Dear Miss Diamond Lace
By January Adams
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I’ve been with my current boyfriend for just over a year. He’s smart, funny, and caring. We say ‘I love you’ to each other, and we mean it.
There’s one thing that I haven’t been able to get past: I still haven’t met his parents. This isn’t a huge problem, but I do find it a little strange. They live a couple hours away in the next state over. It seems like he has a relationship with them — they call every now and then, and one time he drove up to visit them when I was away on a working trip. I’ve tried to bring this up with my boyfriend a few times. He just gets sort of nervous and says that it’s no big deal, that the drive is a little long, and that we can meet them when it’s convenient for all of us. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon.
In all my previous relationships, I met my partner’s family within a few months of calling it serious. He’s met my parents a few times, and each time it seemed to go off without a hitch. What should I do? Should I accept that I’ll never have a relationship with my partner’s parents? Or should I push him a little harder on why he never finds time to introduce me?
Private Parents in P----
It’s reasonable to want to meet your long-term partner’s family, and your boyfriend should recognize that this matters to you. But he might have a good reason to be cautious about making that introduction—maybe a complicated relationship with his family that he’s not willing to open up about.
Or maybe that drive out of state isn’t as easy it seems. When he last came back, was there a vacancy behind his eyes? Was there a smell of citrus, or acid, or that red sweetness in the air?
Be honest with him that this is something that matters to you. Tell him that you’re interested in putting in the effort to meet his parents, and that you’re happy to chat about any hang-ups he might have. Tell him that you’ll sit next to him and make that drive together, and if the deep emptiness overwhelms him, you’ll bear his grief as if it were yours.
Good luck! I know the roads can be long and winding. But I’m confident you’ll figure something out.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I just moved across the country, and now I’m having a tough time making new friends in a new city. It was totally the right move for my career, since I’m starting a great new job in my field. And my neighbourhood is amazing, filled with open-air markets strung up with lights and live music in the streets. I have a supportive and loving partner, but she’s back in our old city for four more months, tying things up with her old job before she moves here.
In the meantime, I’ve tried to go to a few meet-ups related to my interests—a board game group, tennis lessons at a local club, a couple more—but none of them have really worked out, and now I’m starting to feel a little bit lost. Most nights I’m just sitting alone in my apartment and wishing I were back home.
On top of that, something strange has been going on that’s been making it hard for me to leave my room. Every so often, right when the sun is setting, I can look outside my apartment window and see a thin line of bright red in the sky. It’s deep and overpowering, nothing like the glow of a real sunset, and it fills the streets below with a terrible radiance. When that ribbon of light wraps around the sky, nobody moves in the streets below, and no sound reaches up to my window. Drops of something liquid and sweet fall from my eyes. If they’re not my tears, I don’t know what else they could be.
So I’ve been a bit nervous about getting out of my apartment lately, and when I do try, it never yields any results. How can I snap out of this funk and really start enjoying this new city?
Solitary and Searching in S----
You don’t need to be afraid of the deep red emptiness. It’s as natural as death, or entropy, or the deep ocean. Just as decay cuts down old life and makes way for the new, what do you think would happen if no natural force kept us isolated and small? We would reach our hands in an instant across infinite distance. Not to hold or caress, but to crush, choke, consume one another. I’ve known people for too long to think otherwise.
But I do feel for you, letter-writer. You’re engaging with an absence that most people never need to examine. When the deep red overwhelms you, consider meditation, or tea. Consider distractions, or music, or running a finger along the floor and counting every grain in the wood.
The rest of the time, it sounds like you have some great strategies in place. I hope you keep going to those board game nights and tennis lessons—sometimes it takes a few tries before you really click with a group of people. You might want to try your local library for events as well. If you’re having a tough time leaving your apartment, consider online communities and videochats with friends. Call your partner weekly, or more, if your schedule allows. Tell her you love her. Tell everyone close to you that you love them, so that when the red fog rolls in, you’ll know they love you too.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I’ve been having trouble with a coworker (call her Judith), and I thought you might be able to help. On the surface, we’re pretty friendly with each other. We eat lunch together and swap stories, and we’ve even seen each other outside of work a few times—she always saves the egg salad sandwiches for me at work lunches, because she knows they’re my favourite. But when she’s around our other coworkers it’s a completely different story.
Sometimes I’ll catch them standing around or eating, and as soon as I walk by, they’ll just stop what they’re doing and turn to stare at me. And then they’ll go back to talking with each other, like nothing even happened. It’s awful! Once they ignored me entirely, even though I walked right by them. When I talk to Judith one-on-one it’s mostly fine, except sometimes there’s this look on her face for a moment right when I start talking, like she’s annoyed to see me.
