The following message is brought to you by Nizza, are you one of those people who thinks it's OK to drive stoned? What's the worst that can happen? You end up driving below the speed limit. It's no big deal, right? Wrong. The truth is your reaction times slow way down when you're high. You not only put yourself in danger, but everyone around you talk about a buzz kill.
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If you feel different, you drive different, drive high, get a DUI. From the cut and Gimlet Media, this is the cut on Tuesdays, I'm your host, Molly Fisher. Old emails are a fossil record of our lives, the constant, everyday, boring things, the big dramatic once in a lifetime things they're all in.
They're trapped like ammonites in the sediment of your inbox. Some of those emails are probably things you sent without even really meaning to. So I was in my freshman year of college and I had to undergo kidney surgery. My intention was to email my professor with I am afraid that I won't be able to attend class due to surgery. However, I hit send too quickly and just said I am afraid so. He e-mailed me back and said, it's OK.
That was one of the many messages we got when we asked our listeners for stories about email gone wrong. The thing is, it's so easy to hit send and once you do, the results are preserved forever. And now it's the end of the year, the end of the decade, the end of the show, the perfect time to do some digging. In general, how do you feel about, like, looking back through old emails?
Oh, my God, I hate it because I'm a really impulsive emailer.
This is Allison Davis, a writer at The Cut, the old common therapist's advice, which is sit down, write the email that you want to send and then don't hit send. I only do half of that. I sit down and I write the feelings email and then no matter what, I'll send it.
If I look back at the long, my long Gmail sent inbox or whatever, I do see some growth was there before I would send these emails that were just like deranged and like, in what way? Well, like, they're clearly like I was too emotional and there were misspellings and like no punctuation and like a serial killer off the email about like feelings like and then just click, you know, like sentence fragments everywhere. Value having once edited me now.
Well, imagine being my ex-boyfriend and getting it in an email format like three thirty in the morning.
Take me through a little bit your email writing process. If you're writing a deranged email, do you sit down and like, is it just stream of consciousness? Do you have mental like bullet points you're going to be going through?
Like, how do you approach it? It is the it is a little bit of stream of consciousness. But also, like I think I think I take a moment to really think about it. I like my four points.
And then so, for example, like hypothetically, what might those four points be?
You hurt my feelings. Here's how you hurt my feelings.
This is why our relationship is so beautiful. How dare you hurt my feelings? Fuck you. At least if you send an insane letter by mail, you never have to look at it again.
Whatever you wrote, it's gone. This is unfortunately not the case for email.
So I have a habit of I guess it's more like a coping mechanism, but I'm really embarrassed by emails that I have sent or receive. I just like delete them and it's so hard to really fully delete things and Gmail. I will go through every step possible to make sure it is eradicated from existence.
What are the places where you have to go to try to achieve that?
It's not that hard, but like delete it and then go to your trash and then delete it again. OK? Yeah, yeah. You've got to do the two step URLs. It's still it's working Handschuh.
You can be as thorough as Alisson and still stumble on an emotional time capsule now and then. Poking around old email is weird because it can take you from a cathartic outpouring to a banal workplace update to a cryptic inside joke in three clicks. And sometimes even the messages that don't seem like much on the surface can bring it all flooding back the coffee shop where you used to camp out and study the radiator sounds in your first apartment. How it felt when the people who became your friends weren't quite your friends yet.
What were you doing this time last year or two years ago or ten?
Even if you don't keep a diary, you've got email. For this week's episode, we decided to ask some of our favorite people to go back to the email fossil record and unearth a message that did that for them, something that captured an era in their lives. What's changed, what hasn't and how they think about it all now.
So my friends had gone to university. I had stayed behind because I had applied to university and not going into the universities I wanted to get into. So instead I applied to work at this bank. I was Beaubois. This is Mona Chalabi. She's the data editor at The Guardian.
And the email she chose came from 2006 when she just graduated from high school and she was feeling stuck.
So I would just like write a ton of emails to anyone who would like write me back. I guess it sounds really, really pathetic.
This was not how Mona had thought her life after high school was going to look, she'd studied hard. She'd gotten good grades. Her parents had immigrated to London from the Middle East. And as soon as she was born, they'd started setting aside money to pay for Oxford or Cambridge.
