A MAST nod to People of Earth 2019 finalist The Letter in the Book, a story by Melissa Carton with photograph by Emily Bourne. An excerpt of the story is presented here.
The Letter in the Book
Books are full of stories but they are also full of secrets.
There is a legend associated with the old library I grew up across the road from in Dublin.
The story said that the niece of the library’s founder, Narcissus Marsh, ran away, but before leaving she left a note for him in one of the books. He tore the library apart desperate to know why she left, but he never found her letter. Some believe his spirit still disturbs the library, pulling books off shelves, looking for a letter he is doomed never to find.
I think of that story a lot when I stare at the letter. The letter I wrote but will never send. A letter full of secrets that no one will ever know.
But in my case I’m not trying to escape anyone else, I’m just trying to escape myself.
I wrote it several months ago and at the time I contemplated sending it, but every time I went to post it, I changed my mind.
Looking down at it it’s just a letter. Just a piece of paper with words on it like the pages of a book. But books can change people. They can change lives.
So could this letter.
Some people blow into your life like a storm, turning everything upside down. They can blow out just as quickly, leaving you with the parts of your life that you managed to hang on to.
But you’re never quite the same. You can never go back to who you were before the storm.
Did you ever meet someone and suddenly the world made sense? I know it sounds silly and overly dramatic and to be honest I was never a person to believe in love at first sight.
I was always one of those kids who struggled to fit in and I found it hard to imagine anyone ever loving me. But someone did and I felt so lucky. Then I met you and my feelings of luck turned to that of guilt because suddenly I wanted you.
I never saw it coming. I never saw you coming. But there you were and here I am, lost in a way that I’ve never been before.
As I look at my diary I touch the pages.
Touching the pages from before I met you is like touching another lifetime. A different me that never knew you.
The polka dots on the cover are starting to fade, bit by bit, like my feelings. But like my feelings they won’t come off if I try to get rid of them, they only fade with time and right now, some remain.
I don’t know why but from the moment I met you, you reminded me of a star.
Not a star like a celebrity but a star like a constellation. You lit up every room. But like a star you shine but you burn. And even though I’ve been burnt before I was still drawn to you. A moth to the flame. They say that people are made from star dust. I think that maybe we were made from the same star, but star crossed is all we can ever be.
I feel like you’re haunting me.
Just when I feel like I’ve gotten over you I’ll see your name or hear a song from that summer. It’s like you’re here but you’re not.
You told me a ghost story when we met. It was about a man who died before he could bring the girl that he loved to a dance. On the night of the dance his ghost turned up at her door, ready to take her away.
It feels a little like that. Like a part of you is always just outside of my door, ready to take me away. But it’s not really you, just the memory of you. Just the ghost of you.
Those nights when you really were in the next room I often wondered if you’d turn up at my door. You never did. Looking back on it I think to myself did you wonder if I would turn up outside of your door. Were we waiting for each other? Are we still?
That thought is what causes me the most problems. I hate the thought that sometimes, when the night is quiet but your mind is not that you think about me and think that I don’t care about you. That every look you gave me was lost. It wasn’t. You had me at your first smile. These are the thoughts that almost made me send it, but then another thought creeped up. What if I’m totally off and it’s the exact opposite?
What if it was just a fleeting feeling for you? What if the moment we parted ways you stopped caring? What if you left your feelings at the train station?
That might be unfair on you, I don’t think that you’re that cold, but if you were it would crush me more than not knowing. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, or at least just better.
Part of me would love to get it all out in the open and see what happens but honestly I don’t know if I would be colluding in my own happiness or my own downfall.
Sometimes I wish I could step outside of myself to figure it all out. Even more so, some days I wish I could run away from myself. But I can’t. No matter how far I run I’m still there. Still myself. Still lost.
I’ve read stories from other people going through the same thing. They say misery loves company but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
Every day that I don’t hear it gets a little harder to breathe. I still smile whenever you send me a message even if it’s just to say hi.
One of the hardest parts about walking away is not only losing what you had, but losing what you never had. All the dreams you had in your head fade away and remain that way forever. Just dreams.
Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe if we did get together it would be awful and we would end up hating each other. It happens.
You think you love someone to the moon and back but when you finally get them the spark burns out quickly and you’re left wondering where it all went wrong. I don’t want that.
If I tell you I risk losing you completely and I love you enough that I would rather have you as a friend than nothing at all.
There was a point where I felt like my life would completely derail and maybe it would if anyone found that letter.
The worst part is not having anyone to talk to about it all. I feel like anyone that I told would call me selfish and ungrateful and they would be right to. They would tell me that I’m never satisfied with what I have. Would they be wrong? Am I one of those people who just constantly ruins their own lives when everything is going right? Will I never be able to allow myself to be happy?
If only there weren’t so many rings involved.
Whenever I ask the universe for a sign it always seems to point to you.
My grandmother used to tell me ‘what’s for you won’t pass you’ but if that is the case then why have you passed out of my life?
Maybe I just liked how you made me feel. How do I know that it’s love and not just infatuation when you’re so far away? I’ve contemplated leaving Ireland and crossing the sea to you but I don’t know what would be my aim.
I know in my heart of hearts that I should say nothing, that it’s the best for everyone, but I don’t know how easy that would be if you were standing in front of me. You’ve casually said that you might come and visit me, but I don’t think you will. Maybe you’re thinking the very same thing that I am.
I don’t want to hold you back. I can’t make you any promises, I’ve made too many already.
I often heard that if you truly love someone you should set them free and I always thought ‘no you don’t you hold them closer’, but I finally get it now. Sometimes love means making a hard decision that you know is better for the other person, even if it hurts you. Even if it means you don’t get to love them the way that you wanted to.
When I think about you I think I should tell you, but is that really in your best interest? I worry that if I did that you would try to drop everything in your life to suit me. That you would put your dreams on the backburner. That you would do things that you would later regret.
I don’t want to be the cause of your regrets. I never want to get in your way. I want you to succeed in everything that you do in life, even if I can’t be by your side for it. I want you to shine, even if I have to watch you from afar. But that’s how we all look at stars isn’t it, from afar?
I can’t decide whether or not I like hearing from you. I know it’s going to kill me when you first start seeing someone. It’s the first thing my mind jumps to when I see you in a photo with someone else. As much as I try to prepare myself I know it’s going to hurt.
There some things in life that you just can’t prepare yourself for.
The death of someone you care about is one. Watching the one who got away move on is another.
There have been times I’ve laid on the floor and cried because the guilt eats away at me so much. My mind feels constantly conflicted and I’m torn between my heart and my head.
My head tells me that I would be foolish to drop everything in my life for you. My heart tells me that I would be foolish not to.
But too many people could get hurt. It was never my intent to cause hurt. I never knew this would happen, that you would come along and change everything.
I never wanted to be the kind of person who let their heart break on their sleeve. Sometimes I really hate the day that we met. You’re the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.
I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had met you first.