A Very Long and Overdue Letter
I was busy writing about something else, the loss of innocence and all this kind of shit, when I was suddenly distracted by your memory, or rather the memory of you, and thought that perhaps it would be better if I just wrote you instead. I believe it's because I was writing about high school, that miserable place which afforded us little more education than the camaraderie and independence that grew up inside of us, partially the product of choice, partially the product of necessity, that shared closeness that comes with the experience of being a social outsider.
More specifically, I was recalling the bit of forest behind the school, the one we were never meant to visit, past the portable classrooms and pick up trucks, and that horrendous chain-link fence, the one which separates truancy from athletic participation. There's something really beautiful about that piece of land, that delicate fabric of trails and open fields which reminds you, if only for a second, that perhaps central Texas is not the worst place on Earth, a beauty which is no doubt enhanced by its forbidden quality.
I'm sure it was you who made me go there first, or maybe it was Courtney. I can never be sure. You were always forcing me to do stuff like that, to bend rules, to push boundaries, not so much because you were a junior revolutionary, but more because you had the foresight to understand that these temporary rules enacted to govern the lives of young adolescents are, really and truly, complete and utter shit. Like the time you convinced me to ditch the career fair, and we spent the whole day mucking around South Austin; you bought me a sandwich, and then we rolled our pants up, halved a piece of cake, and climbed carefully but deftly down the root-encrusted bank to the still and forgotten creek behind the sandwich shop. I might not be pushing it if I said that was one of the best days of my life.
Yes, that's what I remember-little moments of freedom. I think we were quite good at that, our little group. We attended school in a place where it is customary to see Confederate flags, where the term "faggot" is thrown around with little to no objection, and where unconditional praise of the athletically gifted is encouraged (all typical traits of the southern experience, but one has to remember that it's disturbing that these things should ever become normalized). And so, in our own futile rebellion, we ate our lunches outside under the trees, sported our montage of paisley retro gear, pinstriped vests, and Goodwill t-shirts, celebrated Bob Dylan's birthday with chocolate cake at seven in the morning, and generally tuned out the world by filling our ears with music that was long ago forgotten by many-or so I thought at the time.
Of course this is a regular occurrence, that feeling of togetherness which is born out of isolation, but I like to think there was something a bit different about our situation -it wasn't identifiable as any nationwide youth trend, but it was instead a bond colored by a complete and total obsession with the past, a fundamental belief that things were inherently cooler in the sixties. And they were. The first week of school, I didn't even know you, but I knew you enough to think that I was in love with you. And then, with minimal provocation, you agreed to sew onto my bag all the patches which I had collected over the summer-The Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison, The Beatles, Bob Marley... The most obvious characters of retro obsession, which at that point, for me, held no cultural association of mainstream taboo. Yours was the most finite stitching I had ever seen, so evenly spaced, and with all the patches placed at angles that allowed them to exist in perfect harmony. As soon as I held the now-transformed vessel in my hand, I knew that I was definitely in love with you, and always would be.
Maybe that's the benefit of going to school in the middle of nowhere: the popular trends take longer to reach you, the only norm is mainstream country music, so you have to find something on your own, something that moves you and gives you shelter from your incongruous environment, the one that, as somebody quite clever once said, "says nothing to me about my life." There is one event that I remember quite vividly, sticks out in my mind, a party held on your mother's land, just across the creek from your father's, in that magical nowhere dip where the only signs of life were the distant silhouettes of cows, presumably in place for tax purposes. On this particular night, we had managed to craft something of truly Kesey-esque proportions:
Everything in my memory is shrouded in the flickering of several campfire lights, brief flashes of beards and naked skin, the competing strums of acoustic guitars, the kids from the neighboring school (namely your boyfriend and his team of beautiful hooligans) with their Kent III shirts, converse and gas station wine situated at the opposite flame, the constant sound of didgeridoos (by this point, the Alaskans had arrived and firmly planted themselves on your land and in your heart), and last but not least the incredible image of Courtney channeling Mountain Girl, wandering from person to person, offering each friend a poem from a jar, which had been folded into a pyramid shape (the poem, not the jar). "A poem for you..."
