My Hidden Lives // Prose

162. about the better half of me

letters

“Think of that: in a sense I will be speaking again just to you. And remember this: the page you are looking at now, I once typed the words with care with you in mind under a yellow light with the radio on.”

Charles Bukowski

_

 

When I sat down to work, it wasn’t with the intent to write another message in a bottle to you, one of those half-public letters you’re probably ashamed of by now.

My fingers had other plans though, they tricked me. You know how sneaky they can be. Isn’t that why you clasped them between your two steady hands the night we met, and bit the nails down one by one? When I asked you about it, you said it was to avoid injury. This is one of the few things we had in common. Neither of us believed in me.

In the warm light of summer evenings, face glistening under a fine sheen of fresh sweat, you glowed like a thrift-store saint. Tatty old straw hat you’d stolen from your old man and a pair of jeans two sizes too big. Awkward and endearingly reckless, a boy’s open face on a tall gangly body.

The season lagged. We slipped one against the other in the heat, in a daze and with a fever only the summer can hide. In the meadow behind your childhood home, you sneaked peaks underneath my plain cotton dress and said I reminded you of Mother and fresh laundry. Misunderstanding the real meaning behind those words, I told you I would rather be your friend than your guardian. I never realized what you really wanted was for me to be a home.

Rain came suddenly, with snow as swift at its heels. I traded barefoot waltzing in the parks for faux maturity, you replaced childish naivete with full-blown insanity.

Word would come to me in those gloomy winter months, about how you’d shaved your head and got lost in the woods on some bad trip, or married a girl twice your age in some gory spectacle of a village chapel wedding. You never even believed in God. When they’d asked you why, you only said „because she’s soft.“ I thought to myself, well, so was I, but even in the quiet of my thoughts with no one to confront me, I knew it was a lie.

The cold lost its hold on you eventually, sanity returned like a war veteran with the fanfare of your true art at its tail. I’ve seen your new stories, listened to the hum of that old country blues underneath. They carry your blood, and I for one am glad you’ve found a way to pour your demons out, instead of injecting more into the already chaotic traffic of your veins.

Neither of us was ever going to be the one, neither of us knew what it meant to matter. When I saw you again in the spring, you said it was your season. Every day from that day on was your day, you proclaimed, and you were right.

Standing proud at the back of the crowd, I watched you don your halo once again and sprinkle awe onto the kids in the first row. When the show was over, I stayed behind to say hello.

„What are you doing these days,“ you asked. „Do you ever think of summer?“

„Oh, boy. You don’t even know.“

Every time I hear a particularly slow bluegrass tune, or birds chirping away at dawn, or trams passing in the afternoon, or the slow sullen buzz of neon lights in the evening. Every time I notice the weather, every time I have a drink, every time I light up. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but it amounts to everything.

„Did you ever find that home,“ I asked redundantly, to steal another second from your victory, to make myself important again. „Do you remember who told you you should write in the first place?“

„I remember a girl who said she’d be my friend.“

The crowd swallowed you back into its nurturing womb as I loitered on the edge. There are more ways to hurt than scratching the skin, I realized, and my sharp bones and edges had left bruises on your body, injuries that went a whole lot deeper than either of us had expected.

I’d wanted to say sorry, but you didn’t need me to. You’d found your family by then and it was a better shelter than any I could’ve offered back in the day. Our roles got so twisted and reversed, in the end, you turned out to be my home, while I was incapable of even being your friend.

Another summer has found me now, sitting at my desk, thinking of you: my grain of sand, my miniscule seashell in which I hid from the madness and scorcher of one hot, dry season.

I know you read my letters, because I, too, follow everything you do. If I thought they were shots in the dark, I would never fire them at all. The world has no use of my poor words and scant style, they are meant for you alone.

With nails clipped to blood and bones too brittle to cause harm, I am finally strong enough to tell you this will always be your season in my mind, without agenda, without any hidden reason behind the awkward rhymes I violently push into my prose.

We are both living the lives we chose.

It just so happens, I would rather live the one you’d wanted. I never could imagine such simple beauty for myself.

You were always, and always will be, the better poet.

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