I once thought that a stranger was the easiest person to leave. I felt sure that one would never break my heart because I wouldn’t be close enough to feel the hurt. I was so sure that a stranger could never force a tear.
Now I am a stranger to the people who sit around me. An unknown person on an overfilled plane can be the saddest man in the sky. I am Laura Jenson, I am Briony, I am James Gatz. I am all these people and I am real. I am the truth that I could not say.
As soon as I passed through the security check at the airport I knew I had to write you this letter. I had two hours before my flight departed but I was unable to think clearly. I tried to focus long enough to plan my narrative but failed. I pretended to sleep so that no-one would bother me and I ran through the last week in my head.
The facts were so simple. The days and times. The colours and sounds. They were still happening. With my eyes closed I was every second at once. I had no need for memory because I was still there. This power was useless. The sun can shine forever behind the moon but no-one will see its light until the eclipse is over. I didn’t want to write you with facts, you already know that half of my story.
The real seven days, the parts that mattered, were not settled in the airport so I had to wait. I sent you a message in the midst of this chaos. I had nothing to say to you but I couldn’t say nothing.
Reading your reply reminded me that I had enough time to write a thousand letters before we could meet again. I only needed to finish one but it had to have the right words. I hope that as I go I will find out what they are. I didn’t find them in the piazza, I didn’t find them in the park and I can’t see them yet. But I believe they will come to me because I don’t need to think any more. Just like I wasn’t thinking when I spoke too fast for you to follow. It was all natural then. It was like we had been dropped in different parts of the world as some universal joke that everyone else can enjoy but we have to live with.
When my plane arrived, the queue began. I sat until last. There were enough seats, I had a ticket that proved it.
I am thankful that I did get on my plane today. I have seen things that cleared my mind enough to write these words. I hope that having this in writing makes the impact I want. Sometimes our actions can change the whole world. People rushing to catch a stationary plane are just idiots so desperate to move that they don’t realise the world is still. There are billions of worlds on this planet but only a few that one person can affect. I can change two worlds with one letter. I can alter the universe because of you.
The girl beside me is afraid of flying. As we taxied she lent over to her father and gave me enough space to remind me that I travel alone today.
Staring forward at the seat-back, I told myself that I hated flying too. It is the least dignified of all transport. I am sat across the aisle from a woman whose helium breasts are only matched by the bulge of her gut. She pulls chocolate from her fake luggage and drops crumbs down her pink tracksuit.
Had I not been distracted I might never have found words to explain my holiday to you. I sit close to a woman who is the opposite to everything you stand for. You are polar ends of the galaxy and a touch from your hand would line all creation into an endless and perfect catwalk.
My focus was stolen by the safety demonstration. Every time I see this procedure I think of Fight Club. Not the book, it might not even happen there for all I know, but the movie. I have to smile. They point out the floor lights that we follow and the oxygen masks we place over our faces.
Next they show us how to operate our life jackets. Do not inflate your jacket until you have exited the plane. If this flight does go down I am going to rip my cord and wedge myself in one of the aisles. Anyone who was listening gets to leave. In the event of a water landing you are all going to die.
This gay parade is rounded off by the instructions printed on the rear of every seat. Each diagram shows a man, I may as well call him Chuck, avoiding dying in a plane crash. He crawls under the smoke coming from charred bodies. He adopts the correct posture for crash landings. He fold his arms before using the inflatable emergency slide. He never stops smiling because he knows he is right.
But it’s not his carefree attitude to catastrophe that makes Chuck important to this letter. It is his shoes. Chuck wears yellow shoes. You know why that colour is important for us already but now it takes on a further meaning. It started this letter.
I don’t know why Chuck has yellow shoes. The designer could have used any colour he wanted. Thinking about them made me realise that no matter how many times the movies tell us it’s romantic to drop everything for a girl in another country, in real life it is a joke. It is something that you tell your best friend and they laugh. In their world you are now an idiot.
Yet I don’t want you to be mad at those shoes. You must love them and tell your friends that yellow is the future of footwear. Because Chuck also told me that I wasn’t in his world or my best friend’s world. We are made as we are and this is how we must live. I can do anything I want because you can too. And I know what will happen if we do what we want.
There are times in life when everyone is faced with the absurd. This is the greatest test. Our reaction to the nonsensical can lift us beyond the unthinking billions. The way we look at those shoes says more about us than any spoken answer. When I see them I realise that the only sane thing to grasp is madness. If you can’t laugh at what everyone else is doing then you are just another one of them.
There are an infinite number of people conforming but so few that shine all alone. The stars are a bad analogy here because there are too many. We are more than stars as we are less than stars. We are the entire universe. Millions of twinkling lights are nothing compared to us. The most beautiful gestures in literature are dust.
You must wonder by now where I am leading. Please stay with me because it will make sense. It was the realisation of how special and how unique we are that gave me the confidence to write to you. I can do this because now I am free. You did this for me when you asked for my embrace. You didn’t care for rules and rights and wrongs. You are better than I can be because you taught yourself all this. I will always be in your debt. You improve me.
I owe Chuck too. Without him I wouldn’t have understood what was so clear to you.
My eternal self, the part of me that lives in every moment I have ever experienced, is landing in Rome now. That version of me came with sadness around his neck like leaden weights hung for my misery. I was missing my liveliness and my confidence. I once had these qualities but they were stolen from me. The worst feature of this crime was that the thief didn’t want what she had taken.
