I mentioned wishing I had written him a letter telling him how much I appreciated him. Well, I’m seizing my opportunity and writing unsent letters. In the past, I have found these to be cathartic. There is something very comforting about releasing these letters into the atmosphere. I think carefully about the people I am writing to. I think of the role they played in forming me as a person. I think of myself as a piece of clay before it is thrown in the kiln, malleable and shaped by all the thumb prints people have left on me.
I know it sounds dumb, but the thing that sticks out in my mind most about you most is your hands, smelling of tobacco, smallish and pudgy. I remember lying with my head in your lap, your fingers tangled through my hair, as you read me tales of Edgar Allan Poe. The undulating rhythms of your words, the rasp in your voice like staccato rainfall on the tin roof, lulled me into a quiet peace. It was romantic, more romantic than sex. I remember holding you in your bed as you cried, making me promise over and over again I would never leave you.
The same you that threw my bag into the snow and told me to hit the bricks, and so I walked away, walked, walked, walked, until you in your moccasins ran me down, yelling at me to come back. I had planned on taking the bus into the city and then home. I never made it home that night. You bring my sins against me, either consciously or because of my tortured mind subconsciously, like a priest reciting them like memory. When I think of you, I always feel guilty like the good Catholic girl I was. Then, I remember your temper flaring, how you could make me feel like an ant you could crush in your fingers, the very fingers used to stroke my hair and calm me when all I felt like doing was thrash against the night.
You brought out the artist in me, the girl who could take an old table and decoupage pictures of aurora borealis and fireworks, lines of poetry written in curlicue letters on tissue paper. The girl who wore a long, long scarf all the colors of the rainbow on a summer day with a black mini skirt, black tank top, and black boots and posed for pictures by a fairground when all the lights were off the tilt-a-whirl and the fun house was still in its trailer. The girl who tore apart old books to write new ones. I ripped apart Water for Elephants and Catcher in the Rye, tearing out the words, hoping to find the words of my own poems and stories trapped in these old words. I miss being the girl you saw me being; I remember you telling me you wanted me to be your Unica Zurn, that you couldn’t live without me, that when I was away, you missed me every day, but when you wrote me love letters, you told me of our flaws, and how our flaws made us love one another.
I hated your flaws, if we’re being honest. I hated your dark side. I smoothed it out in my memory, though I knew it existed, because you’d push my face fast against the carpet and tell me you hated me, that you despised my very existence. I still replay the words, voicemail after voicemail you left, haunting me. “You abandon everyone you love, you whore.” I know you had a temper, but taking the things I told you because I trusted you and violating them like they were yours to violate, that was a low I hadn’t experienced before. It was like all my words had vomited on the floor. I had never felt so used, so dirty.
So exposed. Something sacred thrown in a fit of rage. A heirloom shattered in pieces. And I was that heirloom.
I remember the beautiful things. The meteors, the wishes, the burlesque shows, the sun showers, aurora borealis. Sitting up on the balcony ledge, telling you about my poetry, waving my hands around like I was a magician. I remember thinking you were magic, but then maybe, I thought it was just sleight of hand, but it didn’t matter to me, I couldn’t get enough of it. I’m sorry. I know I promised. Fingers held to glass, you still looked happy with tears shoved out of your eyes.
I’m sorry I hurt you how I did, but you know how love creeps in unexpectedly and fills the cracks? That’s how your hate felt towards me. That it crept into our relationship silently like cancer and like mortar, it held you to me. It metastasized and invaded every part of our love until there was nothing beautiful left. I know my acts of love weren’t the dramatics you wanted, there were no matchstick romances for us, but I came to you with love poems in my eyes, and I found you with cheese puff dust mingled in your chest hair, and no flowers in sight except for the ones frozen, lodged in my chest, the tears I could never cry.
I needed romance, love, excitement, contentment, I needed reassurance, instead you bundled into yourself like you were your own security blanket, and I felt alone and scared in a bed too small for one and too big for two. We fought like a bitter, married couple, clinging to the marriage because they had nothing left to cling to. I just wanted to be the woman in red satin.
There aren’t enough words, notebooks, enough memories to hold your hand to mine. I remember the first time your lips met mine, I pulled away and giggled. You had set your guitar aside after plucking a few notes out of thin air, you had asked me why we were giggling. I had told you, “You’re Dave.” In case you had forgotten. In case I had forgotten. Stephanie was on the other side of the bed we were leaning against, and there was Fleetwood Mac or Simon and Garfunkel playing like always through the cassette player, and the city winked and twinkled over us like it knew our secrets or something.
That December, we had wrestled, you had messed up my hair, and I was prone to pinching, but when you had kissed me, I had giggled.
