I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. It started when I was about twelve; I spent an entire summer writing my own sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. I didn’t know it that the time, but it was my first affair with a romance story. What I thought was childlike adventure, the fascination with flight, and the longing to be anywhere but here was really a story rewritten to include a young girl, much like myself, caught in the crosshairs of the charisma of a boy who never grew up.
It wasn’t until I was I was nineteen, maybe twenty, that I started truly writing romance short stories. It was therapeutic to take the feelings of longing, heartache, sometimes new romance, and channel them into characters and places and events that were so far from myself; again, to be anywhere but here. It started in a creative writing seminar, where I thought about the tragic stories of lovers on different paths that momentarily intersect. They were Ollie and Officer Browne; they were Cold War Kids. I thought it was going to end there. After, I’d continue on with my first person narrative-style pieces. But it didn’t. It only grew, with every short romantic story of my own life. It’s funny, looking back at the collection, I know who every chapter belongs to, where I was in my life when the words were written.
I remember the worst night of my life, eventually writing Frankengirl when I could finally begin to articulate the words in my head. I remember 1122, wondering if just one thing had been different, would everything be different today. My heart is still lying on the floor with a spoiled girl named Sweeney, who wanted everything and nothing but one love at the climax of Paint. I remember my own anger seeping through in The Round of Three – sometimes when I feel that anger swell even now, I go back and reread the hazy, foggy memories of a highway bar.
While I have written for myself (and my own therapeutic needs) for years and years, I can tell you that I have not written in a very long time. The last time I felt something so within my soul that it needed to escape was probably back in 2018. The last time I wrote something that took everything from me, but gave me so much in return – well, I was twenty-one years old, sitting on the edge of a cliff on Catalina Island, wishing I was anywhere but there.
I’ve told myself for a long time I just didn’t feel the urge to write as much as I did when I was younger. In my career, I am often researching and writing, and by the time I get home, even if there is a story idea lingering, I just can’t find the second wind to sit down and begin typing again. It’s easy to rationalize and justify, often thinking maybe tomorrow or one day I will.
Secretly, though, I’ve always known why I’ve avoided the pen for a few years. I’ve known because it’s the story I didn’t want to write. There isn’t a fictional character that can be the catalyst to processing a lot of feelings. It’s not set in a separate place, different time, to make me feel like I can hide behind the people, the places, the things of something so far off from my own world (anywhere but here). I’ve known because, even though I haven’t committed it to paper just yet, it’s been “in progress” for over ten years. In the soundtrack of every day life, and faintly in the background, I could always hear the clattering of computer keys, typing and typing and typing. I just always intentionally turned up the soundtrack on the rest of my life to ignore what was happening.
But recently, that clattering couldn’t be drowned out. The feelings couldn’t be suppressed. Recently, the story dug its prose into this person and just would not let go; recently, the pain demanded to be felt.
So, here it comes. No time or place other than the present; no other person but this woman. No fancy titles – its just me and the final chapter.
Alas, the epilogue. It goes something like this.
In this moment, I am conflicted. I am somewhat dreading the formation of these thoughts, but I am also electrified. I can’t remember the last time something sparked this intense need to write. When something is so essential, so part of who you are as a person – and you lose that something – you’d do most anything to have it back. So hesitantly, the words are forming, but I’m exercising restraint, because I don’t want to lose this. But here, in the epilogue, this is where I need to leave you.
This is my own collection, as much as I would secretly love to think that this is the retelling of the Notebook. As much as I thought about coming back to my writing and coming back to you, like Allie coming back a sun strewn balcony with Noah and all the colors to paint, I already know this ending. This is my story, and my life at that. And as much I have lived and had some pretty crazy adventures, I’ve always kept one foot in the past. I’ve always turned over my shoulder, looking behind to see if I might catch a glimpse. I’ve lingered in moments that I am personally proud of, or ashamed of, and I’ve wondered what you might think of it, too. I guess this is the gateway I gave to you, to find your way of creeping in, in between dreams.
I didn’t realize, that when I was writing Paint, one of the many stories that belong to you, in some ways, I was really writing the story of you and me. Because right now, the reason why the epilogue took over ten years to commit to, is because the epilogue is where I fire the gun, shooting down a hope I held on to for way too long. Because if the version of me who is a step behind, stuck in the past, can’t have you, and obviously this woman now can’t either, then as Sweeney said, nobody can. There will be no trial to adjudicate the truth of what happened all those years ago; the story will just end, just like that – bang.
This doesn’t mean I won’t say hello, or show a little smirk at those distant memories and melodies. Those won’t leave me. It just means that I’m going just keep going forward, no more steps back to see what remains in the shadows. Because, as you said yourself, I am happy, and so are you. I accomplished most of the things I told myself I would. While sometimes these things are hard, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t find my little moment of joy. And for a woman who was so lost down a very, very dark hole for so many years, it feels really amazing to finally stand in the sunlight and, quite bluntly, to just be a happy motherfucker.
We don’t have grand finales in casinos, or second chances in imagined futures of artificial intelligence and romance; heck, we don’t even have crappy bottles of beer at a dirty, dusty bar on the side of a rough highway. We have carefully constructed hellos, momentary relapses into the ghosts of yesterday, and jarring course corrections back to the present day.
We have a bookstore, and I’m on a plane heading to a city where love still remained. That’s where that bookstore remains. It remained a favorite, one I visited a few times over the years between the last chapter of Herstory and this epilogue. But this time, I’m going to go, and rifle through the racks while standing in the warm aroma of coffee. I’m going to remember the cold and the quiet, and I am going to find the ghosts of us – we were something, don’t you think so? Instead of looking back to see who else is walking into the bookshop, living some fanciful flight of maybe, just maybe – I’m going to smile at two crazy kids who, as you put it, had their chance, but not a fair shake. And my dear, that’s where years of writing this collection will end. Because maybe its time to write a new kind of romance story. The one where, as you said it best, we are both happy.
Epilogue: enough; this is where I leave you. Because it doesn’t do well to dwell in dreams, especially when you can stand in the sunlight after many years, and know that there is happiness when you finally climb out of the hole. This is where I leave you.
I just wrote to say I love you, again. Again, and at this juncture, the final chapter – the end.