I don’t need to be best friends with these people, but I think this is some seriously rude behaviour. Just thinking about it messes up my whole workday! Any advice?
Chilling Coworkers in C----
If there were more I could do for you, dear letter-writer, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m afraid you’re starting to go.
Try looking in a mirror before you engage with a group of your coworkers. Are there pieces missing? Do parts of you crackle and fade away when you glance at yourself from one angle or another? Be honest — how many strangers have you chatted with over the past few days, and how many have walked by you without a look? I’m sure I could tell you more if I knew why this was happening. I wish I did.
Speaking up can help. If you’re stubborn enough and the tether tying you to the material is still strong, then those coworkers might hear you and help drag you back. If that doesn’t work, send Judith an email. Tell her that you won’t be eating lunch with her any more, since your body is more aether and plasma than flesh. Ask her to send you warm messages and texts. They won’t solve your problems, but they will light up those frozen places in your brain and keep you alive in dependable circuitry.
Ask her to bury your work computer. It may be the closest thing to her touch that you’ll feel.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
Here’s a riddle for you. Actually, it’s more of a story. Don’t stop me if you’ve heard it.
A chicken, a fox, and a farmer stand on one side of a river. Docked at the near side of the river is a small rowboat. It can hold up to two of them, the chicken and the fox and the farmer, and needs at least one of them to drive.
The farmer wants to get to the other side of the river. She has a life there. A house, two children, a small grave where her husband rests, a kindly neighbour who brings her milk and smiles at her. She wants to lay a flower at her husband’s grave. She wants to gently touch the face of the woman who brings her the milk. She wants to smell the dirt on her two children as she holds them close.
The fox wants to get to the other side of the river. He has pride there. He is the leader of a small band of foxes. They look up to him. They sweat and steal together, fight and fuck each other. His heart beats with the urge to guide them to glory.
The chicken wants to get to the other side of the river. She has hope there. She has left her life on the farm, left her barnmates who cluck softly as they lay their eggs. There is good grain on the far side of the river, wide lands to explore, other chickens to meet. She wants to take in the sight and the aching newness of it all.
Three animals with the same goal, and yet they cannot coexist. If the chicken and fox are alone together, the fox will succumb to his instincts and eat the chicken, for food or for pleasure. If the farmer and the fox are together, the farmer will succumb to her instincts and shoot the fox, as only one predator threatened by another can.
How do they do it? How do these three reach the other side together?
It’s a trick question, of course. They can’t make it. They are killed — by each other, yes, but the hand that moves them is distance. They are smothered by the gulf that makes their desires unreachable, stamped out by their inability to understand one another.
Miss Diamond Lace, I will kill distance and end loneliness. I will beat back that awful creeping scarlet — the deep red that you keep alive, so that it will feed you a steady stream of customers. You won’t apologize for it any more. All I need are the bodies, and the will.
Here’s my advice.
Do you think I haven’t tried? Do you think I don’t suffer at every missed connection, every dropped call, every lonely teenager lying awake in the dead of night wondering if this is all there is? I don’t do this because having readers and writers-in gives me some kind of ego trip. I’m trying to soothe their pain, and the first step is being honest about the help I can give.
You, on the other hand. How many more will you take, and what do you think will happen to them? Where do you plan to find your ‘will’ if it’s not given freely? Will you span that river with a bridge of bodies, just so that your chicken can roam free and your farmer can love again?
Please, reconsider. I don’t want to be your enemy.
Re: Solitary and Searching in S----
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I just wanted to write back and let you know that I’ve been following your advice. I’ve been trying to leave my apartment more often, when the red light is dimmest. I’ve kept up with the board games, and the tennis. I call my partner every other day. We talk for hours, telling old stories and inventing new ones. I’ve never known her as well as I do now.
And it helps. It mostly helps.
The deep red still flows in the evenings, lighting up the fog that slides along the streets. It’s cloyingly sweet, and I can taste it in my mouth before the sun even starts to set, just as the streets clear out. But now that’s not even the weirdest thing.
Last week, our tennis instructor didn’t show up to our lesson. None of us had any clue what to do. After a while, all the students just gave up and went home. A day or two later, he sent us an email to confirm the next class. Didn’t even mention it, like nothing weird was going on.
I went to class yesterday, and this time there was a substitute instructor. When I tried to bring up our teacher, no one even knew what I was talking about. He was our teacher! His name was Michael, he had brown hair and a scruffy beard, and he told us an awkward story about meeting Roger Federer in an elevator that probably wasn’t true. But he was real.
I don’t know what to do. I read your column, and there are things you write that I can’t understand, but just the thought of them chills me all over. I feel like this will happen again. I’m meditating and drinking tea, but even if it makes me feel better, it won’t bring him back.
