Stories reveal what life seldom divulges. When I write, I garner a glimpse of what I might have otherwise missed: The beach was empty, even of shells—except for the pale blond woman stretched out long on the sand and two brown children playing next to her.
I write for that woman, for what she sees and what she doesn’t see: A tall white figure fluttered onto the horizon. She squinted at it with no real interest, as the sun and sea behind it blurred its edges until it resembled a hazy soft-focus photograph. She looked away as if it hurt her eyes to take in so much white.
I write to marvel at unheralded serendipity: It was a young man, with blond hair nearly as white as his clothing and skin tanned so brown it looked painful around the edges. As he got closer to the woman, an expression of amazement overtook his face. Somehow he knew when he saw her again, it would be somewhere like this, somewhere impossible.
I write to mourn lost moments and celebrate second chances: He saw her as he remembered her in high school, a thin reed uprooted and floating on still water, a series of ripples emanating from her center. He felt again the strange mix of emotions she’d inspired in him before. He wanted to compose an ode to her, construct a monument for her, kiss her. Instead he said, “Good evening.”
I write because on the page, I am better than I am in life. When I write, I seek the things that really matter: She loomed beside him enormously, sand pouring back and forth between her hands, so much larger than anything he’d ever experienced that he couldn’t take her all in, it hurt his eyes to try.
“I always thought you had the greatest initials,” she said without looking at him. “P.S.”
I write to remember to fight the urge to belong: He suddenly despised this P.S. he’d become, tacked on to the substance of life in his desire to belong to the text of the world. He now knew why her husband left her stranded here on this isolated beach, with nothing more than two children and a bright orange bucket to sustain her, why he himself had left her floating alone all those years. Her spirit was too immense to be contained and carried. His required legions of luggage.
I write to find connections that refuse to appear unless the surface is scraped away: Later, in her small house with no running water, her pale skin pink around the edges, she would retrieve a shoebox from the shelf in the closet. She would stare inside at the pile of postcards, all addressed to the same set of initials, never stamped, never sent.
I write because there are things in me that need to be said: There were things in her that needed to be said, and they had formed themselves into words on the backs of these postcards.
The petal color of the setting sun.
How to remain rooted while the tide is always coming and going.
There must be more somewhere than all that I am unable to reach here.
I write because I love endings, happy or not, which intimate meaning where otherwise none exists: Then she would gather the postcards, pausing to gaze at her sleeping babies who wore ghosts of the day’s smiles. She would carry the cards out to the well and let them flutter down, one by one, white squares swallowed by yawning water, without a splash.
By Gretchen Hayduk Wroblewski