In my mind, I imagine you drinking hot cocoa, carefully melting little chocolates and sugar and stirring in the milk at just the right time, before you open these letters, pouring it into a mug and sitting on your fire escape with one leg curled beneath you in your little trademark way. I don't know that you actually do this, but it gives me a certain sense of harmony to think so, kind of a book end to the way I write them, because I often make some myself before putting pen to paper -- at least when it's addressed to you.
This city is beautiful and terrible, all gritty cracked pavement and choked with smog. In some places near the core it's so thick you can't see the tops of the skyscrapers, and sometimes I wonder what it looks like to the office workers in those buildings, trying to see the street below. Is the visibility limited both ways? Do they just get a sense of a grey fog that goes all the way down into nothingness? It must be strange to look down and not be able to see the earth your building is supposedly anchored to, don't you think? I'd find it hard to work in a place like that; I'd be too busy trying to seek reassurance to get anything done.
Once, before I met you, I worked in a small building not far from your old apartment. There was a cemetary right next to it, and on cool days I'd usually leave my window wide open. Sometimes, if no one was looking, I'd sit on the windowsill and lean way out, and if I got the angle just right, I could get a pretty good view of the cemetary, with white grave markers lined up in perfect rows like the teeth of some ancient dinosaur. It was distracting but I couldn't resist it. Every now and then I'd see a new grave being dug and wonder what fresh victim it awaited, and every once in a while, an actual funeral. My window was too far away to really hear anything, but I'd always try to imagine the speeches given, using the number of people there as sort of a starting point. More often than not there'd be a fairly large turnout, but one time I saw a casket get interred and nobody was there except for the priest. I went so far as to check the obituaries in that day's newspaper and the day before, to see if I could find the name of whoever that was, because it didn't seem right that someone should die and not have anyone remember their name. But I couldn't find a notice in the paper. I guess if anyone had cared enough to place a notice, they'd have cared enough to show up at the final resting, so it was a long shot. Still, I never quite got over that sight, and I turned in my resignation the next week. Maybe you think that's an odd reason to quit, and maybe it is, because I've never told anyone that's the real reason I left, but I know you won't use it against me.
I'm told this city can be magic if you have the right guide. I expect I'll be here long enough to become a pretty good guide myself, and maybe someday before I return you could come here and let me take you through it. I will tell you that it's a place you've been to before, but only in passing, so I suppose that's another clue for you. I hope you're still trying to figure out where I am, exactly, but for the moment let me just say that whatever magic is supposed to be in this city, I haven't found it yet. I think it's because that sort of magic only comes from sharing. There's not much point to taking in the offerings if you have no one to tell, is there?
Despite all that, I've already found a few places where you can almost feel it, like if you just reach out and hold at the right moment, you could capture it. There's the airport, which I already told you about, and the mill, which I haven't. I call it the mill, because that's what it used to be, but now I think it's just an events hall, the mill itself shut down long ago. I've never seen any events held there, because I go late at night, but in some of the windows you can see white cloths draped over long serving tables, so I figure this must be where people have wedding receptions and such. It's a nice place for them to do so, I suppose, since the mill used to be operated by a waterwheel powered by a river, and from the converted hall you can see down into the channel where the river still flows, and the tops of trees that rise above the valley floor in an almost endless sea of evergreen lining the cliff face.
But at night, when I go, it's a different sort of beauty entirely. You can't see the trees or the river unless the moon is particularly bright, and even then you'd have to really look hard, but you can still hear the dull roar of the river, permeating everything. On cloudy nights, or if the moon is new, the valley vanishes, and the sound of all that water just seems to come from an abyss, and sometimes it seems almost musical, like a slow violin song that never starts and never finishes. To tell you the truth, it makes the entire place seem haunted, but I find that sort of stark and naked vulnerability to be beautiful. There are lots of other places besides that reception area, and most of them are unlocked, so if I'm lucky I can go inside and wander through the maze of this abandoned mill. One night, I made it all the way to the back of the building and found a small fountain set into brick, and it was still going, water being forced up through it by the pressure of the river itself and cascading back into a small pool. I stood there watching it for nearly an hour, feeling like I was right on the cusp, but it never happened. Maybe I needed someone to push me over. Maybe I needed you, Alexis.
The place I'm staying in isn't much. It's really little more than a dorm room, just a single square area and a door. I've got my bed shoved off into the corner furthest from the door and a table set up near the tiny kitchenette, which I hardly ever use because trying to cook while standing in that cramped space makes me feel anxious and edgy. There are a few pictures on the wall and on the nightstand, things I put up when I first arrived to make the place seem like a home, but it isn't. It's simply where I go at the end of the day, kind of like a hotel room, except in a hotel room you know you don't have to stay there, and it's sort of a refreshing break from the usual. But this place isn't anything like that. They say home is where the heart is, and my heart certainly isn't in this place where everything seems flimsy and artificial.
Have you ever found a home, Alexis? Do you think your apartment is a home? I used to wonder about that on those cold nights when I could stand on your balcony with the wooden deck leeching the warmth from my bare feet, and stare through the screen door at the two radio towers in the distance with their blinking red beacons at the tops, slowly syncronizing with each other and then falling away again. You always had such nice things, even if they weren't worth much. To someone just looking in, it probably just looked like mismatched furniture, old and worn, with all the little eccenticies you'd stationed around, a rock fountain or a lamp made out of a wine bottle and your clothes on the floor. But I'll tell you something now that I couldn't tell you then: to me, they felt like home. The whole apartment did. A place about which I wouldn't have to stifle back laughter or regret if I said "Let's go home." I hope it's a home for you, Alexis, and I hope you find some small measure of tranquility when you're there, even when you're looking out at the freeway and not at the pictures on your walls.
Still, for all its sterility, this little dorm-apartment will have to do for me, at least for now. I'm too far entrenched to come back just yet. I know you don't quite agree with the reasons I left, but I also know you understand, and that's something I always appreciated about you -- the fact that you don't easily sway to my point of view, but you's listen anyway, and though you'd usually still not agree, you'd always understand me. My views may be wrong sometimes but they're mine anyway, and I was always thankful that you'd let me speak my mind without ridiculing me for it later or making me feel ashamed.
Of all the pictures on my wall that I've put up and forgotten there's one picture that stands out and doesn't get lost in the clutter. Do you know which one I'm talking about, Alexis? It's a photograph of you in the park in autumn, arms outstretched catching leaves in a polished steel sky, and a gigawatt smile so pretty above your black scarf. I remember that day and I remember taking that picture of you. These are the things I hold onto to forget that I'm far from the things I know to be familiar and they keep me sane while I'm here.
I doubt you've found resolution to anything yet. I think I'd feel it somehow if you did, in the tips of my fingers or the scar on my back. But I know you're still trying to reach it, and I hope you know you have my support, even if I'm not there. I wish I could be, because I know you sometimes need to talk, and it pains me to picture you needing and not having an outlet. But when I do come back you can use me again, just like you always have, and until then, there's nothing wrong with letting simple tears express it all. You once told me that, and you need to believe it yourself. You're beautiful and strong, but please don't let that get in the way of how things try to unfold. And who knows? Maybe if you try, I'll feel it then too. With you, Alexis, I've found that anything is possible.
Until next time,