Thoughts for Strangers

There’s this thing called the The Listserve and I’m in it.

I’ve never won the email lottery myself, and I wouldn’t know what to write to one million people I’ll never meet anyway (believe it or not, I haven’t got a million readers around here so I’m not used to that kind of audience). I get an email every day though. Some I like, some I don’t. Some I don’t even read, the subject line is enough to tell me they’re not for me.

But then, some are extraordinary.

So last week I replied to one. This girl, this woman had written to us, strangers, about time, love and puppies.

It was four o’clock in the morning. That should more than account for my lack of direction. I was also listening to Ho Hey (The Lumineers) on repeat as I was typing, more than once finding I was humming myself away from my train of thought.

But I pressed Send anyway. Perhaps this who-knew-I’d-eventually-turn-30 thing comes with a sense of adventure I’ve never known before. Or maybe I just wanted to make a friend. Never a bad idea, they tell me.

I never know how to start these things.

I remember we were in our early teens and this girl from my class brought a love letter to school.

They’d mistakenly delivered it to her parents’ mailbox, at a time when strangers’ secrets were something she craved touching. It changes as you grow up, of course, wanting to have anything to do with other people’s secrets. But she was still at an age when she wanted to get her fingers dirty. So she brought the letter to school, and a bunch of us opened it together during recess.

“dragul meu dragul meu”*, it began, no uppercase letters or punctuation marks, and if I ever found myself someone to write to, I decided, that’s how I would begin my letters, like they weren’t even letters. Like we were just sitting somewhere, looking at something, a field, a street, a TV screen, and all of a sudden, I’d find myself talking.

draga mea draga mea**

I don’t know how this works.

I guess you’ve been getting emails from people. You must have. I imagine them, those who write you back. People who have lost loved ones, people who miss their younger selves, people who liked your writing, people who have their own stories to tell. People like me.

I haven’t lost a parent. I’ve lost friends. A grandmother who’s never had her photograph taken but whom I remember combing her hair in a tall, foggy mirror that no longer exists. Past, outgrown versions of myself I never really managed to become friends with.

I too believe it’s the stories that matter, though I’m hardly much of a story teller. I carry them around all the time though, a million secret histories no one really wants to get their hands dirty with these days, because we’re not schoolgirls anymore, and we’ve outgrown curiosity.

I walk around, pockets full of memories on the inside, and miss everything. It’s fine, too. The things I miss are what define me as a what I like to think is a somewhat fully formed human being.

I turn 30 next week.

I grew up studying math and computers, so I should probably look at 30 as what it is. A number. A solution to some equation my future depended on once, in a badly lit exam room. But it’s not just that, you know. It’s a bunch of numbers instead, so many of them that it’s easier to just call it infinity, underline it a couple of times and turn the paper in.

It’s how many times I’ve tested my smile in the mirror before running off towards what would be another love story, another end of the world.

It’s how many dreams I’ve changed for other people’s dreams for me.

It’s how many times I knew what I wanted and how many times I stumbled.

It’s how many times I’ve reached for another person’s skin, and how many times the shade of my own skin gave away my true feelings.

It’s how many times I’ve caught myself smiling, stopped whatever it was I was doing and marked the moment by knowingly thinking to myself: it must be happiness, this.

draga mea draga mea**

The sun’s just rising here. I’m never up at this hour, so I guess today’s something special. I hear birds chirping outside my bedroom window, a miracle in itself in this city. I’ll be making myself a cup of cocoa in a bit, and walk around the flat barefoot, moving things from one surface to another. Then I’ll go for a run. A million fractions of moments to remember will crowd this morning. Time, it really is something.

Oh, and puppies are great too.

*dragul meu dragul meu: [Romanian] my dear my dear (m)
**draga mea draga mea: [Romanian] my dear my dear (f)

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