The other night, I couldn’t sleep, and you crept into my mind like a whisper. I have so many things I never said to you because I never thought there’d be a time where we didn’t know one another. I never imagined pacing my balcony, my fingertips tapping, reminding me of you when you needed a cigarette, as Stephanie and I talked about memories, talked about you past tense, talked about you no longer present or future tense.
I should have listened more carefully. I should have told you we both struggle and that I understand. I should have told you I was there for you. Instead, your mother found you dead, and there’s no resurrection, man.
Remember the nights we would talk for hours, walking in the middle of the streets? And your endless lectures on “Don’t smoke; it’s bad for you” with a cigarette dangling out of your mouth and your cancer lighter in hand. I remember, and the magical Rainbow Road with all the swirly lights in all different colors. Christmas never looked so beautiful as it did those nights, driving down the magical Rainbow Road, flicking your lighter and watching as the lights swirled and blurred together as we laughed and laughed.
I’m sorry I didn’t listen more. I think in all your ramblings you had a message. I remember playing with your hair, sifting it through my fingertips like it was silk and I, the silk merchant. I never told you how much you meant to me, how you saved me. How dark my days were, but you truly lifted me up.
Those Yankee Doodle nights and hours long phone calls, those aimless wanderings down streets in the city, chasing after bunnies and laughing in Steak ‘N Shakes, those nights meant the world to me. I was lost, and you had found me. I miss you. I miss your voice in my ear. I miss sneaking you, all awkward and fumbling in pin-striped pants, into my bedroom when everyone else slept. I miss your snicker, feeling like an accomplice to your mischief. I miss going out at night and talking about the world. I remember you telling me that I took life too seriously. I remember you telling me everyone was beautiful in their own way. It was one of the lessons I stole from you, and I struggle now to remember the ugliest of people (the greedy, the impatient, the rude) are beautiful in their own ways.
In 2006, years and years before you passed away, I wrote about you in a journal entry.
“Simple memories. They mean so little, but they mean so much. Guitar songs culminating in the overwhelming truth. The way your eyes always went soft on mine, soul searchingly soft. Those gazes you flashed over at me. When nobody else understood, you got it the most. You and I could talk all night; it was never an issue of what to say because we always had the right words for each other.
I remember the first night I met you. A night of yellow pineapples floating in sweet drinks and me dressed like a salsa dancer with a rose twisted into a side ponytail, a smile painted on my lips. Our eyes flashing as we looked at the knight in the corner of the room, making side remarks no one else seemed to hear.
It’s funny how I miss the things I took for granted. The time you put your arm around me and pulled me into your lap, and we watched stars from the sidewalk, and you joked, ‘Look over there, and you can see Saturn.’ [Author’s Note: His car was a Saturn.]
The nights we talked for hours. It was always cold outside, but your hands always warmed me.
I think I miss that. Being held and not looked at like an object, but as a fascinating individual. Like you honestly wanted to know what made the sparks in my eyes. You wanted my input on the revolution we had been planning for years.
I think I miss being happy. It was a weird, fucked up sort of happiness, but I was happy.”
I miss you, man, and I loved you the best I knew how. I’m sorry I never told you. I never told you how much I appreciated you being in my lonely corner. Girls at school had spread rumors about me and hated me, and I didn’t know how much I was suffering. Last time I saw you, you were talking about going back to school.
Maybe it was time to scribble in another girl’s Chemistry notebook, but I never got a chance to find out because the next time I heard about you was when Nick told me you had died.
I miss you, and I’m sorry I wasn’t better for you.
You were the first one to love me unconditionally. Parents have to punish you and discipline you. Gramma and Grampa on Dad’s side were tough love, out of reach and not really mine, they always felt like they belonged to siblings or cousins who were less complicated than me, but I was your princess, though tiaras have a tendency to be lopsided, and I’m far from perfect. I still miss you every day. You left an indelible mark on me, but some days, I can’t even bring your voice back into my mind. Other days, I still see you on the back porch with a Pepsi and a pack of Winstons. You pat the seat across from you, the faded yellow daisies still in tact, and it’s like no time has passed at all. You still wear your dress pants and undershirts, still a cardigan and a newsboy hat.
It’s in these memories your voice starts off as a distant imagining, then it becomes real and solid, something I don’t know how I ever forgot. I feel like I spent most of my life after you died looking for love like yours, searching for love like yours. It led me in all sorts of places, but most of all, it formed me into the woman I am today. Thank you for helping me to discover who I am, discovering how tough I truly am. Your death catapulted me into needing the help I need and set me down a path of self-discovery.
