Let me tell you about my day.
I found a letter. Kind of exciting, right? It wasn’t in a bottle on the beach, just wedged in a bench seat. But I’ll tell you what, if I received a letter like the one I found today, I would’ve left it for the birds, too.
It was wedged in the bench when I sat down halfway through my walk with my pup, Digger. And actually, Digger is the one that found it. She jumped up onto the bench and wouldn’t stop sniffing until I pulled out the envelope. It was buried pretty deep down one of the slices on the seat, like someone had been sitting on it. Like they wanted it to disappear, and sending into the abyss – like the change or remote wedged in between the couch cushions – would make it go away.
I wonder if they were hiding it? I might do the same if it was my letter. If I got this letter, I would probably cry just like this girl did when she read it (I saw the tear stains; they smeared the words “heart”, “shouldn’t” and “truth”).
What do you do when you know exactly who you should be with, but every force in the known world is against you? Do you fight, like these two did? Or do you admit defeat right away, knowing it won’t even get off the ground? When two hearts are connected, shouldn’t they find each other, then cling to each other through thick and thin? Isn’t that what it’s all supposed to be about? Isn’t love supposed to conquer all? This letter does not say “I will conquer all”; it says “I tried and I tried and I tried, and I tried again, and it hurts too much now, so I have to walk away.”
I read John’s words over and over, and I thought of the irony – a reverse Dear John letter, because he was writing to bid farewell to his love. He doesn’t use her name, that’s how I know his feelings go down to the deepest parts of his heart. So, I was reading his words for the fourth time, and all a sudden I felt Digger’s tale wagging pretty hard against my arm. “What, baby?” and I looked to where she was looking and saw a young girl, tears streaming down her face, standing right in front of me.
“You read my letter.” Her statement was quiet, hiccuped by her sobs.
“I did. I’m sorry, sweetie.” I got up and embraced her, and she didn’t even fight it. She leaned into my shoulder and soaked it with tears that flowed from somewhere deep. After however long it was – felt like an hour to me, but was probably only about 3 minutes – she plopped down on the bench.
“Now what?” she asked through heavy sighs and an even heavier heart.
“I don’t know, darlin’. I guess… one step at a time, right? And you know what the first step after a heartbreak is?”
She only shook her head. I guessed this was her first heartache, since she looked all of 20 years old.
“Chocolate. Chocolate then wine. Then sleep. On repeat for at least a week,” I winked at her as I saw a semblance of a smile creeping onto her face. She placed her head on my shoulder, Digger climbed into her lap, and we sat like two old friends for another hour – I looked at my watch this time – until she said her first full, non-crying sentence: “I love him still.”
“You know what my grandma told me one time? She said, ‘Sweetie pie, if you love him and he loves you then that’s okay for now. Someday the Lord might change your mind and until He does you just keep on keepin’ on. Can’t nobody tell you what to do with your heart.'”
“That’s all anyone is doing. Trying to tell me what to do with my heart. Him, too. And he finally listened.”
Just then I heard Digger’s tail thwapping again. Getting more and more animated with each rotation. Again, I looked to where she was looking and there was a young man, no more than 20, walking slowly, deliberately, heavily, toward the park bench. His shaggy head was locked on my still-unnamed, heart-wrenched friend. His hands were locked in his pockets, his Sperry’s moving one step at a time as his body remained rigid. And, are those – yes, I think it is – tears. Not only in his eyes, but on his cheeks.
He stopped directly in front of Digger, somehow knowing she protecting two wary women. The young man I assumed to be John extended his hand to my pup, and made quick friends. Then he turned his full attention to his love, his soulmate (according to his hurried handwriting I had read before. But now that I see him, I see he wasn’t hurried because he was careless; he was hurried because it probably felt like every word was another dagger to his heart).
She only looked up toward him.
“Ashlyn, I am so sorry.” He knelt down on both knees, clasping his hands with hers. “I am so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I saw you crying and I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand to be the one to make you cry like that.”
“I went back home. I was a wreck, and this time – of all times – my parents asked what was wrong. I told them I was leaving. I told them I was going away for college because they were done trying to control my life. I told them they made you and me feel like the scum of the earth for wanting to be together, and that they had ruined the best thing I’d ever have.”
Ashlyn sighed, whether out of disbelief or wear-and-tear, I’m not sure. Probably a combination.
“I went upstairs and started packing. I was sobbing and couldn’t even see what the hell I was doing. For some reason, this is what made them crack. My mom came upstairs and apologized. She was crying, too. She said in all the arguments we’ve all had over the last two months, she’d never seen me so upset as this morning. She apologized for everything – every word, every threat, everything. She asked if I would please stay home.”
“What’d you say?”
John’s eyes were still wet. I’d never seen anyone so broken, outside of the face I looked at in the mirror every morning for the last 5 years. He picked up Ashlyn’s hands and kissed one, breathing her in as though it was his last. Or his first after a long, long separation.
“I said no. I asked, ‘why now?’ I said I was so angry, I could spit in her face. That it was too late to apologize because I had lost you.”
It was like he could only say so much at a time. All at once would be too much. And Ashlyn was still stuck on her staccato sentences.
“She said she understood how I felt, and that she would understand if it stayed that way. But she promised to change.”
“I’m still going to move out and live on campus for the last year. But that matters less than this: Ash, if you’ll let me, I would really, really like to take back everything I wrote in that stupid letter. I wrote it because I was tired of fighting. I felt like I couldn’t break free of my parents. Their control has never been loving, it’s always been about turning me into some version of my brother. But I’m not him. I’m John. And I want to be part of John and Ash. Please, baby. Please. I’m sorry it took seeing your tears and heartache for me to break those chains, but they’re broken now. I promise. I promise you my whole heart, if you’ll have me.”
I honestly had no idea what they were going to do. Neither did Digger, and she was getting pretty nervous I could tell. Her face was anxiously moving back and forth between the two of them. But she obviously knew what was going to happen before I did, because all of a sudden – I swear, in one fell swoop – Digger jumped onto my lap and Ash leapt into John’s arms. He about squeezed the life out of her, but I guess that’s better than draining her heart like before.
And then I cried. It was a familiar sensation, but completely unfamiliar circumstances: For the first time in almost 5 years, I shed a tear for someone other than myself. My love died overseas on his last mission before he was supposed to come home. He was my great love, and my heart hasn’t been the same since. I grew angry, bitter, and selfish. But this letter… I don’t know, it poked a pinhole in my steel wall. In just that moment I decided it would be best if I cared about someone else, rather than myself. And in that moment, my whole life seemed righted back into place. Like the inter-locking pieces of puzzle, my heart and soul seemed to settle back down and I was ready for life again.
I wanted to call everyone I knew and say ‘Sorry about that, but I’m back.’ I wondered if it was too late. Too late for an apology, too late to save some relationships I had let fall to the wayside in my lazy, hazy sense of grief. But with John & Ash standing in front of me, embracing each other and their own second chance, I knew down to my toes: it’s never too late.
I snuck a picture of the letter on my phone. That way I wouldn’t have to keep the tear-stained paper, but I could always have a reminder of the moment that opened my heart back up to the world.
Yes, it is never too late.
*This is in response to: Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief
You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply. Today, write about this encounter. And your twist? Be as succinct as possible.
(Clearly I did not follow the twist in today’s prompt to be brief, but thanks for reading, anyway!)
*This fictional story is the property of elisapreston.com. If you publish this on another site, it must be linked back to this blog post. Thank you!