Take me back to the mindset of, you know, high school age. Mona, what did going to Oxford or Cambridge mean to you? How did you think about it?
It meant, hmm, it always felt like it would have meant that I'd won something. And I don't mean one like a game, a fluke.
I mean, like come first in the race, applying to Oxford or Cambridge works a little differently than applying to an American college. The interview isn't just an optional schmooze with some alum. It's a big deal.
I had gone to Topshop with my sister before I went to Oxford for this interview and we had spent quite a few days crafting exactly what I was going to wear that was going to convey like class and sophistication and intelligence. And I had like these fake pearls. What was the outfit? What was the outfit describe? It was these tartan trousers that were like bellbottoms, a black turtleneck and impose. Oh, God. It's like literally what a child would dress their barhopping if they wanted to be like clever bear.
Anyway, his parents going to Oxford, but Mona had made it past the first hurdle just by getting invited to interview.
But as soon as she walked into the waiting room, she saw how far she still had to go. Straight away.
I walk in and there's I think there were maybe 30 of us that were going for about three places or something like that.
And it was me, a black woman, who instantly we just like hung out and everyone else was white, but more than white. It was the way that they spoke. Like, so funny how in America I just read as posh because, like, you know, Americans can't really necessarily figure out the difference.
We have no clue. Yeah, you sound quite fancy. Does I am not fancy. You know, like there's a difference. It's so funny. It's all in the. Yes. So like people from where I'm from I like. Yeah. And people who are super posh say ya and they were literally when you go to university they're called the yours.
Really. Yeah. The posh people are called jobs before ya and they literally you walked in, it was like Heibel and they're like ya.
And you're like oh no, I'm like they were all yours and like and I just remember being so painfully aware of my race and class in a way that I hadn't been up till then because I'd grown up in London, I'd grown up with people who were from the same social class as me.
Mona wasn't poor, but the yards were from a different world entirely. They hadn't even bothered to dress up. That was how sure they felt that they belonged.
Sitting in that room wearing her Topshop pants, Mona felt like she'd walked into a game she didn't know how to play. She didn't even know the rules.
So the previous person came out and I walk in and there's a couch for you to sit on and the coffee table is pushed up against the couch. So you can't sit on the couch without moving the coffee table. That was deliberately done between each candidate because the previous candidate couldn't have left the room without the coffee table being away from the couch. And it's moved next to the couch to see, are you going to move the coffee table without asking, are you going to ask for permission or are you just going to be really awkward about it?
Like, do you have enough confidence to walk into a room and say what you need? Wow. Yeah. And I didn't that's not my what did you what did you do? Oh, my God. It was ridiculous. Like, I wish I could like imagine emergency room exam.
OK, well, I'm kind of like, well, Mona was describing this to me. She got out of her chair in the studio and started to squeeze back in from the side over the arm.
So you're like slither into the couch sideways so as not to disturb the whole interview. Like, yes. Like reclining my lips, hanging off the couch, going like it's not my thing to move. Oh, God. And I remember, like, a voice in my head just being like, this is over. I knew from the interview that I absolutely had gotten in.
By the time the actual rejection letter arrived, it felt like a formality, which was how she found herself working at a bank, emailing anyone who'd write back.
So I sent this email in August 2006. I was nineteen at the time to give some context. While I was working, they finally decided to reapply to university. I realised that quite quickly while I was working in the bank, I was like, I'm not ready for the world of work.
She really applied to colleges and only gotten into her safety school. Now she had to decide whether she'd take another year and reapply yet again. This was the question she pondered as she slogged through her job.
There were many subject lines on this thread. This particular one was hyper. I think a subsequent one was alive and dying. OK, so that sets the tone. It does. It does, yeah.
Burt was a friend and former co-worker. The two of them used to gripe and gossip and generally get each other through the workday. Now, Bert had escaped to life beyond the bank, leaving Mona behind.
But at the risk of feeling like I'm in some Vieaux American rom com while sitting at my desk, your email made me laugh and cry alternately and continually. She and Burt had been emailing for a while about what she should do, but Mona felt like she'd reached a breaking point.
There comes a time when you realize that the one trait in which you had faith in yourself is actually inherently weak and not just naturally, but also through your own sloth. I can either take another year out and swallow unbelievable self humiliation at the hands of my foes, reapply and try for Oxbridge. And when I say Oxbridge, that's like British. OK, you guys in Cambridge and Oxford. Yeah.