She belongs in my past but drags along in my present. She burst into my world when I was content and blind. Before long I was sure of my affection and sure of hers. Yet my voice had broken. I could not speak with grace and illusion. I sometimes think that we have used all our words so often that they are shedding meaning. Perhaps to write in ugly and brutal poetry is the best I can do.
My problem was a failure to find the right words, the same failing that haunts me now. I think that with her it was instinct that told me to pursue her no further. Yet I persevered. She entranced me into thinking I could never leave. I won’t say it was a waste because even that splintered relationship taught me lessons.
But I spoiled my gift. Even after she had left me to die I swore I would continue. I swore that every day a piece of my heart would break for her until none remained.
That is the person you met. I had a heart no larger than the full stop marking this sentence. I was left with the very diamond at the centre of that vital organ. I believe that we are born with the smallest gem within us. This part is so strong that it can never stain. Through life the heart may grow, disease or fade but it cannot disappear. I survived on my diamond alone that week.
Until Thursday I fulfilled myself by refusing to care. I had given everything away and every new face was responded to by my most effortless smile. I was enjoying my holiday but by a margin the width of this page. Thursday night changed everything. Not immediately, but it was the beginning.
I don’t know if I seemed bored or disinterested that night. That was how I felt. My companions were self-involved and spoke little English. One of the girls thought that looking pretty was acceptable substitute for conversation. I hated to be a burden to them but so much time speaking a new language was taking a toll on my senses.
We called out for an English voice to ease my mind. My strongest wish led me right to you. You were stood so close but we might never have met without my linguistic failure.
You looked at me with a smile and you started. You haven’t stopped since.
This is where I wake up. In the present because the stewardess has broken my knee with the trolley. She smiles an apology back without breaking stride. Another part of me is waking up Friday morning and will do so for ever. The sun rose that morning and looked just like it does from the window to my right. Above the weather and without the clouds it beams unfiltered into my eyes.
I must make a confession before I can continue. On Thursday night I didn’t really look at you. It was your words that held me. Your speech and your accent were more than enough. Your voice is like a scratched record spinning on a warped turntable. It changes speed between tracks and distorts lyrics to nonsense. For all these imperfections I am still listening.
It was the next day that I saw your face for the first time. I can only ever see you in the silence. In my head I could turn the volume off and look at the rest of you. As soon as I did I contacted you again. We arranged to meet in the piazza. Two facts as cold as the world was before you arrived.
We shared our criminal pasts and our broken futures. We live in the age of the understatement so I hope you understand that I mean more than I can write. When we were together it was hard to catch my breath. I wanted to tell you but the words seemed so overused to dirty the day with.
We sang our favourite songs together on a bench in some busy street. Everyone who walked by stared at the two voices making English music in the heart of their city. I thought it was the best day of the trip. But the end was near. I still couldn’t find the words that wouldn’t make things worse. When we parted the section of my heart that had grown back died. I looked back but you were just a picture in my head.
I had made the wrong decision again. Before you I had made every decision wrong. I gave my once giant and powerful heart to people who I knew would hurt me. That day I had a chance to make the right choice and I failed.
And yet it wasn’t over. This time I had more to give. If we had been given more time I would have let the moment wait forever. I was leaving and for that you must not be sad because it made me ask for a second chance. That night I couldn’t dream because I was losing you.
Our day came. As the evening drew closer it was obvious that it was the last day of the summer. It was not autumn nor winter that followed because since then a new sun has risen. If I look now it will blind me. I can feel the warmth of it on my back as I feel the warmth of your face beside mine.
You must know the moment I recall. It was the point when all our songs became background noise. A special silence that everyone should feel once in their lives. It was a few seconds that shared more power than any creator, any artist or poet. I felt the surge run through my body and spill out in every direction. If I could replace all the pain in the world I would leave only that feeling.
After hours brushing side by side on a bench in a twilight park we finally closed together. We drew ever nearer as we spoke meaningless words. Words so fragile I have already forgotten them. It was almost as if we were waiting for the yellow lamp lights to guide us the final inch. Under their glow you completed the moment. I was still living within myself and terrified of your disapproval. But you moved first. You moved while the world stood waiting.
I don’t know how long we remained on our bench together. All that mattered was that we were together. There were no stars that night. I can hardly bring myself to think of the night sky now. For some reason it is the only thing that makes me sad. All other times I think of you I am alive with warmth. The stars remind me of why we parted. They remind me that many nights will pass before we can meet again.
Now that I am nearing London I know that my autumn and winter will arrive. But through them I will be forever warm. Your cheek is pressed against mine and our lips will only part the next time we speak. I am living in a sunrise over a new world. It is my world and you gave me the strength to control where and when I am. I choose to be with you always, never ageing but growing purer each day..
I have tried to put down everything I feel for you yet I am trapped by the words I use. I am constrained by their simplicity and inadequacy. What I felt that night cannot be spoken or written it must be understood. I think that you do understand.
The only thing more unbearable than closing my eyes and thinking of the stars is the fear that one day there won’t be any in the sky for me. It would seem like all the happiness has been extinguished. I don’t want to write the words that might make that happen.
I will leave you with the everlasting lamplight that glows over the irreplaceable picture in my mind. I promise you that if you go back to the park you will hear what I mean to say. I promise that I sit there forever for you to hold. I will always be there waiting for you and one day, when the yellow light shines brighter than ever, I will speak the last words of summer.
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