When you write, you are out there in the world without a net. Though you can carefully edit out all the stupid/terrifying/misguided things you did in your past, there are people who know them and know you. They can show up, reminding you of a certain time in your life, taking you back to the sound of waves on a beach or the vanilla smell of a ponderosa forest dusty with sunlight.
I got one of those letters today, from one of the people I left behind as I traveled the country as an accidental gypsy. This person wants to be anonymous and though I have some thoughts about who it may be, honestly I am not sure I really want to know. There were a lot of people who did me wrong, just as I did wrong a smaller subset, consumed by my fire to see the world. I kind of want it to be all of them, rolled up into one letter, that mysterious “closure” that never really happens, but that we all long for. We want life ironed flat, at least when it comes to the mistakes we made, the heartbreaks perpetuated and given. At any rate, here is how I would respond to the stranger from my past.
Dear Someone I Used to Know:
I remember you. While I may not know who you are, I remember first the feeling of possibility and then the dive into heartbreak. Because it happens. It especially happens when you are young and you love getting into your car and just driving, all of your possessions carried along. You are like a song I don’t quite recall the lyrics to, but that I repeated over and over, because I both wanted to stay and wanted to go, and in doing so I collected all sorts of people, those who admired this and those who took advantage of it.
Someone, I admire your bravery in writing even if it is behind a curtain of anonymity. Though I should, I am not sure I want to look up the cracks in my past and try to smooth them over. A handful of decades brings us both wisdom and regret and I could have done many things differently. Writing memoir and fiction I know that there are ghosts that will appear, ghosts that I have tried to forget, some that I would like to take out for a drink and ask how their lives are, what happened after I left that park, how they got on. It’s way easier not to write, I think. Not blog, not publish books, push on toward the end of your life hoping that everyone forgives you and that someday, you can forgive them.
But Someone, I want you to know that I am touched by what you wrote. The details are not important; it means a lot that you thought about what you did in the past and are able to express so eloquently your wish that it had all gone differently. Of course, it didn’t, and all of us are scarred by some kind of fire. I think of it like the cat-face ponderosa trees, burned in wildfires but still standing, not especially a fire resistant tree, at least not to canopy fires. They accept with grace. I do, also.