And try for Oxbridge and maybe even the Americas with an unchanged personal statement or succumb to the brutal knowledge that I am simply not good enough and embrace a new, more lowly me. I know I sound like an idiot and you're thinking that I'm a narrow minded snob, but that isn't the point. I'm still a little hazy as to what exactly the point is, but it's there somewhere.
I could also just turn my back on the notion of university altogether. Anyway, thanks again. I'll let you know what I decide to do, hanging over those cliff jump, etc, etc.. So how do you feel re reading that email now?
I know it just sounds so gross. I sound so gross talking like I there's still this narration of me being like. So at the time I had gone to high school I was like really, really smart at my high school. Right. And like people all around me had said, you can get into this university. My teachers had said to me, like, you deserve to be here.
And at the time that I've written this email, which is a year after that rejection, when I'm going through it all over again, the voice of my stupid on my kleva, that Push-Pull just got louder and louder.
And I actually think it's that the voice of maybe I am clever has just gotten super, super quiet. I just remember how strong the craving was, circa like ages 15 to 18 for like just some external validation that seemed objective, that it was good enough and I'm going to succeed. What counts for you now when it comes to sort of like assessing success or like assessing like what it takes for you to feel like you're doing what you want to do and you are satisfied?
I've let go of the idea that success is something measurable, like I don't think I don't think I'll ever feel like I've succeeded truly. Yeah, yeah, it's like when will you ever feel like you've succeeded? No, totally. I think that if anything is like what you have to grow out of, because it was this fantasy that like there was some thing letter you could receive in the mail that would tell you you were a success and then it would be settled and you wouldn't have to worry so much anymore.
And in fact, no matter what, whether you get the letter or don't, you're going to be worrying again.
Yeah. Today, Mona is a data journalist. And I can say this because I'm not her. She is quite successful at what she does. But the path from self doubting, 19 year old successful 32 year old did not pass through Oxbridge.
And instead she worked at a bank, went to her safety school, dropped out, moved to France. None of it looked how she assumed it would as a teenager.
Is there anything that, like you would want now to tell your younger self or that like you feel like it would have helped you to know then?
No, I think we know that you don't listen to shit. Like if I had literally been haunted by, like, a real life apparition of future me that was like, don't do this.
Like, I would have just been like, fuck off. There's nothing that I would have heard. Usually we're not haunted by our future, though. Usually we're haunted by our past. The ghost of email past arrives to remind you of the unhinged messages you sent to your ex or the great idea that would blow up in your face or the casual aside that looking back, reveals more than you could have realized at the time. Show me no more. You plead with the ghost.
These are the shadows of things that have been the ghost says that they are what they are.
Do not blame email.
The subject line of this email is I love this woman's tattoo work. This is Matty Eagler, a writer at The Cut. And what is the day when you sent it? August 5th?
It's addressed to to my mom and then it includes a link to the Instagram page of this tattoo artist and it says, I think I'm going to try to get an appointment with her sometime. I've been thinking about a wine bottle plus glass or something.
And how had you started thinking about perhaps a bottle of wine? You know, obviously this is the thing that's going to be on my body forever.
And, you know, what is something that really speaks to who I am and what I care about and what I like and enjoy. And then I was like, well, I love wine and I drink a lot of it. So a wine bottle and glass seems that seems like a thing that I'll always love and that I'll always want on me permanently. And more than that, I think it was the statement of me.
It's like a bon vivant sort of character who like, loves to party and have fun and loves success.
And I think those are things I crave and that I don't always feel. And I wanted I wanted to be that person.
And I think I thought this tattoo would be a way of, you know, showing that to the world and to myself, to Maddie came from a family that observed cocktail hour religiously.
And once you moved to New York, there were so many perfect times and places to get drunk. You could have friends over for drinks before the party and then drinks at the party and then stopped by a bar after the party and then go out for brunch and have Bloody Marys the next day.
I loved it. I loved alcohol. I loved I just felt like bigger and better in every way.
I felt like charming and interesting and beautiful and everything around me felt more exciting and people felt more exciting and interesting and beautiful.
So did you end up getting this tattoo? I did not. Matty sent that email in the summer of twenty eighteen and then in the summer of twenty nineteen, she went on a trip with some friends for the Fourth of July.
