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Letters to the Moon
November 29, 2011
“Merry Christmas, Lucy!”
“Merry Christmas, Cheryl” I replied to my mother-in – law, as I set down my bags of groceries items that had been forgotten in the past three trips to the supermarket.
“Honey,” I say to my husband, who was busy keeping trouble-seeking children away from the kitchen, “We have to be more productive in making these shopping lists. I’m getting too old to fight off these grandmothers in supermarkets on Christmas Eve. They are all equipped with sharp knitting needles, and I’m not too fond of getting one of those to the eye because they wanted that last yam.”
“You look as young as ever, and it seems to me that you still have your eyes intact,” he chuckles.
“Here,” he says, handing me an envelope, “this came for you in the mail today.”
“I…I need to go upstairs.” Taking the envelope with me, I hurry up the staircase and close the door. I need to be alone with this letter.
The best part of the Christmas season is the music. The way every lyric is so happy, and every note is so filled with hope and promise. In my attempts to decide on the best holiday tie, I find myself smiling as I hear my little Rosie playing Jingle Bells on our piano downstairs. The familiar chords fill my ears, and I am not bothered by her slow tempo or the missed note or two. Giving up my battle with fashion, and simply settling for the most recently purchased tie, I head towards the door of my bedroom.
My hand stops in mid-reach for the door knob as I notice a purple envelope sitting atop my dresser. There is only one letter a year that I receive in a purple envelope; my wife must have tried to give me the letter the other night, but I was too tired to receive it. I have time, I decide. Reclining, in my favorite chair, I break the seal and let the memories flow back to me.
“Without music, life would B flat.”
Oh boy, that’s a groaner. Only he could manage to put such a corny joke in a Christmas letter.
“Our little Rosie continues to excel at her musical endeavors, also known as playing Jingle Bells over and over, convinced it is the greatest song known to man-kind.”
I always knew his kids would be musical. I was blessed with two overly dramatic young ones, where he received a quiet, but extremely gifted daughter, just like him.
“Myself, I continue to educate the young men and women of Lincoln High School of the importance of dynamic markings and how to properly laterally slide in a marching formation.”
At this, I laugh. We met on that band field, and I guess he never could part with the woolen uniforms and feathered plumes. I read through his letter updating me on all the major occurrences of his life, the tragic death of Cuddles the hamster, the comical anecdote of trying to cut down a Christmas tree without “giving it a boo-boo” (Rosie’s words, not mine.), and the success story of his wife’s recent charity event to fund hurricane victims.
I trace the words with my finger and bite my lip. How could another year have passed already? No matter how securely I hugged my blankets at night, I am never fully prepared to see his novelty music stamps in the mail. It’s only once a year, I tell myself, only once a year. But the years have been soaring by recently.
Placing the letter in my lap, I stare out the window. Putting my hand on the frosty glass, I can feel the miles between us. So many miles, so many years. But in that moment, it all melts away. I can see him outside my bedroom window, holding up a giant sign, asking me out on a date. I can hear his trumpet playing the song he wrote just for me. I see him drumming on every surface he can get his hands on, and even though I groan and tell him to stop, he knows I want him to keep going. I see him eyes staring into mine, like two twinkling stars. I feel the way he used to brush my hair behind my ear. I can see us sitting outside the cliff, staring up at the moon. I can hear him whisper softly in my ear, “I love you.” How much?, I would ask. “To the moon and back”, he would always reply.
“Mia’s favorite pass-time is to wear her mother’s quilt like a cape and proclaim that she is Queen of Everything.”
Just like her mother, I think to myself. I still remember the photo that used to sit on her family’s mantle of Lucy doing the exact same thing. The frame was silver.
“ Her royal highness and I are excited for the coming winter, as I, her most loyal subject, have officially been dubbed the Queen’s tutor. Queen Mia is learning how to read and write. She is exceptional.”
Just like her mother.
“As for myself, I am doing well. I have braced myself for the coming winter. In my survival kit, I have packed the latest books, several blank journals, my favorite pens, granola bars, and a flashlight, for when the power goes out.”
She never changed. I could always find her surrounded by a mountain of novels. She would often times have several of them open at once, as she furiously scribbled in a journal. When I asked her what she was doing, she would reply “There are too many beautiful words. I have to write them all down. But now I’m getting a hand cramp.”
