29) A Well-Laid Plan
I had positively cleaned up at my graduation open house, and now I had more than enough money to fund my gap year. Over the course of the summer, I bought a really nice bicycle, a DSLR camera, a giant hiking backpack, camping equipment, and a $25 membership to WWOOF, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms.
I poured over the catalog WWOOF sent me of farms around the country that needed volunteers. Each listing sounded more romantic than the one before: feeding chickens, harvesting crops, working at Farmer's Markets. Fruit trees and greenhouses. Goats. Composting. Sustainability. Living off the fat of the land.
I pictured myself confidently grasping a warm teet and milking it, like I had read about in Little House on the Prairie, or tossing handfuls of corn kernels from my apron to the chickens like in Disney's Cinderella.
My mom, an actual former farm kid from rural North Dakota, rolled her eyes.
"All this from a girl who never wants to hoe the garden in the summer."
"Mom! This will be different."
I was determined to cycle my way around the country and work on organic farms along the way.
I phoned up a farm in western Montana, a great starting point for my journey, I thought. A man answered and said they might have something available but that a few other potential volunteers were contacting him at the moment as well. He said he'd call me back.
I waited a day. I didn't hear anything. So I called again.
"Well, you are persistent, huh?" he mused over the phone. "Well, squeaky wheel gets the grease, I suppose."
"What I mean is, because you're buggin' me so much, you can just come here if you want."
"Great! Thank you! I'll be there in three weeks. Thanks again!"
I bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Missoula and went about getting my affairs in order before I left.
There was one thing in particular I had been meaning to do.
Throughout the summer, I had started several drafts of a scathing letter to my French teacher, but each time, I had lost steam. I loved her a lot. I couldn't be that mad. In fact, I kind of even understood where she was coming from on some level, since no one knew better than me how obsessed with her I had been. I had tried to hide it and act normal, but in the end, I had freaked her out, no doubt. But still, in light of how close we had been, I was flailing for the complete lack of closure. The interior space which her attentions had occupied was now a howling vacuum, and I could find no peace.
I finally managed to write something I thought was decent, and in a moment of daring, I dropped it in the mailbox at the Post Office. Couldn't take it back now.
My family drove me to the sketchy bus station downtown one night and waited with me for the Greyhound to start boarding. I took pictures with them and hugged them goodbye, then I got in line with the other passengers, many of whom kind of scared me. It was like my family was sending me off to kindergarten all over again, only this time the school was located in a really rough neighborhood called the Real World. Wearing my day pack and clutching my pillow, I felt a little out of place.
This won't be so bad. It'll be like that time we got a charter bus for choir tour.
The inside of the bus wasn't as clean as the choir tour bus had been, however. I could see someone's chewed up and spit out sunflower seed shells in the crevices of my seat. I hesitated to wedge my pristine, white pillow up against the smudgy window, but how else was I going to sleep? I put my ear plugs in and popped one of the Vicodin I had saved when I got my wisdom teeth removed earlier that summer.
The bus started moving, and I willed myself to close my eyes and forget about the sketchy people all around me who could totally steal my stuff while I was asleep. I thought instead of my impending adventures, of my fresh slate.
I had simplified my life down to the bare essentials, and I was headed out West to spend a year testing myself in some new situations. I wanted to "live deliberately," to see what life might have to teach me about who I was and what I needed to fix. I wanted to refine myself, to acquire wisdom. That way, the next time my French teacher and I crossed paths, she would be impressed, and we would become fast friends again, and I wouldn't screw everything up like I had before. . .
Next time, things would be different.
Dear [her first name],
I hope you are doing well and that you're excited for the new school year. I hope everyone in your family is healthy. I hope you are as radiant as ever.
I'm lying on my bedroom floor amid boxes and old memories, taking a break from the impossible task of downsizing my life before I leave. I'm having a pretty good time reading my old notebooks with all the crappy poetry and professions of love you thankfully never saw. They have reminded me that I have yet to write you, something I've been trying to do all summer.
I want to thank you for everything you ever did for me; for being an inspiration and a friend; for the smile on my face at this very moment. I can't imagine high school without you and your conversation. I wonder if you know how much I loved you, how much I admittedly still love you. I was so proud to be your friend. I felt so validated when I made you laugh. You just can't know.
As you can imagine, this letter has been preceded by many drafts, most of them angry. Maybe it's Paul Simon's voice in the background, or the fact that I'm high on nostalgia from packing, but I feel like being amicable in this letter. Look, I don't know exactly what happened, where we stopped or why, but the nature of our relationship has clearly changed. My entire senior year was confusing, with most of it spent trying to avoid you. However, when I did lose my self-control and seek you out, our visits were increasingly hurried and one-sided. Maybe you really were that busy, or maybe I was suddenly too crass, too present, too needy. Maybe you never liked me to begin with, or maybe one of us changed. Maybe I wasn't important anymore. Whatever the reason, my impression of you changed; it was a brutal transition, one that still isn't complete.
I would give my youth to know your thoughts, but of course I can't know. I will never know. All I can do is remember you against my will, the most beautiful heartbreak of my life. I can't make you want to communicate, but I can send you a postcard on your birthday every year regardless, in the hope that it really wasn't your goal to push me away and that it was just some tragic habit of yours.
So just know that I love you, that I found some photos of you today while cleaning, and I have no intention of ever throwing them away. Know that you're beautiful, and that I don't really care if you don't love me; it confuses me, but as long as you're happy, so am I. I hope you have a great life. I hope this letter made sense. I hope you have students as taken with you and your subject as I was. I hope the leaves always turn your favorite colors.