We were sort of getting ready to go out for the night and my friend was like, oh, you know, and my stomach's feeling really off. I think I like something weird. I don't know, I'm just not going to drink tonight.
And often when someone when we're getting ready to go out and someone be like, I'm not drinking, it would send me into sort of a panic because I would be like, what are we not going to have fun?
Like, there goes the evening. I guess we're screwed.
So I was sort of like, oh, my God. Like, can I get you something? Do you need medicine? What can I do?
What can I do to enable you to drink? Yeah, basically. And, you know, my friend was like, it's fine, I'm just not going to drink.
And then she said offhandedly, she was like, you know, I don't need to, like, drink to have fun.
And I remember feeling with such intense force like, oh shit.
I do. I really, really do. And like, not only do I need to drink to have fun, like I want everyone around me to be drinking to have fun. So my friend, like, said that to me on July 4th, and I quit drinking on July 14th. Wow. And a steel day. Yeah.
Yeah. Very sad for the French.
I don't think they would have all not drinking is right up there with exercise more. And look at your phone less on the list of things people say they're going to do and then don't do.
It's the kind of resolution that's easy to make in the moment and then forget, or at least that's the way it usually goes.
I went over to a friend's apartment and I told her I was like, so I'm done drinking, I'm done. And she kind of laughed.
And I don't I don't blame her at all because I think it is one of those things you say after like a bad hangover. A lot of times you like I'm done like that was, you know, oh, my God. Yeah. And being very melodramatic about it. And she was like, yeah, OK.
And like, poured me a glass of rosé and I had a sip and walking home I was like, no, like that was wrong. That was like the opposite of what I wanted to do.
Matty had started to think about all the ways drinking shaped her life all the time she spent planning around hangovers, apologizing for drunk texts, finding ways to flake on Sunday afternoon commitments. Drinking had started to make her life feel small. She said her bedroom had started to feel a little like a coffin. And now she wanted to change everything. She wanted to feel light and airy and open. She went to IKEA, bought a bunch of white picture frames and replaced her takeout stained comforter with a new one in Pale Pink.
Eventually, inevitably, she had to face the world beyond her room.
A month or so after I quit, maybe a little bit more, a friend of mine had a birthday party at a bar and I basically only knew her and like one other person and I was like, Fuck, I don't do this.
But it was a bar really close to my house. And I was like, you know, I'll go.
If it's really awful, I can make a quick escape. And I went and generally I think when I drank, it would be like I'd get to a party and be sort of like, yeah, I'm talking to, like people I know or whatever. I'm sort of off to the side. And then I would have enough drinks and hit my stride and be like, I can talk to anyone. This is great. And I had this, like, small moment of panic where I was like, oh, that moment's not going to come.
Like, I need to just make it happen.
And so Matty, completely sober, did a terrifying thing. She walked up to a stranger and started talking. And it was fine, she actually had a perfectly nice time, she was startled to discover this was possible even without a drink in her hand.
I think I felt on some level that I wasn't. Interesting enough to be sort of quieter and more withholding, and I had to make up for it by being loud and being exciting and being like, yeah, we're all having a lot of fun right now.
And if I shout it loud enough, we'll all be really having fun. But that's not really who I am. But that's how I thought I had to be.
She'd wanted to get a tattoo of a wine bottle to prove that's who she was, the bon vivant, the life of every party.
But lately she's less interested in making permanent decisions.
She's figuring it out as she goes. How did you think about quitting forever, I guess, or how did you think about what kind of timeline you were anticipating?
Um, at first I was like, I need to just make it 30 days. And then I changed that to a hundred days. And now my my concrete goal is a year. And, you know, the farther into this I get, the less tempted I am to drink. And I wonder if, like, you know, I got to the thirty days and then I was like, I want to do one hundred. I got to the hundred.
I was like, I want to do a year. I wonder, will it be like I want to do two years, I want to do five years.
Like I, I still feel weird being like am I never going to have a drink again in my life like that just feels so big and strange for me to say and thinking about big events like if I got married am I not going to have a glass of champagne at my wedding?
It's a question she never thought she'd be asking herself. A year ago, she'd gone from considering a boost.
The tattoo, the considering a booze free future with email. Huge things are captured in such small, mundane ways. Occasionally you'll get an email that feels like it's the right size for the news. It portends like a long breakup letter or a long awaited apology.
