*An essay a week in 2017*
I used to write letters. It started when I was in boarding school. No, now that I think about it, it started before I left, when I was 12, when my first love and I would sneak letters to one another through my older brother Carlos, who was good friends with his mother and wanted us, me and Ruben, to be together. But in boarding school, letter writing became something else. It was a way for me to feel connected. To share. To vent and rage and long and want. To express myself in and through the intense solitude that were those four years of high school.
I learned solitude in boarding school. It was through letters that I peeked out into the world. That I showed my heart when I couldn’t show my face.
I wrote to everyone—to my first love Ruben and his sister Cindy, to my friends on the block, Zuleika and Eli and Peggy and her sister whose name I can’t for the life of me remember; to my best friends Marie and Nefertiri; to my sister though I don’t remember her ever writing back; to Chiquita whose name was Vanessa but they called her Chiquita because she was so tiny. I wrote to crushes. I wrote to anyone and everyone who would receive them. I wrote pages and pages and used my $8 a week allowance and the money I made at the babysitting jobs and whatever job I had (supermarket, ice cream store, accounting firm), to pay for stationary and fancy pens and so many stamps.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in those letters, but I remember saying “I miss you” a lot and “I miss home” and “I don’t fit in here.”
Once a friend asked me if I hated it so much, why didn’t I just leave. To be clear, I didn’t hate Wellesley. I just didn’t feel like I fit in, and I eventually stopped trying to. I went into myself and stayed there. But, no, I never considered quitting. I never considered returning to Brooklyn. I knew that once I left, I would never return. Yeah, I went back for vacations and breaks, but I knew I’d never live there again. Not in my mother’s house. I got out. I had to stay out. I knew that at 13.
I wrote my brother letters while he was in prison, the first time after he was caught with two balloons of heroin in his stomach on his trip back from Venezuela. I was in college then. I wrote him letters year later, when he went back to prison for violating his parole. I sent him stacks of letters. I bought colorful markers so I could adorn the envelopes. I found some of those letters when we cleaned out his house after he died. I found pages and pages of writing. It was the same story—he was sick of his addiction, he wanted it to end, he carried so much regret, and he always imagined a life, somewhere in the future, when he wasn’t addicted and depressed and a mess.
I haven’t been writing as much as I want to. There are days when I sit in front of the computer and just stare. Then there are days when I grab my journal and write the entire train ride downtown, to therapy, an appointment, a teaching gig. I look at those pages later. I read them. I try to type them. More often than not, the trying fails. I have so many starts though…there is beauty in that.
I am struggling with finding the words for what’s going on in my heart these days. It is a mixture of grief and ache and anxiety.
I have a clear visual though:
I am a race car revving up. I am burning tires and smoke. I am reeling body, jerking and swerving. Engine screeching and crying.
I am that race car. I am the burning tires. I am the smoke. I am the guttural roar from the engine.
All that revving is painful. It shakes my insides. My nerves are frayed. My anxiety is on turbo. It is frightening, and yet I know, this too is necessary.
There are no cars but me on the track. It is just me. Revving and raging. This challenge is with myself…
Today I wanted to write myself a letter…but all I got was the image and this:
Vanessa, You’ve been here before. You know what this looks like. You know the salt of it. The silt. The way it drags. Keep reading. Keep digging. Stay in that quiet space as much and as long as you need. Show up when you can and want. Go for those walks that feed you. Let your dog sit on your lap when he paws at you. Hold your partner close. Talk. Kiss your baby girl when she lets you. Your role of mother is changing. She is months shy of the age you were when you left. You have no context of a mother-daughter relationship at this age. You know this. It is pulling at you. Yanking. You will figure it out as you always have. Do the work you need to do. Write those recommendation letters. Finish those anthologies. Finish your Writing Our Lives Spring Semester class. Yes, you will miss them. Tell them that. Remember you’ve got the summer to write and be with yourself and your stories. No, don’t wait until then to write…but know that this, all of this, the whirl, the race car, the revving is a preparation…a getting ready. Stay open, love. Remember who the fuck you are.