Correspondence (a fiction
Chapter One: When Hearts Are Large
My love, when we first set sail and pushed off to sea, I stood at the bow looking backward, dry-eyed and imagining that the world, in all its color, grandeur and majesty, had been devastated by the same sort of flood I'd seen when I told you that my father was making me leave.
It was a midsummer night's eve, and in my heart, it was a romance. That same Shakespearean tragedy. That quintessential teenage flickering that let love burn brighter in the reminiscent memories as we slowly fell asleep, cuddling beneath the stars that I wished upon through the cutout at the top of the teepee (that doubled as an indian fort with "girls have cooties" stitched across the seams, and at night, our secret love affair that the cowboys would have deemed a crime punishable by cap gun and sour faces and wild, wild west make-believe).
Old enough to comprehend but young enough to dream.
I can still hear the rhythm of your breathing beneath that canopy, while the wind played brush on the snare and god threw his bolts of lightening, like the thunder clapped clave to compliment the whistling moving through the trees, and remembered promising that when we grew up, you'd build a home for me.
Now to start growing.
And you'd twist up your fake mustache like your favorite character in your favorite movie, and whisper, "I'll be your huckleberry."
And in the early morning when I snuck back to my room I thought, "Tragedy, indeed" - that innocence, if it ever was, can be stripped away without a warning.
My king, by grace or by fate or by luck or by mercy, I trust the moon will carry your letters safely to me. This flood, rescinding, will give way to land, depending, and like the hand of God gave olive leaves to encourage that ancient family...
My dove, with love and sincerity and all that I have to offer,
Chapter Two: Tombstone Love Note
My everything, I found your letter inside of a bottle, and didn't know what to say. It was broken further down the cove, ink spilt hallowed but such a shallow grave, read your poem like it was life in itself, starved for hope like the waters were too hard to navigate, but it figures that if I was going to build us a home, well then your heart would find its way.
It smelt of sea salt and your father's favorite poison. I'll never forget that day.
College-ruled lines clouded by the liquor, like a water-color painting that had absorbed the spectrum with blue, and hues thereof (or like a piece of bread to absorb the damage). That bottle of Seagrams shattered against a seashell and rewrote the story that it would tell to any little girl who might pick up that whitewashed tomb, expecting to hear the ocean, listening for the crescendo and the crash, when at last, she'll hear the echoes of your whispers:
"These bottles will carry my heart home, and the currents will be kind, and my lover's letters will return to me, and our children will grow to find that all is not for naught, and though all is not yet healed, their parents, they worked hard for it, and the storms honored their appeals to see that though my father's drowning, his bottles float above the waves, and though I used to dread the water, its waves will be faithful to crash every day (until at last, I see your face)."
Things aren't the same.
I've been picking up splinters of lumber for the floorboards and wondering about all our splintered promises, like even though we didn't have control over their breaking, oaths like those don't account for much.
I loved the beach for the way the breath of God rose out of the deep, and I hated the sand but I'd tolerate it to hold your hand and watch the sun sink into the sea, feet buried just beneath the surface, molten love buried just beneath the surface, erupting, volcanic, unable to keep beneath the surface that broke like our parents' dormant, surface-level crater of a marriage that looks more like a coffin every time I read the note that I stole out of my father's casket before it closed. He wrote it about my mother. A woman I never met, but it made me feel like I knew her, and this is what it said:
Chapter Three: The Great American Game
Dear Diary, Grandfather's creaky as his front porch, loads his shotgun beneath the awning, spittoon restless for rain, carpenter's chair against the whistling air. Rocking, back and forth, rocking snap shot picture - worth it, just like the movies.
She said that he loved baseball, and James Earl Jones; said that he's got god talking inside of his thoughts while he's rounding those bases on his way back home.
If you build it, they will come (and baby listens to what the Lord say). But I've been getting pretty worn, building for nearly a decade.
In a perfect world we shouldn’t have been allowed to lose sight of what it means to love wholly. I’ve got a Polaroid hanging on my wall that a friend took of me and my angel. I remember the day like it’s something I can touch, but it’s stuck in the square between the borders of the film, and I can run my fingers over our faces, but I can’t get back to the places we were.