More often, though, email is details. They're all so trivial in retrospect. That's what Lisa Millar found when she went looking through her sent mail and dug out the messages she sent to a caterer eight years ago. September 2nd, 2011, it was a Friday, I write to him and I say, the rabbi says two hundred people could come to the service, but we're going to keep the group at home much smaller.
We want a buffet table and enough folding chairs for people to sit with food on their laps.
Easy to eat. Does that make sense?
Lisa is a contributing editor at New York magazine, and she was writing to the caterer because she knew that her mom was about to die. She'd been sick for a while. But in the summer of 2011, things had shifted. In August, she was too sick to come on the family vacation and soon she was too sick to leave her bed. He was still lucid and no one knew when exactly the end would come, but according to Jewish tradition, the service had to happen within three days of her death.
So they had to prepare the caterer respons. Yes, Lisa, we will go with 50 to 100 people, since you don't think everyone will arrive at once, I can get seventy five chairs. I will be sure to have 100 napkins also. In the final weeks of the summer, Lisa and her brothers had returned to the house where they'd grown up. They all spent the days there sitting around their mom's bed playing Scrabble with each other on their phones, eating the coffee cake.
A neighbor had dropped off. Meanwhile, Lisa wrote emails to her mom's favorite caterer. Hi.
My father wants me to let you know that it's traditional to serve hard boiled eggs, bread or rolls and lentils. He says you make a wonderful lentil salad. Also, coffee and tea, please. Thanks.
Lisa's mom was the kind of woman who had a favorite caterer, someone who'd helped her years of parties at her house. Always been a hostess. Whenever the family had guests coming over, she'd buy bunches of tulips in all different colors.
And one more thing, and I hope I'm not being a pain. The funeral service and burial will be Jewish. And I think pork ham BLT is whatever would probably not be suitable.
Thanks. I just want to make sure everything's going to be fine in a world where everything is completely not fine.
Lisa and her mom are close, but their relationship was never easy.
We always felt like her mom had a specific, very proper, very feminine idea of how to be a woman and that Lisa was always falling short. Her hair was especially controversial.
There was a while where she liked to cut the bottoms off her T-shirts and wear them as headbands, which drove her mother insane. One day near the end, Lisa walked into her mom's bedroom. Look at your mom said. You look so beautiful. It didn't matter that she was on painkillers at the time.
It was like this whole lifelong fight had fallen away.
So then September 3rd. So that's later that same day. Hi, Doug.
My mom passed away this afternoon, so it's likely we'll have the reception here at the house sometime Tuesday afternoon. We'll know exactly what time in the next half day or so.
So then the caterer writes back a couple hours later. My condolences. We will start getting organized. And then it goes into high gear. Hi, Doug, the service is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday. You should probably be ready to go by one 30. There's a key in the back door will be gone by 10. My cell is this number. Thank you so much.
And then he sends me a menu.
Beef tenderloin on a platter of greens with roasted portobello mushrooms and tomatoes, smoked salmon, platter with tomatoes and onions and capers, bagels, cream cheese salad with peaches, an additional vinaigrette, fresh fruit, mini flourless chocolate cakes, chocolate chip cookies. Let me know if that's OK. And then I write, can you do a little salad?
Because it's been in our mind for the last three days that like elemental salad was important. Like if there isn't a lentil salad, somebody might be sad. And I don't want anybody to be sad or sadder than they already are at my mother's CHIVA service.
You know, he sends me this long, beautiful list of delicious food and I say, can you do a lentil salad? And then I have second thoughts about that. And I say, what I mean to say is this looks great. Thanks so much, because I didn't want to be, like, demanding, but I did want the lentils. But I also was in grief. You don't want to be like the person who so, like, unhinged that she can't, like, execute a normal social interaction.
Later, after the Shiva, Lisa could barely remember the food, she didn't remember the lentil salad, but she was sure there had been one duck was her mom's favorite. He wasn't a caterer who'd forget a thing like that way. More people showed up than they expected, though they didn't have enough chairs.
One of the things about dying. Is that. It's like giving birth, you know, like when you give birth, everybody tells you you have to have a birth plan and you should bring your pillow and you should have this music planned and you should decide ahead of time. If you want your epidural, you don't want an epidural. And when it happens, it just happens how it happens. And like no amount of planning or pillows are going to like get in the way of how it's going to happen.