That night, as David and I were ascending from the wilderness and back into my car, I remember turning around for one last look at the circle below of fire, bodies, and drone, and remarking to David that it looked exactly like a National Geographic special, a fitting description, for earlier that week, you and I had fought because you assured me that, if given the choice, you would abandon all things familiar and Western, and relocate to a specific Aboriginal tribe where a popular game included forming a large circle with linked arms, consistently altering the resulting shape so as to avoid being touched by the shade of an overhead cloud. In this moment I believed that, maybe, just maybe, you were being sincere.
Just as well, then, that you left us for Alaska, left school early to pursue something that, all in all, was far more worthwhile. Sometimes I can't escape thinking that perhaps your decision to follow those bearded Alaskans up into the wilderness meant you knew that you were to die young. Although, I think everybody once and a while believes they are to die young, at least I hope that's a universal premonition, otherwise I should be concerned. Sometimes I try to imagine all the events I missed while I was sweeping away at the cinema: the day you cut off your, long, famous hair, the endless paths carved through such esoteric towns as Moab, Utah in pursuit of that great, northern paradise, the hours spent studying the teachings of a Western guru, and lastly the days spent in that cabin alone in Alaska, trying to understand, as you said to me, your relationship with God.
But there are things I do remember, things I don't have to imagine, like the many trips down to the University in search of several spoonfuls of bohemian insight, all of us lying in wait in my heavily shrouded bedroom, unanimously dreading the possibility that any parent might arrive before my father's decaying cassette copy of "Sounds of Silence" had come to completion. Or an evening spent in my now-donated Mercedes (used, of course); eyes closed as the song I'd written for you surged from the speakers, through my body, and eventually from my left hand into your right, all but filling the dense yet awkward-less silence.
And then, of course, the last time I saw you. You were leaving for Alaska or I was leaving for Europe, I can't remember which. That evening I was closing down the theater, clad in maroon vest and nylon necktie. I met you in the parking lot for a hurried goodbye (sometimes that's the only thing available). Standing outside in the vast space between the bookstore and the cinema entrance, one of us (I can't remember which) said, "I don't know when I'll see you again," and the other replied, "It doesn't matter," not as an indication of apathy, but instead a reminder that deep-rooted love is something you carry with you, like a talisman, or rather like that essential piece of metal sewn into the wall of my stomach lining. "Even when I'm not with you, my love is with you..."
Each year, on the anniversary of your death, I intend to write something and never do, a disservice I always regret. Instead, I'd like to remind you of something you wrote, something I had forgotten about until I saw your father at David's funeral the other day. There is more to say about David, but nothing you don't know, and now is not the time or place. He (your father) said to me that it's finally time to begin taking apart your room, to free himself of the many possessions left behind in that upstairs purple abode. As a start on the project of purging, I was handed a package containing photographs of you and David (I had forgotten how the two of you looked so much like identical twins), along with a story you'd written for school when we were fourteen or so, detailing where you might be in ten years. I stored these items somewhere safe (so safe I can't remember the exact location) and thus I am unable to quote your original text.
But here's what I can remember-I can remember the rough penmanship, the sort that can only belong to a girl of fourteen, and I can remember the happiness that it brought me years ago when first I glimpsed it, a happiness which was rekindled when it was re-delivered to me much later. Fortunately I can also remember the general outline of my favorite part. It had something to do with you joining NASA, training to become an astronaut and traveling to the moon several times. After that vision of yours was quenched, you married me, we had three beautiful children, and I like to think that we lived happily ever after. If you'd only known how, at the time, I carried this story inside of me, intentionally ignorant of its casual intent, and allowed it to foster all kinds of beautiful hopes within my being. But maybe it wasn't all disingenuous. As we discussed earlier, love is something that you carry with you always, regardless of its form.
So many years later, all I can say is this: I'm glad this was your dream-because it was mine too.