"You’ve got a pain deep in your bones, son. It compels you forward like you’re tied to a slave master’s cruel hand, and it's the same pain that drives that oppressor’s heart of stone, so you’ve grown to love the man. You keep pouring yourself out, again and again, into legible lines through a crooked pen." Yeah, it’s painful, but it’s familiar – so habit breeds comfort, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.
So in the early morning, when you’ve fallen asleep in our home, I drift back into the memories that I’ve claimed as my own, and wonder if tonight will be a night I’ll hang on my wall like I did before we stopped taking photos, out of the habit of being comfortable with not trying at all.
In a perfect world, we’ll have albums labeled Seasons, with chapter headings, and we’ll staple them to the cork-board that hangs at the foot of the bed. There’s longevity in a memory spilt out in pen, and if a picture is worth a thousand words then I’ve written down every one of them.
I work hard, scarred, toil through that soil for the youth I see in my friends, but these journals are moments in time, snapshots of our lives, and in retrospect, age is an overexposed photo that the memories can't mend.
I know my sweet seductress, and her name is Depression. I wrote best beneath that demon’s destructive oppression.
In those Polaroids, she drove the ink into the canvas like a slave beneath his master’s cruel hand, and I hated that whip but always wondered what I’d do without it, so I grew to love the man.
Oh, I wept for change! I begged for movement and the good Lord, he answered my prayers, but you don’t know how to breathe easy when you let go of your habits, even if your comforts left you gasping for air.
Grandfather's as creaky as his front porch, scent like oil in the gun barrel, dip-can kicked over the railing, sandpaper hands stuck behind thumb tacks on my wall. I’ve got an ache in my chest for every season I miss and it gets worse when the snow starts to fall. There are butterflies alive in that couple’s eyes a few years since forgotten by all, and sometimes, if the phone starts to ring, I can still hear their wings when you call.
But I begged for movement and I got what I asked for, and I can picture the answer like it came yesterday. And in the land of the gods, I think that things are timeless, but we are still prone to decay.
You know I still lift up hope of certain smiles in those photos for us when I pray.
Time is a cruel lover, and she breaks her house apart at its bones. You know comfort is no good reason for standing still, and idle hands build nothing that you can call your own.
Chapter Four: Rooster Cogburn In Indian Territory
God, when the sun sets (or escapes), well there is a painter that paints and when he paints we just take in the ripples the paints make when they swell against the textures on the page, and name them "waves." Back home, my other spends his nights all alone, and thinks, "it's all about perspective and taking my thoughts captive."
He'd be captivated by it.
It's all counterfeit. It's all functional saviors that don't function or save you. It's all identity drift. It's all grandiose promises exposed as illegitimate.
It is the whale my father seeks and swears by like it will bring unity to our family. It's the way my mother drove away the same day that she drove the man to drink, and called it "killing two birds with one stone" (or three, if you count me).
I was a seed. She used to say that I was the only beautiful thing that ever blossomed from her branches, but I guess I wasn't quite beautiful enough to keep. The gun was cocked and loaded years before I ever watched her leave, but we always saw her finger on the trigger, trembling.
I have heard tales of lovers broken by the bullets we call our parents.
In 50 B.C., Parthenius of Nicaea penned a Uranian lover into Narcissus' story, who gutted himself with a sword on the man's doorstep.
In 8 A.D., Ovid found Echo in a mountain crevice, rejected and lonely, until only faint shivers of her whispers remained.
(To me, this far removed, they are as clear as the day).
With that nymph's voice in my head here in Poseidon's domain, for all of the fury with which Aminius and that pagan deity prayed, for all of the fiction children believe and by which we are betrayed, and despite the wind constantly driving and tossing the waves, in all my double-mindedness, I still hear the refrain:
"This is not your story."
When I watch my dad walk starboard, I picture a pirate walking the plank, looking down into the water, terrified, only to see his reflection and fall so madly in love that he dives headfirst into himself and becomes all that I argued with those echoes about what he deserved to be.