You can't control it. And the same thing with death, right?
We have lots to do and we have lots of obligations and we want to know when it's going to happen so we can plan the party and know how many people are going to come and know how many chairs to order.
And the fact is that it is possible, like you cannot know and it's going to happen how it happens and you have nothing to say about it.
Lisa hasn't stopped trying to plan it all. She makes lists. She makes lists about her house and lists about her kid and lists about her work. She's not going to be able to control everything. She knows that, but she makes the lists anyway. I think like it's just a scaffolding for all of the uncontrollable, emotional, unknown stuff that is life.
And I think in retrospect, I see that, you know, how much the list making that as my habit is, is like some kind of defense against what I can't control. On the other hand, like somebody's got to organize the party might as well be me.
Coming up, what it's like to write an email to someone who's known you all your life and who suddenly sees you as a stranger. That's after the break. The following message is brought to you by Nizza. Everyone knows about the risks of driving drunk, you could get in a crash, people could get hurt or killed, but that doesn't stop everyone.
You could get arrested or incur huge legal expenses. You could maybe even lose your job. We all know the consequences of driving drunk. But one thing's for sure, you're wrong. If you think it's no big deal, drive sober or get pulled over. Welcome back. On today's show, we're looking back at our past selves by digging through our old emails, there were record of all that's changed and all that hasn't for the writer Andrea Long Chew. A lot has changed.
When did you transition?
So I came out in the summer of 2016.
I had a relationship and amicably and sort of immediately was like it wasn't an identity thing.
It was immediately like, I know I want to go get lipstick and I know I want to try on a dress. And she came back to get her stuff, my ex.
And we had this conversation. And I like I said, you know, that I was happy that this was happening because they were these things that I had been wanting to explore. But I had just sort of put in a drawer previously.
And she asked me, would you like to try on some of my clothes? So I tried on some of her things.
It was sort of the perfect circumstances for packing up her stuff and sort of just trying things on as they're going into the boxes and ended up with two or three things that were hand me downs, which I then wore until I got other clothes.
How did you start talking to other people about it beyond your.
Oh, all I wanted to do was tell people. All I wanted to do was tell people.
It was so exciting for me to tell people I felt like I had met someone, uh, which I had.
It was like the thrill, the like early thrill of infatuation. Andrea still wasn't quite ready to tell her family she'd worked out a careful rollout plan, she'd try to get her siblings on board first, then have the conversation with her parents. But before she could put the plan into effect, the Internet intervened. My father sent me a photo of myself that I had posted to Facebook and said, Can you explain this?
What was the photo that your father had found or that was sent?
It was me in a crop top. Dancing at like House of yes, which is actually is funny for several reasons, one of which is that it is the only time I have ever been dancing at House of. Yes. So it was this picture of me dancing and with with importantly chicken cutlets, as we call them.
I would wear a new bra like NewBay or a D like you know, it's like the stick a stick on.
Can you put them on and then you like you put them on kind of far apart and then you bring them together and clasp them. So I was wearing an accompanying bra and then a B Cup Newborough over the accompanying bra and then an actual push up bra from American Eagle over that so as to have something substantial. So it's like a very apparent in the picture that I have tits and I think I had like lipstick on this, like matte purple lipstick from the Walgreens on Astor Place.
So that was totally out of the blue and was not part of the plan. That was a kind of disaster.
When Andrea's dad texted her that photo, she asked if she could call him to talk. He said no. And in the days that followed, the rest of the family went into crisis mode. Word started to spread among the relatives. Andrea had a big extended family. The heart of that family was her grandmother.
We called her Mima, which I guess is some sort of Southernism that we adopted. At some point, though, she was not Southern. But the line about Moema was that she had been an only child and therefore had wanted a big family. So she had five kids and four out of five of those kids had four kids. This huge this is my dad's side of the family is a huge family, an enormous number of cousins.
And she loved all of them, like every one of them was her favorite.
And when you talk to her, she would make you feel like you were her favorite. She was incredibly doting. She had this big shock of white hair that was sort of it was almost like soft serve ice cream. There was a sort of like layering to it that didn't totally make sense. And she always had very long natural nails. And so a beloved thing among all of the cousins was getting her back, scratched by my mom.
