There is a boy. He is seventeen. He is young. He sits in his mother’s house. Don’t we all? His world is small. He is looking out the window at it. He is slowly driving onto the expressway of it. He calls it a freeway, I tell him it’s not called that where I’m from, he still calls it a freeway. He is a little bit afraid. He is excited. He is brave. He is me when I was seventeen. We are sitting in my mother’s house. We are all here together, talking. At night, when no one else is with us, he tell me stories of him. His cat is laying on the rug in his room. His cat looks like my cat. He likes pizza. Of course he does. He likes pizza with meat, like most Americans, I tell him he’s got it all wrong, that he needs more veggies. When the pizza is gone, he tells me more. He lives with his mother in a small city in a small apartment. His world is small. He goes to school online, somehow, isn’t it amazing how children use to go to school in tiny rooms holding chalkboards, that’s what the books all say, but he goes to school online. In my almost old age I can almost understand it. His parents are divorced, and that seems to matter. My parents never divorced, but that doesn’t mean they were together. He sits with his cat and his dog and he tells me. Some clock goes off again and again at the start of every hour. It sounds like the grandfather clock that lived in my grandmother’s house, but his runs on batteries, not the swing of the pendulum. The story isn’t straightforward. He is his own narrator. There are questions I have that are not asked or answered. Listening, it is a mystery that never plans to reveal the answer, that never knows where it is trying to go. He might be getting a job soon. He’s so excited, he tells everyone. He is kind. He is silly. I notice we all start to sound the same, make the same jokes, our accents merge into one, we all say freeway when we mean expressway, we all turn a little southern though we were born elsewhere. His mother is not kind to him. We only hear the story that he tells. He might not be kind to his mother. She might be ruining his life. She might be saving it. There might not be anything to save. What damage will we do to other people? We are all laughing together at midnight. My jaw is sore from grinning. It was not like this before. There was no happiness in sitting alone, not this much. We sit together. We tell our story so far. There are questions we do not answer, things we don’t include. There is a expressway that runs from me to you. It might become a freeway before it gets there, or something else. The police came to his mother’s house one night, weeks ago. They put handcuffs on him, or so I imagine, it was one of those unasked questions. When he sat there in his mother’s house, he was still the boy who loved pizza, who was afraid of driving on the freeway, who took silly pictures of his cat that looks like mine. I imagine the clock chiming in the background, the cat winding around the officers’ legs, his mother sitting sternly, trying to teach her son some lesson of life. It is some story I don’t know. I am looking through the window at it, wondering. We might hear about it, someday, but the story is not straightforward. There are many blank pages that will never be written, that might be left alone, that might be filled in later. Imagine an empty pizza box. There is a circle of grease on the bottom of it, where some restaurant worker put the steaming, cheesy, meaty thing. They closed the lid, pressing down on the cardboard. He might be that person someday. His mother might have been. The policeman might have been. You might never know.
Would you rather live a year in complete darkness or a year with only sunshine? Could anything grow in the dark? How long could we survive?
My friend messages me from the other side of the world and asks for my address. There’s a letter for me there. It flew from America to Asia, and now it’s coming back again. Who is it from? Who do I even know in that state? There’s only one person I’ve written a letter to that lives there. Could it be? The sun shines in me.
Letters are like memories. Even though they’re written down, recorded, we forget them. I have no idea what I wrote in that letter. I don’t remember how long it was. I don’t remember what my handwriting looked like on the outside of the envelope.
Possibility. It’s a seed of unknown origin. Limitless. It could grow forever, into anything. Memories that haven’t been made yet. Words that have been written down but not read.
Balance is important. Half day, half night. Darkness is quiet, terrifying, calm. The sun is blinding but it lets us live, grows us, moves our skin. Balance. Humility and pride. Sadness and joy. Sorrow. Love.
My friend doodles tiny colorful monsters on paper. He paints them, creates them, shares them. Sells them for the big evil dollar. Nails them to trees. Talks about sunshine. Paints happiness on his feet. Looks like joy. The definition of.
I don’t know anyone purposefully living in darkness. But there are a lot of people who don’t have rainbows on their shoes. I’m getting older waiting for this letter to come. Another week or two. When I’m waiting, sitting under the mailbox, I watch my friends go by. They walk past me. Some don’t turn their heads. Some are too far away to see anymore. I wonder why my parents don’t have friends. I wonder why people stop loving each other. It’s not that hard. It’s worse to be alone. It’s harder in the darkness. It’s better to try to keep growing as a person.
I wonder where that slip of paper is. Anticipation. Focus. Mathematics and a brain-powered global positioning system. When? Who? What answers will it have? Did I ask questions? Will anything change? Will there be blinding sunlight in it? Sunglasses shaped like flowers? A thoughtless reply?
I’m thinking about that particular smear of pencil lead on the palm of my writing hand. How I can never paint anything very well at all because I don’t pick up my hand enough. That particular triangle shape of accidental art. But I think I wrote the letter in pen.
Wheels spinning on ground. Planes flying in air, high above us, that we still claim as our own. Not outer space. Travel. Thoughts. Responses. Emotions. Relationships. The final delivery, someone lightly stepping on the brake to insert the letter into my mailbox, months after it was first deposited into one and sent my way. Sent to where I was. Sending to where I am.
It will probably be light out when it arrives. Sun. Shine. Wind. The smell of winter. Cold. Ice on the ground. The feel of it. The corners of such a small, flat thing. Who knows?
1. I wish I was cool enough to say “big ups”.
2. Stop assuming he/or she hates you. Just ask, then you’ll know for sure that they do!
3. Let’s all love and care about each other a little more this year.
4. You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up! You never have to know! Next time someone asks you what “career” you want, just throw a flower/balled up piece of paper/dollar/smile at them and run away!
5. Romania is “in” this year. Let’s go! Are you buying me the plane ticket? I only do window seats. Thanks!
7. Not all stories have happy endings.
8. The only thing more interesting than art students is their hair.
9. No, really, what are we supposed to do with all these Beanie Babies??
10. Put a dollar bill (or the equivalent, international friends!) under someone’s windshield wiper the next time you’re in a parking lot. Do it! Then tell me about it.