The Language of Unloving

by Gabrielle Hick

Illustration by Yuko Okabe

published December 4, 2015


When they’d been married for thirty-one years, and unhappy in each other for most of them, my grand’maman and my grand’papa stopped speaking. They wrote each other letters because it was easier to stroke the contours of a B than the contours of a face, they broke pencil nibs with the brittle becoming of their love, they signed their names with anger and pain and careful crossings of the Ts. They wrote letters like hello please take the girls to the store thank you and letters like would you please take the chicken out of the freezer and defrost for dinner thank you until the only way my grand’papa could explain that he was dying was through a letter dear Colette I believe that I am very sick and I think that I am dying I am afraid thank you.




I have tried over and over again to answer the question of what these letters mean, these unlove letters written by a pair of people who also wrote their bodies into mine. In the hitch of my shoulders and the arch of my nose and the bend of my waist I can read them and their inherited bodily text. And I’ve been told I clip my Hs like one of them did, so that the word human sounds more like singing when I say it. 




But I’ve looked in the mirror and wondered if the unloving is in me too. I’ve wondered, in quiet moments of all kinds, if I love to write because my grand’maman and my grand’papa passed the why of why they wrote down deep and low into my blood, a kind of septicemia.