When you're getting tucked in at night, she would come and pray and then she would give back scratches. And they were just like the most I still like I still love having my back scratched because of this, because me and my dad could, like, do this thing because she had these claws and she would hug us and she would say into like our ears, you are so precious to me. Precious was the word she always used. You are so precious to me.
A few months passed after her dad first found that photo and Adria didn't hear anything from her grandmother, she didn't even know whether her parents had told her.
I got a letter from her in November of that year in November 2016, which would have been like on the occasion of my birthday. And I don't think that I knew if my mom knew. What did you think when you saw it? Oh, like, fuck.
Because it was because it was clear that.
OK, OK. So, I mean, why does know and like, I didn't know what to expect and I didn't know how much she would be capable of understanding or.
You know, like I don't think I had ever once been the object of her disapproval. And so there is now the possibility of that. Her handwriting on the envelope was instantly recognizable, boxy, like the numbers on a digital clock and it says, Sweetie, this year you'll complete 24 years of life and begin your 25th.
It's hard for me to believe those numbers. I can remember you coming to me as a baby on the days your mom had to go to work. Grandpa and I enjoyed Grandparents' Day at your school and going to see your take part in the school's theatrical productions. Then came your scholarship, another step in the culmination of God's great gifting of his precious child. His is capitalized.
This went on for paragraph after paragraph, recounting the highlights of Andrea's first 24 years of life from college to moving abroad to finding a girlfriend.
So much has changed over the years. Grandpa has passed on and I am in my eighth year. Our children have grown older and many of our grandchildren are becoming have become adults. I was totally surprised by the transgender change which you have chosen. I happen to call your family the very day they were learning about it. I wept first with your mom and when your dad came from being on call and phoned me, I wept with him. It has been very all caps hard on them.
Honestly, there is much I do not understand. I watched a frontline program growing up trans. It was pretty informative. What is puzzling to me is this how can you who apparently loved someone, knew what it is to consummate that love, knew what it is to have a best friend with whom everything can be shared. How can you give all of that up to be someone other than who you are biologically?
But then, as I said, there is still much I do not understand about the LGBT community. I feel as if I am writing to someone I haven't met, someone I don't know yet, I have all of those precious memories going back over 20 years. So this long note is an attempt to lay it all out there while I send birthday wishes, much love and a small gift. Moema. How do you remember feeling when you read that the first time?
Oh, I cried, it's a strange letter. It's very strange because the first eight paragraphs or something are just remembrances.
Yeah, I just. And then you were a baby and then you were in theater productions and then you went to college and then you went just like as if like, I don't know these things telling me like these like milestones my own life, like a eulogy or like.
Yeah. Yeah. Well I mean.
Well I think that's right. On some level I was angry. I was angry at how she felt, how she described my parents and was describing it from their perspective as something that had happened to them. Why had I thrown my life away and done this thing that would hurt them so much?
It was also hilarious because her reaction to my grandchild is transitioning was to watch PBS.
It's kind of it's very it's like trying like, well, I watch. And so I'm like, well, I like I don't think my parents were watching documentaries about like it was something.
It was absolutely something. And there's a genuine humility in it, like I maybe I just don't understand how does reading it now feel sort of with the distance of a couple of years?
I mean, so when I read it now, I'm angry with myself. For what?
Because I thought I had time. The next time Andrea's family would be together, all in one place would be at her grandmother's funeral, but Andrea didn't know that then.
I thought I had time to be angry at her. I thought I had time to be angry at my parents and like wanted to see her. Certainly wanted to see her more than I wanted to see my parents, but wanted to be ready.
Both in terms of like psychologically prepared, ready, but also ready, like. Like a loaf of bread, like I want it to be baked. I didn't want her to see me so early in transition that it would look like I was transitioning. I wanted her to see, like, the finished product. So Andrea didn't go visit her instead, eventually she sent her an email. You just wanted some way to reassure her grandmother that her grandchild's life was OK and she attached a photo of herself.
My girlfriend took this picture specifically to be sent to my grandmother. Really?
Tell me about that.
Well, I, I, I was like, I don't have any good pictures of myself, which I always feel, but I don't have a good picture.
That was like. Like, if I have sort of one chance to show her something. Mm hmm. And it's like a very booby picture also. There's like and that's just we all said to our grandmothers.