I picture Nemesis like a John Wayne movie. I know you always loved True Grit, but at the end of the script, Mattie still doesn't have her daddy back. I hope that, one day, we'll be able to forgive, but until then, maybe presence is greater than answers, or revenge. If Zeus cast my mother out to Hades, she'd still be just as gone as she is now. If you sent ghosts to tell me all of the reasons why I still can't sleep at night, I'd be wide awake, listening.
If you can hear me, I'd rather have you than all of my answers.
Chapter Five: Tuxedo Black
My love, while you were weighing anchor, I was weighing my options, thinking, why? like knowing would satisfy. But if love is true, then the tide will carry mine to… You know I'd drown in the undercurrent before I let myself lose our happy ending.
It's the future I miss the most.
Seventeen years from now, I want to be younger, and as carefree as I can be. I want you next to me and I want you to reflect all of the best of me. I want the fairy tale, parenthetical porch swing, metaphorically morphing our distorted upbringing into enough of a string to hang by to believe it can be redeemed.
I was a man before I got the chance to be a boy. Mother said she wanted neither, father said I was his joy. He kept on saying things like, "enjoy your youth while you can," but when the cancer started taking it's toll, the roles reversed, and I cannot fathom what it is like to be eaten alive. Said he had ants beneath his skin, but even then, he'd tell it in a bedtime story:
"Son, there are colonies of Englishmen with marching orders to see to it that the Indians become just like them, dressed up in distinguished garb to cover up their colors and civilize them. Well," he said, "in a similar sense, I've got tuxedo-black blood cells clothing those that bleed red. If you can laugh along with me, the irony is that I'll be better dressed than I've ever been when I lie to rest here in bed."
And you wondered why that Indian fort was the one left standing. I made sure that the natives won every time we'd play that game. Man, I had mud clods filled with rocks that I'd launch at the backs of those backstabbers. (But admittedly, as you can imagine, it was a short-lived fame - what with all of my neighborhood friends bleeding from their heads and everything).
"Life is pain, highness, anyone who tells you different is selling something." Ah, it's not true. The Dread Pirate Roberts may have been awesome, but that kind of theology is a hell of a downer to subscribe to.
I know there's beauty out there. I'm sure you see it on the ocean, even if the crew has started to look as white as that whale they're chasing. I've been reading through Moby Dick - seven hundred pages of Old English and rhetoric and I can't really understand all of it, but Captain Ahab's looking pretty pale.
Be careful. I've been building our treehouse. I hid it far enough away so that when we run, we can stay, and I wrote out the location like a secret on a treasure map. However long your voyage, you'll have a place to call home when you come back. The ladder is nailed to the trunk and I started hammering the foundation to be sure that we have something to build our future on.
How I long for the day that I get to see your face,
my strength, my hope, my song.
Chapter Six: Traditional Values Worldview
12 months ago today, we stood in silence fading further and further away and refused to say "goodbye" for fear that the farewell might solidify our fate. I've knocked on every inch of this wooden vessel to keep that fear from coming true.
"Goodbye" is such a definite word.
An infinite word.
An intimate word.
Well in case you hadn't heard, there are no waterfalls at the edge of the world that fall off into eternity.
I'm bringing home scrimshaw to hang from the walls, or the branches, or the balcony. Father gave me two teeth from the beast they harpooned last week, and they've been flensing the creatures at dock, while I've been trying to get my feet steady underneath these sea legs.
I had a week or more to explore those foreign shores while the crew and the captain knocked at every brothel door, and I imagine I've got scores of siblings on this island, considering the captain is an island unto himself.
Give it time. There are a thousand orphans forgiving their fathers seventy times seven times, and I met one of them that week who became a friend of mine. He reminded me of you. Don't be jealous, he wasn't quite as cute, and he didn't have a feathered headdress or the tomahawk that you've been using to build my shelter. God knows I'm going to need it:
But we followed a road out to the country that he said he'd known about for years, and claimed it was haunted. Boys always tell those tales when they want to put their arms around you.
Monster films were made for men on first dates.
