Thursday, September 24, 2009


Dearest You,

I've been writing a lot of letters to people I feel warmly about. The letters I've been writing recently have ended on a high note. Yours may not end this way. But it's not that you aren't worth writing to.

Here's how it started. I am about twenty. You are a little older, but not much. We are both young. We are doing summer theater. I am acting and you are running the lights. You are tall and brown and lean. You wear mirrored sunglasses and your hair is cut short like Tom Cruise in "Top Gun."

It's funny, but you didn't really notice me until we were well into our run. You didn't notice me until that girl - the one who'd been doing wardrobe, the one with the cute blonde hair -- you didn't notice me until she'd left town. (I couldn't help but notice that her ankles were thick.)

You asked me to dance. There was a band playing in the bar where we gathered after the show and you took my hand and led me across the wooden plank floor. You were a good dancer. You said that your mother taught you. I rested my hand lightly on your bare arm.

Later, we walked out into the darkness behind the bar and looked at the stars. We sat on the steps of an old steam locomotive and talked. I don't remember much of our conversation except that eventually you asked how many lovers I'd had. You called them "lovers," and I thought this was romantic, but then we'd already established that you could waltz.

I wanted to seem more experienced than I was and so I upped my list by one. "Three," I said.

"Then I'll be number four," you said. And then you leaned in to kiss me.

We didn't sleep together that night because it was Sunday and I had to return my parents' Volvo. But the next Friday, when I prepared to head up to the theater, I packed my pajamas and my toothbrush in my big, white leather satchel. I did this in front of my stepmother in what I hoped was a nonchalant way. My dad gave me a wink and wished me a good weekend. My stepmother urged me to be careful.

It all unfolded the way I thought it would. (Like "Dirty Dancing," except instead of a gorgeous resort in upstate New York, it took place in a former coal mining town, turned hippie refuge, turned artsy-craftsy haven. My parents didn't seem nearly as worried as Baby's and though we knew you could dance, we never actually performed together.)

I started spending the whole weekend with you, sharing the house you were borrowing from the woman who was spending her weekends with the theater director. We drank beers together in the Mine Shaft Tavern and passed a bottle of tequila back and forth in the bleacher seats of the old baseball field. You pointed out the juniper trees on the hillside which sheltered stealthily planted marijuana. Holding hands, we climbed a slippery incline covered with tailings from the coal mine until we came upon an abandoned shack. Inside, we found dozens of bats hanging from the ceiling. No longer than my fingers, they were velvety and smooth with snub noses and delicately folded wings.

The end of the summer came as it does in New Mexico with afternoon thunderstorms leading into cool evenings. Just before our last performance, we all gathered back stage. The director congratulated us on a great run. He asked us to do it one more time. "Go fuck 'em in the hearts," he said.

That night, after the show, we had a party. The director mixed mint juleps and kissed all the actresses. You had to leave early. You said you had to do something for your mom, but you promised you would visit me at my parents' house the next day. I was leaving to go back to college and you promised you would say goodbye.

The next morning, my anticipation woke me from sleep. I dressed carefully, though in a way I hoped would appear casual. I packed the rest of my things and posed for photos in the driveway.

"She's off," my Dad said. "Off into the great beyond."

And I waited. When you were half an hour late I grew nervous. An hour later, I started to cry. My dad held me and stroked my hair and my tears made dark spots on the front of his purple cowboy shirt.

"Men," dad said. "They are weird ones. He has no idea what he's missing."

I called your house and the phone rang and rang and still, I had hope.

Late that night, I finally climbed into bed, still straining my ears for the sound of tires on our gravel driveway.

I didn't see you again and we spoke only once. I sat on the floor of my dorm room back in Chicago and pressed the phone into my ear. You said you'd been a coward. You said it was too hard for you to say goodbye. You said you might have been in love.

I would like to erase that last conversation. I would like to undo my subsequent trip to the Student Health Clinic and the week of antibiotics. I would like to instead imagine that we said goodbye on the steps of that antique locomotive where we shared our first kiss. I would like to imagine that as the train wheels began to roll you jumped on board and rode back to your world, a world so very different than my own, but one I was glad to visit for just a summer.


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