Yes, exactly. And it's a photo of me standing outside my apartment in a halter top dress from Target, a red floral dress. And I'm in sandals. It was the summer. I don't think I'm wearing a bra.
So my boobs are sort of like flying off in opposite directions now. But they look voluminous because of like the way that the Haltered is working. But it was that like I felt hot in it, which is not a common thing with my clothes. And I wanted it to be something that was clearly nothing she could have ever seen me wear before.
What was her response to this note like? Do you remember? Well, I have it.
I can hold you to it if you have it. Would you had it?
Yeah, happily read it, sweetie. I was so happy when I sat down at the computer to find your email. It is great to hear from you. These pictures look pretty much like the way I remember you, the couple of things that I notice is that you've added a few pounds since I last saw you and you've developed a bosom and your facial hair looks like it has pretty much disappeared, both of which I imagine are the result of your hormone therapy.
I've developed a basem like the good folks over in the in bosomed development have been hard at work.
They've disrupted the bosom paradigm for you. Yeah, yeah.
Really, really disrupting the business face.
And what was receiving that like. Oh I was so like this is a very it's a very difficult thing about transition generally, which is that yes, I am the same person.
No, I am not the same person. And both of those things need to be true and the person needs to be capable of holding that in their head.
And so it makes me I'm like piqued by the fact that she would say, oh, like you do look pretty much the way I remember you.
You don't look like the way you remember me. I look really fucking different.
Like it's my goal is not to look like you remember me. I don't want to look like that person. Right. Like I do.
I do want to be unrecognizable to you. Even as you are telling me that I am unrecognizable is incredibly painful.
I don't want to recognize myself.
The worst part about transition is that I still do all those past selves, unrecognizable to recognizable.
They all persist hanging around in the messages read and said.
Working on this episode, I obviously got sucked into my own inbox and lost an hour clicking through the last five or six years, there were ancient party invitations and long forgotten writing assignments.
And eventually going way back, I found the first email I ever received from Stella Buckbee, who would later become my boss at the cut.
So it's dated Thursday, May 23, 2013, at ten fifty three pm, setting the precedent for our working relationship totally normal.
Time to send an email like this and it says, What is the subject line? Coffee next week. Question mark.
Hi, Gaby Stilo wanted to get coffee with me and talk about a job at the cut. Or possibly she wanted to get coffee with Gabby. It was not clear, so embarrassed.
I'm so embarrassed to be reading that. I called you Gabby. Who was Gabby?
I've always won her. I've always wondered. So I have no idea who Gabby was. I don't know if there was Gabby. Well, I don't know if I just was typing Gabby, but thinking Molly, I don't know what I was thinking.
I have a special email is right there and it's.
How do you respond to an email like that? I wasn't sure, but I did my best, so I replied. Hey, thanks so much for the note, but just to double check before I make a fool of myself, was this intended for me?
I just noticed that it was addressed to Gabby. If it is for me, though, yes. I'd love to get coffee and dog.
What kind of timing is best for you? In a way, my time at the cut is proof of life after a mortifying email.
I will say I don't think I ever would have imagined that we could make a podcast like this so. Well, thanks.
Thanks for giving me a shot. I'm really glad that we stuck through that and you did this. So for me too. Good job, Gaby.
That's it for the show.
I can't say see you next Tuesday, so I'll just leave it as to you next time.
The cut on Tuesdays is produced by Sarah McVee and Kate Parkinson Morgan, our senior producer, is Kimie, regular for edited by Lynn Levy and Stella Bagby, mixing by Emma Mongar. Our music is by Hayley Shaw, Emma Mongar and Peter Leonard. Our theme song is Play It Right by Sylvan Esso. We want to thank Alex Blumberg, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Pam Wasserstein, David Haskell and Adam Moss for their support of this project all along, and Genyen Lauren Stark and Old White for helping the show find its way to new listeners.
And thanks to all the people who have helped us make this podcast, Olivia Nat'l, Peter Brennan, Zach Schmidt, Bobby Lord, Chris Nery and Carrie and Thomas. And finally, the women of the cut in New York magazine and the clogger back channel at Gimlet for sharing so much with us. Their anxieties, the things that make them horny, their phone calls with their moms. We could not have done it without you. The cut on Tuesdays is a production of Gimblett media.