Untethered: Mercury Retrogayde

USPS has been sending my mail to my ex.

This is not her fault. To be clear. She did a normal thing, which was to forward her mail to her new address. However, the mail carriers have decided there is no way that two separate people could have lived at one address, and that then, one could move out while the other remained.

How did I notice this? I wasn’t getting my Christmas cards. There weren’t that many cards on their way, but the few I was supposed to get never appeared. When I realized the cards hadn’t come, I opened my front door, leaned to the side, stuck my hand into the little black mailbox, and slid my fingers around the inside, like there was somehow going to be mail hiding in the corner of a box that wasn’t six inches wide.

This went on for a little too long before I decided the mail wasn’t just slow, it was missing. I had no idea why my mail was MIA, did not at all suspect it was all being sent to my ex. And aside from catching one of the — at least three — mail carriers, I had no idea how I was supposed to deal with a situation like this. If most of the mail was missing, then surely something bigger was going on. I resorted to leaving a Post It Note on the mailbox saying I wasn’t receiving my mail, leaving my name and number, but after a day, the embarrassment overcame me. Was it me?

It wasn’t me. After calling USPS customer service, I had a case number and instructions to be sure to answer my phone when the investigator called.

“It says there’s a forward on your address. Did you move?”

I know where this is going.

“Nope. I’ve lived here for five years. Haven’t moved. Am calling you from my mailing address right now…But I did have an ex move out.”

In the course of talking about my ex, there was that pivotal moment when engaging with phone-based customer service where it can either go fine or — as happened once when I mentioned my ex-girlfriend while on the line with our car insurance — get you hung up on. This went fine, good even. The agent promised to let the carriers know to keep delivering my mail, and also, advised me to in fact leave a note on my mailbox.

So, then, there I was, putting all my business on a series of Post It Notes for the mail carriers to see. I still haven’t gotten certain cards, and they haven’t been returned to the senders. I’m assuming they’re just lost at this point.

The fact that I was facing down a communication mishap that was somehow ALSO linked to an ex is so very Classic Mercury Retrograde became impossible to ignore.

In spite of hoping that nothing Too Weird would happen after the Mail Incident, I found myself sitting across from a fire pit with someone I hadn’t seen in five years. Admittedly, at this point, a good chunk of that is due to not seeing many people at all during the pandemic, but when I saw her, I was immediately transported back to the traumatizing situation, an old job, where we’d crossed paths.

She didn’t quite recognize me, and the event was a memorial event on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, so it really wasn’t the place to get into my past workplace drama. But seeing her again — as a person existing on her own, outside of the connections she’d had to an institution and people who had immensely fucked me up — gave me a chance to get reacquainted with her on her own terms, on my own terms.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had more than enough opportunities to contemplate the ramifications of basing your opinion on someone because of what you’ve heard about them. It was a delight to mentally slough off the bullshit that really belonged to other people that I’d somehow associated with this person and to let them be them.

When I later told the person who asked me to the memorial that I did in fact know how this person and I had met, before I could get another word out, they said, “I hope it was through fisting!” followed by a series of cute emojis.

I had to say, no, it was not through fisting, and also had to ask why it might have been through fisting. The answer was really obvious when I got it, but still. Conclusions were jumped to! I had to laugh at my phone and at the whole situation. I’m looking forward to being able to talk one on one the next time I run into her.

The day before Christmas Eve, I got into a terrible fight with someone over text. By this point, I’ve started thinking I should probably cease using all written forms of communication until Mercury Retrograde is over if I want anyone to actually get a message as intended.

To soothe myself, as one does, I put on The Taking of Deborah Logan in the background. I hadn’t seen it before, and it always comes up as being a rather good horror movie, so without thinking too much about the content of the piece, I let it play.

About halfway through the movie and my work, the texts from my mom started. First of all, my sister wasn’t able to go to our dad’s gathering because she was sick. But I didn’t expect my mom to send the following:

“[Redacted] is sick. So looks like we all spend Christmas alone. Weird huh.”

