I. I wrote you fifty-one letters in the year after we fell apart.
Losing you was my first brush with real grief, the kind that consumes a person like a housefire. Each time I looked, my heart was reaching for you from the attic windows. I knew, for your sake and mine, it was better to leave the rambling paragraphs unsaid, but all the smoke had to go somewhere.
I made a deal with myself: Each time the urge came over me to pick up the phone, reach across maplines to drop myself back into your proximity, I’d open up my laptop and write to you. Fifty-one times, I twisted the faucet and allowed the grief to run free. At each letter’s close, the current had given way to soft, distant drips.
For all this time, I’ve kept them. Sure, they’ve been tucked away in a Word document on my laptop, crammed somewhere along the digital bookshelf, but I’ve been carrying them. Perhaps I quietly believed, one day, I might give them to you. Print them, crease the corners, roll them into paper roses.
This week, I let them go. Wind ripped the letters from the pages, whispering as they flew, paper planes lifting, crumpling alike. Before I did, though, I glanced over them. Fifty-one letters, and all of them said the same thing, in one form or another:
Sorry I hurt you; I was trying to love you.
II. ‘What do you see as the difference,’ he asked me, ‘between happiness and joy?’
I opened my mouth to respond, but exhaled instead. I took a swig of iced coffee, let my mind massage the prompt a bit, then leaned forward. ‘Happiness,’ I told him, ‘is a flash in a pan. It’s the feeling we get when things are just right, in alignment. It’s that feeling we all chase.’
‘Joy is a more active commitment,’ I decided, ‘a conscious choice to be grateful, seek contentment with what we have. Letting what is be enough.’
III. Stacking my story up against anybody else’s as a means of weighing my worthiness. Hustling for the approval of people who do not see me. Thinking of my body as always just a few steps away from suitable. Only publishing the bright pages in this story, tucking the bleak paragraphs in my own private library. Grieving the people who left and wondering whether they grieve, too. Explaining, always explaining, instead of letting people hear the truth and draw their own conclusions. Exploring the bruises somebody else put on my sternum so consistently they are never able to heal. Loving somebody’s selfishness away. Hearing praise for seconds while allowing criticism to echo for eternities. Serving as my own harshest critic.
Just a few of the things I’ve been learning to let go.
IV. Moving to New York City was, among many other things, a chance to begin again. During my final days in Muncie, pressing pictures frames and sweatshirts and kitchen appliances into bins and boxes, I also created piles of things I would not bring with me. I donated dozens of books, bags of clothes from past eras, DVDs I hadn’t cracked open since three or four homes ago. Gently, I scrapped birthday cards, gave away coffee mugs, placed my houseplants into new soil.
There, in the corner, was a pile of things I’d quietly decided did not belong to future chapters. Right there, a folded sweatshirt, the alternating sorrow and anger of having had my heart handed back to me by reckless hands. And there, on sheets of loose-leaf notebook paper, the early stammered speech of just learning how to exist aloud as an openly gay man. Underneath a few things, a withering fern, a me that bruised himself every time he failed.
That first afternoon, glancing around an apartment waiting to be made home, I felt the novelty of lightness. Here, now, on the day of everything, I was free to write without the weight of so many old, haunting things. I grinned, played bright music, cracked the window and let the breeze breathe into these planes. Gone were the days of hanging stale griefs onto the walls.