A Letter to R.

botanical garden photo

Dear R.,

The month after the fall equinox is the hottest time of year here. I wake up and the wall opposite me, east-facing and therefore torched full-blast by the morning sun, conducts a great heat that our wheezy portable AC can’t hope to compete with. And then I trek to class, on treeless streets soused in blinding golden light, wet from both the shower-steam humidity and the hot solar breath on my face. I feel my shirt sticking to my slick back.

I spent the best part of Saturday sitting on a bench in the botanical garden, deciding if I should call L. The bench was like a watchtower under a tree on a wide hill where the rising land just started to flatten. You have to walk up a grassy slope to get there, and you seem to be in another world because the grass is actually green, a shiny green immune to drought and rare to see in the yellowing city.

On Saturday the sun was as warm as a lover’s palm. It had a lazy Sunday morning feel to it, even in the late afternoon, when shadows elongated and a cool gust of wind coiled around my arms. I remember the dark-colored bees that hovered just above the dirt by my ankles, circling and surveilling like amber choppers on a manhunt. I watched their wings beat clouds of dust in the air and blow tiny rocks away in their blast radius. And near my head, dancing and diving deep in the sunlight broken by the canopy above, were dozens of insects like specks with transparent wings as thin as rice paper that you could only see when their glass-like surfaces sparkled at certain angles, like silver winks…

I’ve been feeling content lately, R. I’ve been writing more. I started a story the other week:

The astronaut decided to file for divorce while in space, gazing from the moon at the earth now small as a marble he could flick into the black. Even here, hundreds of thousands of miles from home, never farther or more peripheral, he’d carried with him the problems of his marriage, problems stowed in a heart that could no longer keep an honest beat.

I want the astronaut to see clearly for the first time all the problems of his life, now that he has that objective distance. I want him to see how inconsequential things can be, how they can be small enough to cup in your hands. I want him to return to the world as an empowered man who doesn’t put up with everything.

I ended up taking a nap that day in the botanical garden. I had a dream I woke up on the moon. Since there was no one else and I had no way of going back home, I shouted all my woes into the void but, being in space, I made no sound. And then the moon’s chalky surface split between my feet like two white lips and I stared into the black abyss of its throat, crying out in horror. A bird with an unlit candlestick on its back swooped down in front of my face and I looked up at a swarm of them, all poised to swoop. Then all of the wicks suddenly burst into blue flames and the birds froze into stars. A voice shattered the silence.

“What does your heart desire?” it asked.

And for some reason I began to talk about the problems in my life. I said: I wish I could be as kind to myself as I can with others. I wish I had an adult in my life whom I trusted enough to ask anything. I wish I could fall in love. Will it all be okay? Am I freaking out for nothing?

I woke up. It was less warm, nearing sundown. A man in a golf cart was waiting by my side, the engine murmuring. “We’re closing in twenty minutes,” he said.

“Okay.”

I left the botanical garden from a winding path and turned onto a street leading to campus. Buses hissed as they passed by me and the drivers of cars talked animatedly behind closed windows, gesticulating wildly into their own private voids. Blacktop and looming brick architecture and smokestacks spewing plumes of exhaust–I was back in the city, feeling empowered. Renewed, ready for the world. I decided to call L.

Best,

J.

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