LETTER TO A STRANGER • by Stacey Py Flynn

I was surprised to receive your letter. It’s been some time since we wrote to each other and I thought we’d decided against it. When it arrived, I stood by my mailbox for awhile, holding it in my hand – I thought about putting it back into the slot right away with a ‘return to sender’ scrawled in Sharpie on the outside. I felt its weight to determine how long the letter might be, I held it up to the light to try to see through the envelope. I’m not sure why I did this.

Truth is, it’s taken me a long time to put you behind me, even though I’d never admit it out loud. Thoughts of you have lingered in my mind — you’re everything I could never have. I’m sure you never intended to interrupt my life in such a monumental way, but it’s undeniable that you did. “It’s complicated,” I told my friends. “I keep trying to leave it alone, leave him alone but I keep waiting for that next phone call, that email, the one that will tell me, ‘This is it. I’m leaving her. I’m yours now.’”

But then, nothing really happened. Not really. It was only a few months, I told my friends — two lunches, a dinner and lots of emails. Can you fall in love with someone just from their letters? Your voice in my head, the smile in your eyes, the simple movement of your hands as you removed your wallet to pay for lunch, the brief conversations we had — I played it all over and over in my head like some crazy video stuck on rewind, pause, fast forward. I remember getting the email about when you rode the all-night bus from Baltimore to NY to see Patty Smith play the closing night at CBGB’s. As I read it, I felt I’d known you all my life. At the time, it seemed somehow that we’d end up together. So, I steeled myself, curled myself inward like a wild animal in hibernation. I didn’t know what would sustain me in my lonely isolation as I waited.

But it’s possible I don’t even know you at all. You are somehow a stranger still.

Funny, I kept pushing you away. And, each time I was sure it was the end. I see now that I left that door slightly open, with me glancing backward through it every now and again, a temptation for you. But that last time we spoke, I knew it was really done. I think of the last words you said to me. I like to think of you sitting in the woods that fall day. You held your hand upward, you said, just as a leaf descended to land on your open palm, just as I landed in your life — a small miracle of timing and fate. For me, you are sitting there still.

Even though I’ve moved on, I haven’t stopped looking for you in the places you might be — a film opening, a street festival in Baltimore, across a crowded hall at the Neil Young concert. Once I think I glimpsed you walking away from me, your loping gait, your fright-wig hair waving over the heads of the crowd there. I haven’t stopped looking for you, but now there are now big chunks of time when I don’t even think of you at all.

It’s been some time and it’s been a long haul. Timing and fate don’t really seem to be intervening, Hollywood-style. Truth is, I’ve met someone new — he’s wonderful, creative, a single parent, funny. Love has found me again.

I decided not to open your letter, as you see. I’m returning it to you. Maybe it’s the one I used to wait for, maybe it’s not. I’ll keep all the other letters, but not this one.

Stacey Py Flynn lives, works and roams the regions around Washington DC with her teenage son. She’s been writing fiction and memoir since she was a child, takes classes at Gotham Workshop and stumbles bleary-eyed to work each day, surprised at how well she can function in the real world while writing at night. She’s working on a five-part novella told from the perspective of four generations of women.

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