Well, I went along. The landscape stood frigid, frost painted and I contemplated the warm blanket that you would have been in all that cold. I saw ghosts every time I opened my mouth to breathe in and out and pretended it was smoke, like the bubble-gum cigarettes that we used to get from the corner store before it died with your dad, and acted like they were opiates before the buffalo dance.
The fog was like poetry: difficult to define but I am completely indifferent to what it means so long as we are able to get lost in it.
The boy and I met a mystic at the top of the mountain. The mist cut her straight in two, layers over her legs to keep the cold from coming through, but belly up, half a sundress, and she looked at us and said, "Get your head out of the clouds." So with the sun shining down, I've been thinking about what she meant.
She gave a speech about separating herself and related it to the whales. Said, "when the seamen dig their talons in to empty them and burn their substance for oil, remember they had to separate to find their true worth." And with the white dividing her skeleton frame, like a personified worldview, it was the cloudiest case for dualism that I have ever heard of. She told us her feet were evil because they'd touched the ground, ears guilty by association because they'd heard the sound, with a mind, wicked, that wandered and wondered about music, sex, love and the men in the town below.
"I don't know.
I don't know."
She sounds like my grandparents trying to distinguish between antique Negro Spirituals, done damned to hell for a pagan drumbeat and unholy...
I just hope that if we're a true reflection of some magnanimous Other, I won't have to assume that every inherent longing will find me buried alive. You'd think that if God created everything good, she wouldn't stand up on a mountain proclaiming inanimate objects bad and demonizing the rest of creation like it's the tempo's fault that she's stuck alone on a pedestal, cutting herself in half.
I want to dance to the music, drink wine to the melody, make love in our treehouse and rejoice over our son with laughter, someday. That's got to come from somewhere. It makes me feel alive.
She was kind but I declined to follow in her footsteps, and kissed the boy on the cheek to, you know, stick it to the man - so to speak.
We left for the great unknown first thing this morning, and if I am going to die at sea, then I am going to be as holistically human as I possibly can be, and believe that I am that way for a reason.
Chapter Seven: Orphan Theism
When I sit on the pier and wait for that black abyss to swell and spit out your letters, my heart rises and falls with the water, and sometimes, I just wish it would swallow me. Heaven: the expanse above the tide rising and beneath the rain falling. I swear sometimes breathing feels just like drowning, stuck here in between.
But when your bottles float in, there is nothing as beautiful as their dim glow, and my heart longs after them. Their colors catch my eye, dank bourbon or molded green protecting white sheets painted with calligraphic handwriting, tainted with damp expressions of the bottle's history, but purely you... Purely you.
I've been thinking about just what "beauty" is, but no amount of thinking has added beauty to it.
All I know is that it points beyond itself, like I long beyond your love notes, like I long for you.
I've seen the entire spectrum refracting off the ripples beneath my bare feet from the edge of this weathered dock, and thought God, there's got to be more than this.
I have no idea what to believe, but beauty pulls me beyond myself like I don't even have a choice, so I know I don't believe in nothing.
Where, my love, does the beauty inside of a tree reside, made up of atoms, identical and colorless, where the light of the sun merely vibrates in waves toward our eyes, striking tissues and moving along nerves like a telephone wire, to their endings, like telephones? I do not know. There is no actual color in the atoms of which the tree is composed, or in those vibrations. Shape, size, color, touch and the like are simply the names we call our sensations, and no amount of study can ever bring the notion of beauty to the tree...
When I don't know how, help me embrace the mystery.
Will you come home? This tree house won't be that without you.
Chapter Eight: White Whales Like Black Plagues
Today, the first mate told me that my men intend a mutiny, and that I have condemned an entire crew in search of a fabled leviathan that we would not have known what do to with had he existed in the first place.
"But we're sinking," he said, "and your daughter is in love with a boy back home, dreaming that she is living his life. She's asleep in the cabin, and if you have even a hint of sobriety in-between gulps from the last buoy she'll use to say goodbye, you'll turn this ship around."
It's too late. We're drowning.
