I took a book off the shelf. It’s a book that was intimately tied to a specific time, and a specific place. But we can forget that. I can even disregard the inscription on the inside cover. I mean, who reads the inside covers of books they already own and have read? I flip to my favorite chapter, the one that I have the first lines memorized:
Bring your ear down closer. Put your hand over the other ear. Think of seashells. There. Now you can hear me.
A photo falls of us, kissing in a photobooth. I studied each slide and how we looked, where your hands were, where mine were. We were younger then and it even looks it. Our brows were less knitted, our smiles much wider. I was wearing someone else’s dress. You were wearing someone else’s shoes. And nothing, not even the clothes on our backs, belonged to us. Not really anyway.
Did we dance that night? I can’t remember. With whom did we mingle? I forget all their names. I remember looking at a dodo bird. Not a real one, of course, because those are all extinct- dwindled off by their own stubbornness to reproduce for the survival of their own species. I remember penguin servers with trays of hors d’oeuvres. I remember your eyes when I took off my coat.
How did it come to this? My present arachnid state. I was young once, I was beautiful, I was sought after, I had picturesque robes and exceptional talents. I uttered portents in caves: there were lineups, there were waiting lists for them. How did I come to be so tiny, so translucent, so wispy, so whispery?
For all the times I’ve hid treasures in borrowed library books for others to find- train stubs, unsent postcards, little doodles in the margins- I never surmised that I would find my own. All at once, I am regretful, I am proud, I am rendered helpless, I am better off, I am missing, and I find myself, crying- for what I’m not sure.
Fear is synonymous with the future, and the future consists of forked roads, I should say forking roads, because the roads are forking all the time, like slow lightening. A road is a process, not a location.
I feel as if I’ve missed an exit, for the rest stop. A place where we can sip coffee slowly, and find relief when we’re bursting at the seams. And like most interstates, expressways, turnpikes, the further away from the missed exit, the harder it is to turn around. The less justified you feel. The further you travel, the more you hope there’s another comparable stop in the future, one that you surely will not miss, not this time. One that has a café that serves soy chai lattes, at the right temperature.
Regret will follow this open letter, a hurried mistake for which I will burn my tongue, but perhaps I’ll learn to wait. Or I’ll learn to keep my foot heavy on the pedal. Or perhaps I’ll learn nothing and instead always wonder. But for now you are a photograph, and a story whose lines I’ve memorized. We promised always.
We are both the kind of person who takes the corks out of bottles. Not bottles of wine: bottles of sand.