I need to write this story one day. About the jagged lines between faith and experience; hope and knowledge. About the struggle between flight-or-fight responses and the intuitive call to either hang on or let go. Everything has consequences, but sometimes the only consequence is that there is none at all. Life just goes on, turning as it does, on whims and orders, reason and senselessness, feelings and causes.
At the Flying Star cafe in Albuquerque, a teenage girl sits hunched over her MacBook looking like she’s on the verge of tears. Her dark hair falls over her tattooed shoulders and her thin fingers hang in the air above her keyboard. I sit down close to her and smile while opening up my own thought-suspended screen. There’s another book I have to write and so far it’s been plagued by fits and starts. Chaos, interruptions, worries. Life.
The girl acknowledges me with a slight nod and a faint smile. For an hour we echo each other with stilted, word-by-word taps. She sighs, I sigh. I take sips from a cup of black coffee; she drinks some fruity concoction from a straw. Every few minutes, we look at each other blankly.
“Tough assignment?” I finally ask.
“Oh, it’s not for school,” she replies. “It’s for me. Well, it’s really for my father. I’m writing him a letter.”
“Ah.” I feel like I know the story even though she hasn’t told it to me. When she starts, just a few seconds later, it’s familiar. It’s all familiar, from the tears and anger to the deep, unfulfilled vein of love and wanting.
She dries her face with her bare hands and apologizes to me. “You probably didn’t want to hear all that.”
“It’s okay—it’s good, really. I talk to strangers all the time. Sometimes they’re the best listeners.”
The girl moves the hair out of her face with both hands and then stares down at her flickering screen. For a moment, she looks like she’s tempted to throw it across the room, but when she raises her eyes again she just looks defeated. “So. Do you think I should send it?”
“What does your heart tell you?”
“That it won’t matter. That he’ll just pick it apart looking for more ammunition to use. That in the end he just won’t care anymore than he ever has—which is not at all.”
“You’re right, you know.”
She pauses, looking like a struck child. “I know.”
“I’d send it anyway. If you’re going to give away a piece of yourself to another person, then make it a whole piece. You’ve spent your life loving a ghost and if you can’t be real to him—if nothing in your heart will ever touch him—then his response will be a choice for you. To keep trying or maybe to finally let go.”
“It’s so hard,” the girl says. I hand her a napkin to dry her eyes.
“It’s always hard,” I tell her. “Relationship choices never get easier and sometimes you’ll doubt you made the right ones. You may even convince yourself that you didn’t. But each and every time you make that kind of a choice, you’ll learn something new—about yourself, about other people, about the world. And eventually you’ll find out that there’s less right-or-wrong than you think. Life goes on and you’ll adapt, with or without ghosts—either those you cling to or those you let go.”
Closing the lid to her MacBook, the girl sighs and says she has a lot to think about. I do too, I tell her.
She leaves and I order another cup of coffee. I play with the coins on the table and stare at the walls looking for answers but I only see myself in the cracks.