s a gut punch. All the memories of my histrionic actions that a begged for love flood my senses. And that’s why I love this real love story—because it didn’t turn out to be true.
You can find Mathew Serback's poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in [PANK], Requited Journal, Crack the Spine, Literary Orphans, and many other terrific publications.