I miss you. I’ve spent more years without you than with you at this point now, but I still think of you every day. I break wings off guardian angel pins so I have a one-winged angel just like the one you had, I still have your rosary beads seldom touched just like when you owned them, but damn, do I talk to you a lot in my mind. I don’t know if you can call it prayer, but you mustn’t have forgotten your princess because I still talk to you every day it feels like. When I smell cigarette smoke, I think of you. I remember when we would play cards, you cheated, and we would laugh together. I remember when you would tell me stories of your childhood, when we would just sit holding hands silently, the kiss wars. I remember you trying to teach me how to wink. How patient you were. And how funny.
I have no owner’s manual for this tiara, and it’s probably still lopsided, but I hope I will always be your princess. I hope you’re proud of me. I’m honest, I’m brash, and I think you and I could have sat in the garage and told stories that may make some gasp, but I think I could have made you laugh.
I miss you, Grandpa. I just want you to be proud.
Oh, I have stored up some words for you. Most of them are colorful descriptors of you, visions of what I would do if I ever saw you again, but the truth is, I’m too much of a coward to really enact any of these fantasies. I’ve written too many things about you, too many things to you to write much here. I have never really been able to hate anyone, but man, you bring me close to that. My boyfriend said something to the effect of that he wishes you were dead, and even though I agreed, the pit of my stomach reminded me how guilty I feel for even saying something like that. It’s not fair though that you made me suffer through so much, and you go on blithely unaware.
You shattered a part of me I didn’t know existed. I don’t even know why. You always blamed me and said that I pushed you to that point, but I never really felt it was fair to blame me. I think maybe it’s because of your past, or maybe that was just words you told me to keep me silent in the year and a half I tolerated your bull shit. I think you tried to love me the best you knew how, but I knew I deserved better once my mind was cleared, and fists don’t equal love in my thesaurus.
I still have my own issues. I wake up crying and don’t know why. I have these nightmares that make my heart thud-thud in my chest. I can’t stand the smell of gasoline, yet I cling to you like a memory I’m afraid to forget, because what will I tell people? Will my memories be invalid when they start to fade? Will the memories that rattled me to the core negate when I start forgetting? Will my own experience be invalid the moment I let myself be free and happy again? Sometimes, I freak out when people come up behind me, and I still get headaches from the spot you punched repeatedly. I black out at times that are completely inappropriate, and sometimes, when I hear glass shatter, I cringe, thinking back to all the nights with broken glass embedded in my neck and hair or in the carpet I so carefully tread upon. I remember your foot and fist going through the door frame, the tour I gave my friends when I was packing up my things and leaving you, and they looked around like I was giving them a tour of Hell.
You did all these things to me, but you gave me gifts, and no, I’m not talking peridot or gold necklace charms. I’m talking about resilience, the ability to fight back, stand up for myself. I’m talking about the gift of life that bounced inside of me, snapping like rubber bands. I’m talking about me finally seeing my self-worth, and knowing I’m better than I think I am.
So, thank you, but also, fuck you because you are scum. You destroyed me, and I hit rock bottom, but once a person hits rock bottom, you can only climb higher, and damn it, Dragon Boy, I’m soaring at this point.
Your name makes me shudder and almost puke. I found a picture of you on the Internet, and I still think of the nights you disrupted my life. I wrote so much about you at this point, it’s like the wind went out of my sails. The words are useless to reiterate. You used me like a vessel. You didn’t seem to understand I was not quite as hollow as I believed. You never seemed to hear the words I desperately tried to say. I was just a container for you, and I wish I could spit your taste out of my memory because I still can’t swallow apple cider without thinking of you.
You screwed me up so much so I don’t understand that “no” is an option. “No” is a perfectly fine response. I’m not your receptacle, don’t put your trash in me. I fought you, but you were stronger, you were always the stronger of the two of us. I hate your face, that stupid smirking smile you still wear. You look like you were punched in either side of the face and the hollows of your cheeks are sunken in like Edward Norton’s in Fight Club.
Someone should bend you over and insert something inside of you with you squirming and kicking and screaming the whole time. Because karma is a bitch. I’m starting to learn though, nothing bad comes of those who do bad unto me. That’s fine though. I’m also starting to believe the best revenge is a life well lived.
Revenge is sweet, and my life is beautiful.
I’m sorry you had to follow those two. I lost you long before I lost you. I’m sorry I was in a haze when you died, but I had a lot on my plate. I miss you. I miss our sleepovers and crawling into bed with you, holding you close, feeling your chest rise and fall with sleepiness, until I was drunk with sleepiness myself. I love you so much. I admire you for being you, a little bit crazy, combative, and beautiful. I hope I can be all three as well.
I see a lot of you in myself, and I am so glad I can carry on your legacy. I hope I can make you proud, and I hope you forgive me. I tried to be there every day before you died, and I still remember your last words to me, “You look beautiful tonight.” When you called me by the correct name, I ended up bawling in the lobby by myself because I didn’t want anybody to see.