Now, mind you. Yes. If you, like my mom, fight with all your fellow traumatized siblings so that you can’t have holidays together, and then you also go super rightwing and alienate your queer child, you might find yourself hanging out alone for Christmas. But, knowing her, she was probably happy to be able to send me this text and rub it in my face.

She’s also assuredly in a weird place, which tends to lead to an escalation in this kind of behavior. As The Taking of Deborah Logan progressed and followed Deborah’s descent into a possession that originally manifested as Alzheimer’s (I know. I spoiled it.), my mom texted me again. My grandma’s not doing well, she told me, which I knew. She’s dying and has been for a while as the dementia progresses. She also recently had a fall, which I know from having other people pass is usually the beginning of the end. The last time I visited her, I praised her for eating some fruit and told her it was good she’d done that. Her face lit up, childlike, at the reassurance. She might not have fully understood who I was. I know it can’t be easy to tell someone your mother is dying. I imagine this led, in part, to my mom wanting to point out she knew I was spending Christmas alone, just like her, just like my sister. But there has to be a better way to phrase things than “I know that means an abrupt change of plans for you,” as though a loved one’s death ever comes on some kind of schedule.

Everything feels like it’s on a loop. The person I’m fighting with over text has someone dying, too. We’re all just shooting electronic barbs at each other.

In spite of all my best efforts, Christmas was dark. I turned on the tree briefly, checked into work to make sure things were running smoothly, and then I climbed into bed to play a video game.

It took a call from my incarcerated penpal, actually, to pull me back out the pit I’d sunk into. I hadn’t heard from him in a while. My 60-something-year-old gay incarcerated friend cheered me up and asked me if I wanted to get on a video call. By the time we were done chatting, I felt a bit lifted. I hope I did right by him, too.

On the day after Christmas, a friend came by my house with cookies from her and her partner’s families. She and I sat on the porch and talked about the things that were making us depressed, and also New Year’s Plans. I looked at my cheetah print pajama pants and at her rather smart butch work clothes and breathed in the smell of the rain bouncing off my aluminum awning. It was a sweet moment.

By the time she left, I had a text on my phone from a friend I thought had ghosted, had perhaps wanted to end our friendship in the spring of this year. But no, they had…tried to send me a letter that was never delivered. It meant the world to me that they weren’t gone, that I could pull their memory back out of the pile of people and things that I’d lost this year and that they wouldn’t have to be a memory anymore, but instead, a friend.

But, also, this text was not about the fact that I hadn’t yet received the letter (thanks USPS), but about the fact that my friend had accidentally sent a letter intended for me inside of an envelope sent to a different friend. They knew this because this friend had texted to say they’d clearly gotten my letter. Who knows what it could say. “Dear Nico, fuck you,” etc. is where my mind goes immediately, even if I know this friend would never bother if that was the case. If I got the envelope addressed to me, it would likely contain the letter for the other friend. I said I would keep an eye out for it and that I would probably have to call USPS soon, anyway.

There’s something here about perception and about intention and about, as much as we talk about communication around here, about how our words just sometimes come out wrong, or not enough, or messy. And about how dealing with the aftermath of mistakes is a part of communication, too. Now my whimsical ass is thinking I should send a letter to someone, I think, just to see where it goes. And if I can take a lesson from this series of mishaps, it’s that this coming year, I hope to give as many second chances, or more, as I’ve been given.

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Nico Hall

Nico Hall is a Team Writer for Autostraddle (formerly Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director and For Them's Membership and Editorial Ops person.) They write nonfiction both creative — and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret longform project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 229 articles for us.


  1. This is a beautiful piece and I think I will take the closing sentiment into the new year as well!

    “I hope to give as many second chances, or more, as I’ve been given.”

    I hope your mail gets sorted out and the new year dawns bright ☀️💛

  2. “And if I can take a lesson from this series of mishaps, it’s that this coming year, I hope to give as many second chances, or more, as I’ve been given.”

    Such a beautiful way to end this piece and welcome the new year! May your 2024 be full of wonderful letters both written and received

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