Fathers of daughters just like mine, except theirs will live out their lives on land long after their daddies have died at sea. Some will remember them as noble men, the rest as having abandoned their roles for a pipe dream, all as good or godawful as their imaginations allow themselves to believe.
I do not know whether I care, or if I could not possibly care less.
When we first set sail and pushed off to sea, I stood at the bow looking everywhere but at my legacy, with that blue ribbon holding up her hair, eyes locked on the boy that I made her leave, waving. I have been chasing this great white dream for as long as catching him stood to promise that I could substantiate all the reasons I failed my family.
Well I wanted to be a brave man.
I wanted to prove to my wife that I wasn't a failure.
I wanted to tell my daughter that daddy always tried, and tried his hardest.
Tried his best to make it work.
His best was always at their expense, and all of the things that I idolized became my captors.
Now that it's too late, I know that drifting is a deeper threat than betrayal. No one has to convince you to abandon anything, you just inevitably end up downstream, maintain your pride and wonder why the world keeps on shifting, convinced you're still standing in the same place. You never mean to drift away.
Baby, if you survive and find this, I was right about one thing. Your mother used to say that I was afraid, but apathy is not the same as escape, and I was never running. It's just that I was never fighting.
Indifference sneaks in subtly, and subtleties can kill a man.
It will be of no comfort to you, though if there is a God, know that I will stand before him with no excuse, and I can only assume that he will weep,
"Tragedy, indeed, that innocence, though it never was, could have been."
Chapter Nine: Cap Gun Death
M'lady, I have combed every inch of this island looking for the final pieces of wood needed to complete our wooded treehouse. I market the path with cryptic carvings of arrows for right turns and bayonets for lefts, and eventually it drops off into a waterfall, and you can rest assured that if anyone sniffs out our steps, every adult will sneer and bet that no one would be dull enough to jump off and into it.
Oh we are growing, but childlikeness is the only way to live, so hand in hand I will stand for nothing less than dives, you hear? Head first. (And also backflips, if you want to backflip, you can backflip).
But we're going to give this whole life everything that we've got, and if that means jumping off really high rocks and into water, so be it. And telling ghost stories with our face-painted friends around campfires (but for the love of god, no acoustic guitars, I hate campfire-acoustic-guitar-guys). And we'll have sleepovers and sleep over one another, and you'll get a chance to see your wishes come true beneath the same stars that I heard you whisper to when I pretended to be asleep all those months ago.
We've been playing our games, but they're just not the same without my Pocahontas to rescue me. Someone always plays your Algonquian dad-chief and I'm constantly John Smith getting my head bashed in with a war club. You'll probably laugh when you read this, but you don't hear any of those giggle-sounds coming up from Jamestown. Virginia is screwed.
I think it's my time to come to your rescue. If all our bottles find their way to one another, then surely our hands can, too. I've been sawing off branches to make room for our rooms and pitching them together to keep the moisture from coming through. I lifted a sail from in between the logs, nailed an engine to the trunk and stood at the front to balance and keep myself from falling off.
Well it's not perfect, but it will do. I'm going to ride our house's roof to come and get you.
So the boy set sail, and pushed off to sea, stood at the bow looking forward and out into everything, confident. And though he had no idea what the ocean would bring, "there are some things that I just know I believe, no matter how irreconcilable they seem."
Chapter Ten: [Like Plagues] - - -
Chapter Eleven: Cul-De-Sac Colonies
My king, I want you to know something. Something that I always admired most about you. No matter how violent the storm, no matter how high the waves, no matter how dark the night, you never let the world get inside of your boat. You kept living when everyone else was sinking, and this whole life never got a droplet toward pulling you down to the ocean floor.
Admittedly, this last bottle has room enough for the last of my heart because I drank the last of it, myself. Hated it, by the way. Seems my father could have picked a vice that tasted better than rubbing alcohol, but hey, he gave me his last flask when he came downstairs to say that he wanted things to have been different, and I believed him.
He said he needed to go down with the ship, but he wished that I didn't, and I believed him.
Listen, the want to die is no longer a foreign thought in my mind. A lot of people want to.
