If Baz Luhrmann’s 3D version of The Great Gatsby (opening tonight!) makes a billion trillion dollars, there will be a couple people to thank. 1. Leonardo DiCaprio, obviously. 2. Jay-Z. 3. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the hordes of angsty teenagers who have read and read and read The Great Gatsby over and over again until they inevitably became English majors. Because while sure, Gatsby is the tale of the destruction of the American Dream and about 20 other things you could write your thesis on, it is also a great and tragic love story, the kind that teenagers innately understand. The kind that Baz Luhrmann can’t help but make into a movie.
I was one of those hordes of admirers. I read Gatsby in many English classes, throughout my many years of school. But when I was 17, I read it in an English class in South Africa, where I was an exchange student. While I have always had a penchant for fan fiction (I did a pretty reasonable rewrite of the end of Little Women when I was about 12, in which Laurie and Jo end up together AND EVERYTHING IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD), on the occasion of my second reading of Gatsby, during the turmoil of 8 months in one of the scariest, loneliest places I had ever been, I was moved to write a super dramatic love letter in place of an essay for class. I’ve saved the letter because a) I love The Great Gatsby and b) it’s interesting to see what I thought about love back before I’d ever been in love. Spoiler: pretty much the same way I do now. Double spoiler: I’m into nautical metaphors.
What follows is my letter from Gatsby to Daisy, written sometime in 1999 or 2000. Dear Baz Luhrmann: Do not let this precious 17-year-old down.
Daisy, my darling February 14, 1922
Last night I stood out side in my yard staring intently at the green beacon across the bay that distinguishes your dock from the countless others that make up the East Egg shoreline. For a moment I felt a quiet calm, as the passengers of a dingy in tumoltues [sic] waters might feel when the swinging arm of a lighthouse passes over their sodden vessel.
But as the glow rests only momentarily on the boat, so did the peace rest on me and suddenly I realized that a near-impassible reef lay between the dreary ship of my love and the warm, sparkeling [sic] bay of yours.
The terror then was almost unbearable and I began to wish that I had never heard that paltry word that has come to represent you, the parigon [sic] of magnificent human beings. But again I thought of the afor mentioned sailors in [the] tempest. Would it be fair for them to perish without knowing how close they were to the continuation of their lives? Or would it be better for them to die with the hopeful shine of the lighthouse reflected in their eyes? Daisy, I do not know. In my soul I wish the reef would vanish and the weatherworn men would find a warm drink and a soft bed in which to spend the night. I know, though, that this is not reality and that the impossibility of our situation only makes me more determined to aspire to that which I quite probably will never attain. And my life has at least been real because if your small yet immeasurable contribution. If it hurts to breath, at least I can feel pain. Thank you Daisy, for surviving childhood to make my life live. I love you.