I know there’s probably nothing you can do, but it’s just nice to hear from you. You understand so much, and hearing from you makes me feel like everything might still turn out normal.
Sweet letter-writer, thank you for getting in touch. I love hearing updates to old questions. Usually, it’s because things have improved. But if they haven’t, that means we have a chance to keep working together to fix what’s wrong.
Your intuition is good. This will happen again. It might happen to someone you love. There’s not much you or I can do about it.
Keep your memories of those who fade close to you. If your tennis instructor doesn’t return, type out every fact you know about him and encrypt it somewhere safe. Commit these poor souls to terabytes of data inside artificial brains. Entomb them in wires and screens.
Dear little bird, from high on your apartment perch, preserve whomever you can. Wrap your wings around them and fly their memory somewhere safe, and let the deep red numb you like a salve. Meanwhile, I will do all that I can.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
Something weird has been happening between me and a coworker. I’ve known “Marjorie” for a while, and we’ve always been casual office friends. I’ve been seeing a lot less of her recently, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Sometimes you just don’t see people.
Then I got an email from her, painfully long, filled with emotional declarations and personal stories. She shared dozens of tiny secrets that she’s kept to herself over the years. She told me that she never wanted children, but the way she watches me fuss over mine brings her some indescribable peace. She told me that when things got hard, sometimes I was the only bright part of her day.
I haven’t seen her since. But I get these sparks of feeling — I’ll laugh at a joke I never would have thought was funny, or I’ll yell at someone when I’m driving and they make a dangerous turn. I’ve had the weirdest craving for egg salad lately that won’t go away.
I don’t know what to do, Miss Diamond Lace. I keep having these dreams where Marjorie reaches out again, and I get to see her words, but never her face. They’re gutting to wake up from, but they’re the only connection I still have with her. When will I get a chance to tell her everything I’ve written and can’t ever say?
Confused Coworker in C----
I’m devastated to hear about your loss. I don’t know for certain that you’ll see her again. But there may still be a way.
Next time she reaches into your dreams, take note. Do your best to focus. Read the words that she sends you very carefully.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I’m in my first year of university and I don’t know what to do. People keep disappearing from my life. One of my best friends hasn’t been to her classes in over a week now, and she won’t respond to my texts. My favourite professor stopped teaching his class, and no one seems to think that’s weird. Last night, my roommate didn’t come home. We get along only OK, and I get that he can stay wherever he wants, but it was so weird not having him there. Where are all these people going? Why are all these emotions running circuits in my brain, and why do none of them feel like mine?
Disappearing, Dismayed in D----
Listen to me very carefully and follow my words closely.
Light a candle in your room. If you don’t have one, pick one up — best if it smells like citrus, but use your judgement. Light the candle, then say the name of every person in your life who has disappeared.
If you have a smoke alarm in your room, break it. Burn something, or light another candle. Let that acrid smoke roll through the room and redden your eyes through dull tears. Breathe it in until you don’t know where vapour ends and your body begins.
Do you see it? The deep red. The boundary is weak now. You’re going to have to walk through. You’re going to have to enter the space in between, before the storm comes.
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.
I’ve spent years thinking about what this letter might say. I never finished it in my head, but it always started out something like this:
I’m a trans woman in my early 20s, and I’m living away from home for the first time. And now I’m trying to figure out my transition, and how to have friends, and how to make a relationship with my parents work, and how to make sure my job doesn’t fire me, and how to cook? (Miss Diamond Lace, I still don’t know how to cook?) And I feel stretched in a million different directions, like a medieval torture device designed to humiliate me for being lost and lonely and unable to do basic shit that everyone else has figured out.
That’s what I would have said.
Miss Diamond Lace, why do people write to you? It’s not like you provide the quickest answers, or the best. I can’t imagine anyone is going to get a response from you more valuable than a session of therapy (although I guess you have the advantage of being free—thank you, mental health crisis). But I’ve read your column every week for years. Are your responses that insightful, that I can slap them onto every problem in my own life? Or am I just living for the schadenfreude of hearing someone else’s lowest point, so I can point and say, “At least it’s not that bad”?
I don’t know. Why do I feel like I know you? Why have I solved so many of my own problems just by imagining the response you might give if I wrote?
I haven’t heard from my brother in a week. He’s the only person in my family who has supported me through everything, and he’s gone.
I fill long text documents each day with every memory I have of him. I write emails to anyone he might have known, trying to figure out where he is. Whenever I do, I feel this overwhelming surge of love, like every cell in my body is vibrating with the knowledge that someone will be there to hold and protect me. And it fades, and I’m left more lost than ever.