And I could have died without leaving a note behind. A lot of people do.
He started slurring about a memory that he must have caught in the musty air, like a dust particle stuck to the glaze over his eyes. "When you were six years old, I stood inside our home, at a windowsill, and watched you walk back from that boy's house, down the street. I was sick, and went back to bed before I thought you saw me, and when I heard you call out, "Daddy?" I pretended to be asleep. I just didn't have the energy to get up and keep you from believing in the ghosts that you've seen ever since…"
He finally fixed his gaze, afraid, and said, "Honey, they've been haunting me, but I hope you don't have to see them any longer."
I believe him.
If I can give you anything, let it be that I have not bid my farewell from the ocean, but from the moment I waved goodnight after our first victory as body-painted newlyweds in a cul-de-sac colony, looking forward to morning, when our parents would let us sail through the quiet, neighborhood streets, and the dawn would bring us back together again. We were cowboys or we were indians or we were pilgrims, and none of us ever cared that cowboys didn't come here from England, we were just making our pilgrimage toward the sun, searching for freedom and rewriting history for everyone, but mostly us.
Baby, I'm still playing our game. I'm just sailing for the new world alone this time.
I wish I could come back to tell you what I find, but life has never consulted me before making all of these big decisions, and I stand helpless and hopeless unless the beauty you see in the mystery really points to something.
I wish we could explore this together.
Let me tell you, to die will be an awfully big adventure, but don't get lost, boy. I want to talk to one another about it, someday.
It's time to say goodbye. Such a definite word. An infinite word. An intimate word, but it needs to be heard so that you don't have to wonder why the bottles stopped coming.
You need closure to move on.
You can't sink with me.
You'll get this after I'm gone.
And I hope that you can use our tree house to love someone else once the tide has finally set you free. But don't tell her who you built it for. Make her believe that she's the reason you put all those hours into protecting the purity of that place. I think that, eventually, you'll believe it, too. I truly do not know whether time heals all wounds. It sounds like wishful thinking, but I do know that you can't stop living just because someone else has.
My love, don't sink. Don't sink.
Chapter Twelve: Shores, And The New World
If you're listening, we always talked about taking that voyage together. We didn't want to die in our sleep, like so many people wish for. Or, at least, she didn't. She thought it sounded boring, and even though dying scared me, I wanted to be brave enough to engage in the fantasy.
We decided we'd go out defending our tree house against the separatists. It was inevitable, once they'd finally discovered us kissing, traitorously, beneath their cootie infested "boys only" headquarters. We'd be cap-gunned to death.
She thought it was romantic, "like Romeo & Juliet" - she'd say. And I'd say, "okay," but wonder, like I always do, if anyone's actually heard that story.
I finished our tree house with the few scraps of deadwood that I was able to drag back to land. It seemed fitting, after our whole lives were broken homes, for all of those shipwrecked pieces to complete one.
It's beautiful. I feel like she might have called it redemption.
For a split second, as I watched the last of her craft fall beneath the surface of the water, I thought that we are all only stones in the ocean, and maybe it didn't matter that much, whether we lived or died. But she was right about taking thoughts captive.
I am lonely, and I can't reconcile loneliness with meaninglessness because, like beauty, it leaves me wanting for more. She is still a decision that floats out like debris, on ripples that began at her stone's throw.
You were a mountain to me.
Your earthquake leaves me trembling and I long beyond your beauty, past your breaking and out into whoever is responsible for your new beginning.
Maybe he knows the end.
When you first set sail and pushed off to sea, I stood on the shore looking forward, tongue tied and stubbornly holding tears behind my eyelids because no matter how much I liked you, girl, there was still a bit of boy in me, and I wasn't about to weep with you staring back, smiling.
I guess this is goodbye.
I knocked on every inch of this wooden tree house to keep that word away, but goodbye, despite all of my efforts, remains.
This is the last of our bottles. If it ever makes its way out to the new world, know that it was unending love that fueled the moon's magnetic pull to pursue you through the death that threatened to conquer it, and it is beautiful. It cannot fail.