I can still hear her voice in my head as I finish reading her annual letter. I haven’t heard her voice in years, so many years. But it still sings just as sweetly in my ears as it used to. Now, I have only written words, white paper and black ink. I still see her smile in every comma, her mischievous grin in every semi-colon. I hear her laugh with every subtly placed joke and her sigh with a perfectly worded sentence.
I walk back into my closet and push aside a mound of clothing. The exposed cardboard stare back at me, and I lift the box from the ground. Opening the lid, time reels me backwards. I am traveling over miles and miles, over years and years. When I land, I hear laughter. I feel her squeezing my hand as we stand backstage before her big solo. I see her eyes sparkle when I performed for her, and I feel her warmth as she holds me and tells me that I am the best musician she’s every heard, even better than Kermit the Frog. I feel her looking at me over mountains of books as she studies for English exams, and I feel her tousling my hair, even though I told her a thousand times that no one likes the look of messed up hair. “I do” she would respond. “Well, I just brushed it. Could you save your affection for my hair until the end of the day?” I would ask. “No,” she would reply, “Besides, it looks better this way.”
At the bottom of my box of memories, beneath every concert ticket, every playbill, every letter written, and every doodle drawn, there is a glow-in-the-dark sticker of the moon. It was her first Christmas present to me, back when we were two broke college kids, who could barely afford Ramen noodles. I remember unwrapping the package of stickers and laughing. “Lucy…” I said chuckling. “What? Don’t you like it?” Laughing, I replied, “I love it, Lucy. I love you.” “How much?” She asked, her eyes eager. Selecting the moon sticker, the biggest, brightest, most beautiful sticker I had ever seen, I stuck it on her hand and said “To the moon and back.”
I remember the night I got on the train.
I remember the night she got on the train.
My bags were packed, my ticket was purchased and I was ready to go. But not really.
I had watched her pack her bags; I had seen her buy her ticket. I could’ve stopped her. I could’ve taken her credit card from her hand and said “Don’t do this. I love you. I love you more that I’ve ever known I could love someone. Please, don’t do this.”
Every part of me told me stay, that it could work, that we could make it work. But that little bit inside of me, that tiny whisper in that back of my head, told me that, this, this was the only way.
I wanted her to be happy. I would do anything to make her happy. I would let her leave, if it made her happy. But I was selfish. I wanted her to be happy with me.
We didn’t have any words to say as the train whistled.
I had every word to say to her. I just didn’t know how.
“I love you, Daniel” I had told him.
“Lucy, I…” I stumbled over my own words. There was so much I wanted to say, so many words I had to fit into so little time that they all condensed and imploded in on themselves. No words formed, no sounds came out. I was helpless.
I kissed her. It was the most perfect, and most terrible, moment of my life. Neither of us wanted to stop, neither of us wanted to admit that we had reached the end. She finally broke away.
“I have to go.” I didn’t look him in the eyes. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to see the hurt. I couldn’t bear to see the pain. If I had looked, I never would have left. I would have thrown my arms around him and apologized. I would have apologized for being so selfish, for wanted to see the world, for wanted to go on adventures when I knew he couldn’t come with me. I would have ripped my luggage from the train, and gone home. I would have unpacked and thrown all of clothing all over our apartment, so that it was impossible to clean up. So that I could stay.
But I didn’t look up.
I walked away.
I watched her walk away. I didn’t say a word. So many filled my mind. I could have reached out and grabbed her arm. I could have spun her around, and had her look in my eyes. I could’ve said “Let’s go home, let’s go home. We’ll go back into bed. We’ll dry your tears and I’ll hold you all day and all night. We can make it work. We’ll travel, I promise. We’ll see the world. You can write your books, and I can play my music. It’ll be perfect. Please. Don’t go. Please.”
I watched her walk away.
I sat on the train, and I pulled out my journal. The first journal. The tape that adhered it to the cover was brown and worn, but that moon still shone up at me brightly. I looked out the window and saw him standing there, completely helpless. I held the moon up to the window, and mouthed the words “To the moon and back.”
I pulled the moon out of front pocket.
“To the moon and back.”