My crosses were too heavy to bear at that point, with you and everything going on with Will, I just couldn’t handle it all. I tried to make you smile, I tried to make you comfortable, I just hope that you’re okay now wherever you are. If there is a Heaven, I hope you and Grandpa are reunited again. You really were crazy about him.
I miss playing cards together and sharing stories, telling you about school or listening to stories about your childhood. I miss you massaging my feet and telling me I should have been a foot model, or when you’d paint my nails, telling me how beautiful my hands were. I miss you washing dishes and me drying them because those were the times, we’d sing, tell stories, and laugh together, and your kitchen always felt like home to me.
You were a vacation from the expectation of others, and I miss being loved unconditionally, being your princess. I miss your love always, even when I was one thousand miles from home.
I miss you and love you always, Grandma.
PS. One of these days, I’m going to try blue eye shadow for you.
Oh man, buster brown, I think me falling for you how I did was narcissism on my part. I think I loved how much you reminded me of me, and you were so damn timid, so damn afraid to tell me how you really felt, and now, you’re with the girl your heart belonged to all along. I am happy for you, but I wish I could tell you some things, get some things off my chest.
I really did fall for you quite hard. I loved what you represented. The tortured artist, the poet, the dreamer, the alcoholic, the me that was pushed so far down that I wouldn’t let her free, but now she’s free, and I no longer need to have you and what you represented. God, I ached for you for so long. I loved the idea of us, but it would never come to fruition, and I’ve come to accept that, but I reread the poems I wrote during that time, and damn, I really hurt for you. I was blinded by my own stupidity, our car rides. When we walked the cemetery, I thought I could see a future together, but we were both unstable, and neither of us could handle the weight of one another.
It should have been a clue when you never answered me on those nights I called you out of desperation. Sitting on the fire escape, I kept expecting you to rescue me like I rescued you. Instead, I was left alone with a dimly burning cigarette I wouldn’t even smoke and a bottle of liquor beside me. I remember sitting in your bedroom, the small wooden bed beneath us, we didn’t kiss, but we shared intimate secrets. I remember you telling me, “I think I love you” and “You’ll always be beautiful to me.” Even with my hair rinsed in cold water, shivering, on a bed, drunk off my ass, you still found me beautiful.
But it was never meant to be. Because you were not the yin to my yang. We were both yin, and I needed a yang.
I have found that, but if it weren’t for you, I don’t know if I would have discovered this, maybe I would have stayed in Pennsylvania, maybe Manda and I would have grown distant or maybe we would have stayed together, there’s no telling, but you taught me to stop seeking myself in partners and look for someone who complements me, not completes me.
Darling, it’s been years since you’ve been mine and a couple years since you sought me out in the middle of the night to reconnect, since then your phone number has changed again and you’re engaged.
I loved you the best I know how. I know I fucked up, and Christ knows I made my share of mistakes, but I did the best I could. I was never very good at love; a lot of my attempts have been awkward at best, but I really did try. I gave you my poetry and my heart, and you still have a chunk of it. I remember writing our initials in the dust of Pompeii, I remember writing you love letters in Verona, talking about the hazel in your eyes, the sunlight in your gazes.
I am happy you are happy. I am happy myself now, more balanced and more stable than I have been in a long time, but you taught me so much about myself. You helped me through so much and developed a confidence in my writing I always lacked. Your admiration has fostered belief in me. I am so grateful for knowing you because our competitive writing streaks helped me to improve my style, but I cannot extol enough how much you saved me. How helping you gave me purpose. How you taking me in when you did saved me from a darkness I had never quite experienced before.
You were my sunshine, my light, when I was cloaked in the darkness of night. I miss you, but I hope you are happy wherever you are with whomever you’re with.
I miss you. Goddamn, do I miss you. I know time has passed, and you’ve moved on, and for some reason, you want nothing to do with me anymore, but I mourn the loss of our friendship. I wish you could meet the friends I have now, and I could tell you about my life, how much I’ve changed and learned and grown. I have no opportunities to tell you this. I have tried repeatedly to call you and to talk to you, to get your attention on social media, but you have no use for me in your life anymore, and that hurts.
I feel like it’s a book I started, but there is no ending. It just cuts off mid-chapter. What happened to us? Why aren’t we friends anymore? I know your father died, but I want to fix the things I did wrong. I know it felt like I used you, and I was selfish, but I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want you to forgive me, but I don’t think you can anymore.
So, in that case, I just want to apologize.
I miss you so much; I miss all the old times, I still have your mix CD’s and your cards. I kept the yearbooks where you told me I had a graceful neck, and I still dial your number sometimes, in the hopes you’ll call me back.
I’m so, so sorry.
It’s 4:39 a.m. now, and perhaps now, I can finally sleep since I addressed some of the ghosts that keep me awake at night.