The Longest Goodbye

I found one of your letters yesterday. Perhaps I should say it found me, its corner sticking up in the air like a waving hand among the books and photographs and knickknacks in my old trunk. I picked it up, recognized the postmark and watched my hand spasm just long enough to let it drop to the bedroom floor. I gazed down at my name and address on the plain white envelope in those small block caps you favored, and thought (briefly) about leaving it there.

I steeled myself against the imminent emotional tsunami, ready to shed no more than a few wistful tears, maybe crack a bittersweet smile or two, but I was truly shocked and saddened by the emotion coursing through me. I realized with horror that I was consumed by a crushing, overwhelming . . . emptiness.

That's right. I felt absolutely nothing.

We had what was probably the last epistolary romance: We didn't have e-mail then, no money for a bus ticket, and our parents had banned us from using the phone (was it the series of four-hour calls or the tedium of hearing "no, you hang up" at one in the morning?). We had no choice but to pour our post-teenage longings into three-page missives.

You were my first lover, my first love, my first everything. I thought something that good had to last forever. Even then, you knew better. You knew that the 18-year-old lying next to you would become a 22-year-old who had to leave you to find herself. And you knew you had to let me. Or make me. You may have even known I would spend years hating you for it. I didn't want to hear about people growing up and growing apart and needing space and going off to fucking find themselves. I just knew that you were gone.

I barely remember myself as a little girl. I dimly recall a tall, skinny, scabby-kneed tomboy who loved pistachio ice cream and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries. I liked her. I remember loving you, making love to you, sleeping in your massive T-shirts after you wore them, bringing you cold Chinese after midnight when you worked late, knocking at your door at 4 a.m. after a party just because I wanted to see your face. I also remember months of crying on the subway for no reason after we broke up, and the days I spent in bed with the shades drawn, wishing in vain for permanent night. I know these things happened, but I no longer know the girl they happened to.

I sat there with your letter in my hand for what seemed like hours. I didn't want to take it with me, and I couldn't throw it away. I placed it back in the trunk, corner sticking out, just as I found it. Maybe one day, I'll find you again.

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