Then last night I dreamed of an endless field covered in a thick red fog like cherry cough syrup, so dense I could choke on the taste. And arranged in neat little rows were people, all perfectly rigid and staring straight ahead. Like a graveyard, except instead of stones there were just zombie copies of the people who should have been buried. My brother was there. He was one of the zombies. Electricity crackled inside the bodies, then arced between them in a grid of silver light. Those zombies’ eyes were as bright and painful as stars.
So I’m writing to you. What else could I possibly do? Maybe you won’t even see this—I don’t even know if you read every letter you get. But there is the tiniest sliver inside me that still believes this column has some magic to it—the magic that makes writing this letter feel like crying on the warm shoulder of a friend, like reaching out across space and time and holding your hand in mine.
I don’t know. Advise me. Fix this.
Here is what will happen.
You’ll have the dream again tonight. This next part will be tricky; the boundary can be broken in dreams, but it’s more sturdy than usual. Wait for the second before you wake up. When you feel it rushing towards you, reach your hand out and close it in a tight fist.
You’ll grip the arm of your first guide, an office worker and a mother. She will smell like black tea and butter. She will point you in a direction, and you’ll start walking. I don’t know what will happen to her next. She is searching for someone too.
Eventually you’ll stumble into your second guide, a university student. You’ll walk together for quite a while, and it will feel awkward at times. You’ll talk about your problems, and he will talk about his. I’m not sure either of you will really solve much, but some things feel good to say out loud all the same.
You’ll end up back where you started — that graveyard of bodies, where the deep red emptiness is thickest. You’ll find your brother. Your guide will find his friend. You’ll each cling tightly, and when that hum of electricity clatters through the fog, you’ll use your body as a shield to keep that energy from spreading. It won’t hurt, but it will take a long time. A force of zealotry will try to collapse that deep red space under the weight of all the bodies it has gathered. You won’t let it.
You’ll have a lot of time to think. You’ll reflect on the questions you asked me. You won’t know my response, because you won’t read this letter for another week.
A riddle-teller once claimed that distance and loneliness were the forces responsible for keeping me in business, and I hate to admit that they weren’t totally wrong. But it works both ways—while that feeling of isolation might lead you to write to me, it obstructs me when I try to reach back. What will happen to you in the days or weeks between writing your letter and reading my response? I can’t possibly know. Maybe you’ll have figured out your problem already. Or maybe my words will come when you need them most. I play a game of distance and delay with every person who writes me a letter. That’s what makes the whole project so exciting.
It’s so good to hear from a long-time reader and fan. I wish you all the bravery and inner strength that a young woman might need, even though any advice will reach you long after it might help. But I think you’ll figure it out. I think you’ll be just fine.
I hope you bring your brother home. And I hope to hear from you again, in gentler times.
Re: Private Parents in P----
Dear Miss Diamond Lace,
I’m not going to lie, I found your last response to my letter a little odd and hard to understand. But I decided to follow your advice. I opened up to my boyfriend about wanting to meet his parents. He got a bit weird about it, but we talked things through, and he agreed that we could make the drive down to their place together.
The ride over was kind of strange. At one point there was some sort of red light in the sky, like the most vivid sunset you’ve ever seen. I turned over and looked at my boyfriend, and he was gripping the steering wheel so tightly, flooring the accelerator the whole time. Perfectly still. Vicious thunder started to roll in, even though they’d forecasted clear skies. But the storm cleared as soon as it arrived, and the red light started to fade, too. And it was just raining, and we were just on the highway, listening to some old Dolly Parton cassettes in his beat-up clunker.
We spent the weekend at his parents’ house and had a really wonderful time. His dad keeps a lovely garden, and his mom has such a fascinating life — she’s an archivist who collects and catalogues information recorded online, so that it doesn’t get lost if the company hosting it goes under. So cool! I didn’t even know that was a job.
I guess the ride back home was when things started to get weird. How to even describe those feelings?
Like every person in the world was a friend waiting to reach out. Like I could conduct a symphony of clouds to blanket them, warm and secure. Like every beautiful and tragic story was playing in slow motion, and I could watch them all unfold if I tried.
The feelings have only been getting stronger. I don’t know what to tell my boyfriend, or what to tell myself—don’t know how much of myself there is, when it’s so much more captivating to watch this endless show of stories. I can’t stop myself from living in their worlds—I can make it right for them one day, I just know it.
Miss Diamond Lace, what should I do?
January Adams (she/they) is a transfeminine, non-binary writer and mathematician. Originally from Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory, she currently lives in Tkaronto/Toronto on Treaty 13 Territory, where she writes speculative fiction and both plays and designs tabletop role-playing games. "Dear Miss Diamond Lace" is their first published short story. She can be found on Twitter at @asweeterpotato.