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General

Dear Diary, June 9, 2001

I am at a diner just outside of Nashville. Their sign boasted all-day breakfast and I have not eaten since last night. I am huddled in a sticky booth stirring the fourth packet of sugar into my milky coffee. The waitress just delivered my order, the eggs drifting across the plate like sad lemons into a small pile of peppered grits. Eating would be a futile exercise, anyway. I do not think I can stomach even a bite of soggy toast. I just needed to buy some time—as if it is something you can exchange for a handful of pennies. According to my print-out directions, I am only about two hours away. The old man in the booth behind me just cleared his throat, as if he were about to make an important point to anyone who was listening. It sounded like gravel. I should probably get out of here, but I don’t want to. I mean, I do, but I feel like I have just been rewired and nothing is working right. Like I am all electric pulses with static for bones.

Fifteen minutes later. I am back in my car. The waitress boxed up my meal and put some coffee in a styrofoam to-go cup. I wanted to tell her what I was doing and why I could not eat, but I sensed she was not in the mood to hear my teenage love story. My hands are shaking so hard from no food and too much coffee that I need to put this pen down. I should probably get back on the road: the edges of the sky are frayed in black and everything appears as if it is tilting sideways.

As I write this, I am sitting on the trunk of my car, about a hundred yards from his house. It is exactly as I pictured it, and somehow nothing like it. I cannot reconcile this. I am glancing down at my watch. It is 7:42.

Those three digits are the only things anchoring me to the present moment. Otherwise I am suspended somewhere between belief and disbelief, that world where things feel only half-real, and even then, one cannot distinguish between what exists and what does not. One simply has to rely on their senses and trust that they aren’t being fooled. 

And this is all I know:

The air is soft and skinlike. 

My mouth tastes like cigarettes.

Smells: Southern magnolia, grilled meat, perfumed fruit.

Flaxen moon and evening sky mottled with white {fortunately the storm did not bother to cross the state line}

Drum cymbals.

I am taking what is given to me in large gulps and imagining what it would be like if I had not driven the ten hours to get here. Nothing as I know it would have existed or, rather, it would have existed independently of me; still, if I couldn’t feel, taste, smell, see, or hear it, could it make it to my tally of All Things Real? 

I am toying with this chain of distracting thoughts long enough to smoke another Camel Light and rehearse my entrance. I do not know this place, nor did I ever think I would be here. But he drew me there, in a conversation that he probably wouldn’t remember: about a month prior, in the space from one I love you to another, he told me he wanted me to come down for his graduation party. My band will be playing, he said. I am dying to meet you, he said. His words were gorgeous and desperate and shot down my spine. I am dying to meet you.

7:51. My stomach is coiling in hunger. What was the last thing I ate? I cannot remember. And when was the last time I slept? 

What am I doing here? If I get into my car and head back north, then he need not ever know I came. He isn’t even expecting me. He doesn’t even know what I look like. I will know if it is you, I’ll just know it, he said once. 

A carload of teenagers just spilled out of a blue Pontiac Sunfire into his driveway, giggling, probably drunk off light beer purchased with a fake ID. Three of them just lit their cigarettes in perfect synchrony, forming a row of bright orange dots in the purple dusk. I am in his world. He would not even miss me. After all, I would not make it to his tally of All Things Real or, at most, I would be some random girl he may or may not have seen from his living-room window in passing. I’ll suck down the rest of this cigarette and drive off, an act of erasure. That is the plan.

8:00. I just found a letter in my glovebox, the first one he ever sent to me. Even if I never get to meet you, angel, just know I love you more than anything. Love, Matthew.

I just took the key out of the ignition. 

Dear Diary, June 9, 2001

Later. “I wish you were here so you could hear me play this song for you.” I followed that voice because it was the only thing I could recognize. Another male yelled, “WHO?!” I rounded a rhododendron bush and saw a makeshift stage with a three-piece band and a burgeoning crowd gathered around it. 

Matthew just smiled and began to play the intro to my favorite song. My breath caught in my throat. 

“You...don’t…see me…” he sang. Finally he looked up from his guitar. He. Him. He is exactly as I pictured him, and somehow nothing like it. I can’t reconcile this. And I do not want to. 

“But I do,” I mouthed. I do. I fixed my eyes on him, willing him to look at me. I do. He did, but only for a moment—the most collapsed of all moments. 

He did not recognize me.

I pushed my way out of a labyrinth of faces and limbs, tears clawing at my eyes. I just made my way back to you. 

You had his letter between your teeth.



April 11, 2020 01:36

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8 comments

Hamadryad 77
02:10 May 06, 2020

Many of the lines are very expressive. I could see things clearly and I could really follow her emotions. But I didn't understand the last two lines. She's leaving so how is she making her way back? Why does it switch from 'I' to 'You' when it says 'You had his letter..."?

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Stephanie Walker
19:04 May 06, 2020

Thank you for your feedback! I can understand why the last two lines would be confusing. In the line "You had his letter..." the narrator was talking to her diary.

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Hamadryad 77
01:53 May 08, 2020

Ok, I reread it knowing that and it sounds really good, but I think it's because even though the entries begin with Dear Diary, there is no other time except for the end that the girl talks to her diary and says 'you'. I think it would've helped as well if it showed her putting the letter in the diary. The last time we saw it, it was in the glove box, so I didn't make the connection.

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Stephanie Walker
20:05 May 08, 2020

Ah, that makes total sense. I think I rushed the process of writing the ending; if I remember correctly, it was nearing the deadline when I submitted it. I could definitely see myself going back and editing it so it makes more sense.

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Hamadryad 77
20:36 May 08, 2020

I always feel really nervous about giving any negative criticisms, so I'm glad if it helped. I rush several of my short stories on here too because of being too close to the deadline (like the one I just submitted!). But no matter what, it's good practice.

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Stephanie Walker
15:56 May 09, 2020

Yeah, no worries at all! I welcome any constructive feedback - thanks again! :)

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Clynthia Graham
05:04 Apr 14, 2020

Some beautiful lines here and wonderful detail in providing a sense of place and state of being. Enjoyed this.

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Stephanie Walker
00:42 Apr 15, 2020

Thank you kindly!

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