By Linn Siljebo
I never missed any of you.
Now that we are finally far enough apart, in a place where you cannot find me—whether I am safe or unwell—I am able to tell you exactly how well I’m doing; how happy I am; how I haven’t quite missed you, or anyone.
I used to feel guilty for not missing anyone, because isn’t it true that I am supposed to? You and Father raised me with the intention that I grow up to want to be near; that I feel obliged to take care of you both as you grow older, like you did me when I was younger; that I love you as you love me.
It took me awhile to understand what those seemingly random dreams were about; when I repeatedly dreamed that I was still in a relationship with a previously important person in my life, whom I had somehow forgotten. In those dreams, I would suddenly recall a person whom I used to care about, that we never really did break up, did we? And that awkward, long overdue, breakup phone call was only my voice asking questions like how they had been doing, why we hadn’t spoken in three years, and whether I still had their phone number at all. With those voices pushed out of my mind and safely forgotten, I was merely an inadvertent cheater who felt guilty for not having felt guilty, while performing an accusatory monologue in front of a non-existent audience.
But I remember all of your voices. I just never missed you.
I gathered the courage to write you this letter now, because I figured that I’m finally far away enough from you to hear you sob in my ear, and that you’re too far away from me to hear me hang up the phone. But if it makes you feel any better, you should know that I kept my ensuing cross-country move to myself with difficulty, even though I knew you would hold me back, had I uttered a word. If it makes you feel any better at all, I would have you note that only three people knew about my move, where you were not one but I was. Another person was a priest. And yes, I am aware that God is with me wherever I go.
It was already late afternoon by the time I had finished packing the last of my belongings into the car, as I had severely misjudged the time it would take me to carry my belongings down the steps of three floors before meticulously filling every available space inside of my trusty old 1984 Volvo like a careful game of Tetris. The snow was already coming down, and I was to expect bad weather driving south.
If I told you back then that I nearly drove the car off the road during the storm, you would’ve stayed awake those coming nights, while also pondering all of the other unrealistic what-ifs you could conceive of in one sitting. But you should rest assured that I was being quite realistic with regards to my endurance as a winter night-driver, and had already booked a room at a hostel to spend the night somewhere mid-way to my new home.
You see, I may hurt you, but I will never disappoint you.
There was a feeling of constrained freedom and contained peacefulness while my presence occupied that small, red-carpeted hostel room, to the extent that I didn’t really want to sleep but rather savor that lone moment. But fear not, Mother—I slept. There was a new life to begin that following day, and I remember finally reaching the city when dark had imposed yet again, trying to find the way to the house where I would be staying for that first week; how the unfamiliar bends and road exits had my cell phone slide off my lap and fall onto the car floor where it remained out of my reach; how the phone falling down reminded me of Father’s story of his drunken brother, who once dropped a cigarette on his car floor and insisted on picking the cigarette up while still driving, and how Father was forced by their parents to get the poor, little brother’s car out of a ditch in the middle of the night yet again; how I wasn’t necessarily sure I was doing the right thing anymore, as the voice of the cell phone GPS continued to guide me through that mid-week evening.
One shouldn’t linger too much in the past; just move ahead. I try not to linger in the past, but you linger, always.
I sometimes consider the time that can be seen as wasted, and how things perhaps weren’t supposed to have turned out the way they did. I also consider all this good, and I consider all this good only being good because it’s supposed to be. Things always turn out how they should, I think—I hope! —but I mourn. I mourn that my “supposed to” doesn’t match yours. I mourn you mourning me.
Should you happen to see me on the street—somewhere and in many years from now—I will merely be a stranger you somewhat recognize the facial features of. Your presence will be intrusive as always, and your sense of entitlement to asking questions will be invasive as ever. And when you look closely enough, you will see that I have been a stranger for years.
I am a stranger you mistakenly think you know.
It sometimes overwhelms me how much has changed, all the ways in which I’m different now—the polar opposite of the depressed teenager who hid away in a dark room for years; diametrically opposed to the person who was guilted into staying down, much like a dog, careful not to achieve too much, or wander too far away from the safety of a home once broken. I often times struggle to understand how you seem to be the same person still—or worse. Perhaps that was your change as human beings. If change is a direction, you went backwards. And you just keep going, either knowing you’re lost or not knowing any better. I struggle with that, too, because there was a period of time where I still had hope that things would be better for you; that your lives would be better, if not as good as mine was turning out to be; that you would finally come to the same realization as I in that the goodness of your hearts does not exist to the extent you believe it does. Or perhaps you always knew that, but you just submitted to the path of least resistance. Is that what happened?
There was a time when I tried, and I mean really tried, to fix you. I had such hope, even. I felt that it—and I—made sense in my unrelenting wish to get you back on track with what truly is important, so that I could mend a fence or two for you to reach the brighter side unscathed. It is ironic how your sedentary wills allowed a rotten piece of that damned fence to impale me, as if I was the sacrifice to ensure that ignorance remained your bliss. I wanted to open your eyes; how I tried to pry those eyelids open to how it really was all you and not in the least bit me, not yet understanding that I could only save myself and not you.
I regret how you didn’t bother. I don’t know what you regret. I don’t want to know.
I no longer care to know the measures required to fix you. Only my eyes were bluer than yours.
Perhaps I should find comfort in knowing that there are things that will never change. There is a place I can come back to if I want to, but you made me not want to. How can I be homesick when I don’t have a home?
Perhaps said comfort should be found in knowing that you will remain the same, that I will always know you, and that I will always know who you are. You never aimed to be anything different. I will always know you, like I always have. And I’m certain that you want to know me, because you try to and if you succeed in fooling yourself, maybe you will know me eventually. I know you and you think you know me, and there was a time when I wanted you to know. There was a time when I thought you knew me. But I was always the one to go my own way; always the one who was different from others—the one you sometimes felt like you had to make excuses for.
Do you remember when you gifted me that picture of me walking down the spring-flood trail to reach the river at the bottom of that hill? I still remember that late, summer afternoon, with the sound of the water roaring in the distance; the color of those silent water drops up-stream, which hurried past everything and anyone who was possibly near, only to dive head-first into those rocks before the drop. But no end is nigh while time continues to pass.
I remember knowing that as I was walking down that hill I had walked a few hundred times previously, something was happening behind me. It wasn’t until later, when I saw the picture you had taken with your little, old, camera that I found out what that strange, tingling feeling at the back of my neck was. You gifted me the picture the following Christmas—framed and all—while talking about how I have always been the one to choose my own path. I always hated that off-center picture with the afternoon sun-glare—or perhaps it was the tip of your finger that ever so slightly covered the camera lens—because you chose that beautiful, early summer evening to take a picture of me while I was wearing flannel pajama pants and Father’s old t-shirt with a hole in it. Perhaps you noticed that I never hung that picture frame on my wall.
The macabre part about time is that it passes us so quickly. Perhaps I will dare to be less cold to you one day, and perhaps one day I will come around. Perhaps I will see you again—one day. Perhaps I will stop by unannounced, because even though I hate every moment of being around you, I somehow used to forget that very same thing at the thrill of the surprise and smiles on your faces.