The walk home is cold and hard. Your bus doesn’t come for another half-an-hour, meaning there’s no point to waiting; the long way home would still be quicker by foot.
You spent the day surrounded by people but when the commotion is over you know you’ll have to go home and write more goodbye letters. There are some you’ve already written, gotten over, let go of. But there are others you’ve tried to hang onto longer than you should have.
And walking home brings it all back. There’s the coffee shop you’d warm up in, tired after a late night skating at the loop. There’s the ice cream shop you’d pedal to, hearts open and innocent and playful. The ceramics shop, the corner store, the field next to the university. You remember that one because all the films you’d planned come tumbling back to you with it; the remakes of Alice in Wonderland, and all the Tim Burton talk. Even the band you’d planned to start rolls down the hill and knocks you down along the way.
You’ll be writing music and screenplays alone, now.
There’s the slushy shop with glaring lights, where you’d go when it was late and you were just getting used to being in the dark. Where your giggles were loud in the abandoned streets and chattering teeth echoed when they weren’t. You haven’t thought about it in a long time, but you remember slushy-nights being simpler than anything has been since.
It doesn’t seem like the right time to be writing goodbye letters, not for anyone, when you had so many plans for the future. Shared apartments in film school, melancholic swingset friendships, trying scarier things than staying out late together.
Apparently swingsets don’t carry their momentum forever.
It doesn’t seem like the right time for the swing to stop, for someone to put their feet down. You seem to remember getting on only a few seconds ago, having so much room to go higher. But before you can get a good rhythm going, someone already wants to get off.
And so you write the letters, even though it doesn’t feel like the right time. You write them and replace the memories.
The first letter you write is to the artist. You should have been over her a long time ago, but you still let that coffee shop anger you, so you know you owe her a letter. You write about her and throw her letter onto the rink where you spent your childhood days; let a new boy tear it to shreds with his skates and replace the coffee shop memory with a hot chocolate kiss and a first “I love you” in the dark. The memory softens the cold around you instead of making you hot with anger, because you have him to lean into. You say it back.
The second letter you write is to the filmmaker. You aren’t ready to tear this one up, but you know it’s not healthy to keep in your pocketㅡ in your heartㅡ so you have to. You pick a special place, down by the university, and throw it into the crashing lake. It’s harder to replace this one, to find something that can override the future you would have had together. But eventually you have it when your musician boy pulls you into his arms and teaches you how to dance to new sounds. A first kiss never sounded sweet until he came along.
The third letter comes much sooner than you expected, but things just aren’t the same as they were and you both know it. You write the letter, a mixture of anger and sadness looping around in your words. The place you choose for this one isn’t on your way home, but you know you need to go there to get rid of it anyways. You let the letter slide down the swirling railing, onto the floor. It slowly gets trampled by muddy feet, tearing apart where water cuts it. You replace her with someone you’re sure of, someone who makes the same promises you make him. You bring him places, pinkies intertwined, and trust him more than you’ve trusted anyone.
Your letters are all gone, unfortunate memories replaced with those that make your heart flutter. It’s not the best forgetting mechanism, you tell yourself. There might come a day when you throw his letter down into a flame and hope it’s destroyed faster than all the others. There might come a day when he lets go of your pinky.
But you trust him like you trusted the others, because it’s all you have left to do. And his swing, beside yours, plunges back and forth. But you haven’t reached the peak height yet, and neither of you shows signs of stopping for a long time, so you keep giggling and looking toward the sky.
And more importantly, you keep wanting that future.