You are staring at your pool when the letter arrives. It is fall and the mail truck’s brakes squeak as it leaves. You do not know how you know there is a letter waiting, but your stomach hurts with the knowledge. You cannot stop thinking it once you’ve begun.
You put on your shoes and you fetch the mail and you think about your pool and how letters do not get sent to the bottom of the water.
You know who sent you the letter without looking. You hesitate. You open it anyway. The paper tears and your fingers snag and you cut yourself on the edges because of course you do and then, then, eventually, you pull the paper free.
It is thick paper.
It is smeared ink.
It is shaking hands.
But letters must be opened, or they would not be sent at all. So, you open it, and inside, there are sheets filled with blue ink. When you unfold them, a picture flutters out and you see the handwriting and you think of those hands long-ago tracing letters on dotted lines, hands too small to hold a pen at all, hands before they were hands. You regret thinking that because it makes you want to forgive the words on the pages, and you do not want to forgive before you’ve even felt the slap because what if it ends up being a stab? Or, worse, a smile? What would you do with your forgiveness then? Where would you put it, if no wound?
So, you forget about hands and you read the words and you feel the slap and it stings even though you saw the wind-up. You are breathless with the sting.
There are horrible things on the papers. Of course, there are. Why else would they be sending you a letter after all these years?
You read things you wish you hadn’t, and you knew you wouldn’t want to, but you did it anyway. You won’t admit it out loud, but you like to feel hurt, sometimes. You like to remind yourself of before. Pressing on bruises. Flexing old scars. Feeling how they changed you. How you are better than you were but not the best you could have been.
You read the words again and you press on the bruises and you hiss, and you flare, and you want to weep, but you don’t. You look at the pool outside the window. You stare.
You grab a lighter and you burn the paper and it isn’t until the flames are a quarter of the way up when you wonder if you had missed something. If it was kinder than you thought. If, instead of forgiveness, you hated the letter before you read it. If you were inventing wounds, as the letter-writer accused you of once long ago, simply because you did not know who you were without them.
But the flames are now halfway up, and you want to put them out and you wish you hadn’t lit them at all, and you think about death the same way you think about these flames. You can start the train, but you cannot stop it and so you should not even try.
So, the letter is burning, and it is over halfway gone, and you regret the finality but not the action and that is the worst part, to hate half of the flame and to love the other half.
The part of you you won’t admit to.
The part of you that never forgives.
The part of you that hates.
You are thinking of ghosts and little hands and you are watching the flames that have now reached the top of the letter when you realize they had signed the word love and you wonder if they meant it and you wish, now, you had kept it as proof that you were once wanted enough for someone to write you a letter.
On the floor is a photograph of the two of you and you pick it up and you press on bruises and you wish you were kinder even as you flick the lighter and you burn yourself and you burn yourself and you burn and burn inside of yourself and you will never be at peace with what happened and you must be at peace with that fact which is an impossible task that you will be unable to swallow down each time you stare into your reflection.
Your reflection in the pool.
So, after the burning, you open your back door and you take off your shoes and you lean into the water and you hold your breath as you sink to the bottom, and even as you sink you have to remind yourself not to reach for the surface. There is no noise down here and the world is just as blue as you expected, but you are surprised by how much it burns to see it.
You hit the bottom and you look up and you think, I feel exactly as I have always felt, and you are relieved to blame the tightness in your chest on the lack of oxygen even as you pulse with want.
For the air.
For the sun.
For the one who wrote love and meant it, once, but not anymore.
You will want them forever, even as you drown. You were right and you wish you were kinder so it wasn’t true after all and you wish you had saved that letter and you wish you had better wishes, but you only ever wanted and wanted and never got what you wanted and so you settled for what was close enough and you hated yourself for settling and hated yourself for hating yourself and still you did it anyway. You spent your life pressing on bruises, pressing and pressing, and pretending all the while it was helping them heal.