"Dear Abby, When I Was A Young Man"

“Dear Abby, When I Was A Young Man”

by Maud Newton

Part of a series about youth.

How exactly I came to write a “Dear Abby” letter from Dick Diver, the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, I don’t know. When exactly I did it, I can’t say. I discovered this overwrought, clicheful, usage-challenged soliloquy — for though it’s addressed to an advice columnist, no question is posed, and no advice is sought — when I pulled the book off the shelf the other month, and I would really like to pretend that it’s something I jotted down at, say, the age of ten. But I first read the book at fourteen, and it was my favorite novel on and off for several years, and judging by the other notes in it I would guess I was sixteen or seventeen when some unknown spirit moved me to declaim love and marriage in “Dick Diver’s voice.”

I emailed my favorite high-school English teacher to ask if he ever assigned something like this. He thought not; nor did he recall any colleagues doing so. I guess I just came up with it for fun?

It’s true that I was bizarrely obsessed with Tender is the Night, a book about a psychiatrist who marries a mental patient, and a gift from my mother, who also loved it. (Let’s just say that there was more than a little oblique thematic overlap between the Divers’ story and my family’s.) And like most teenage girls of my era, I pored over the advice columns, which were conveniently located next to the horoscopes and the comics.

But despite also being in possession of some truly awful poetry I wrote then, I couldn’t quite square this letter with the memories I have of myself. Until I remembered my other, earlier work of fan fiction, inspired by… “Sing A Song of Sixpence,” about the maid’s nose.

Previously in series: What Did You Want To Accomplish When You Grew Up? and Twenty-Seven

Maud Newton is a writer and critic living in Brooklyn.