– simple thoughts & writings &c. by Elizabeth Heimbaugh –

Category: Prose

Letter to My Friend (Epistolary Series)

Dear ___,

Oh what I would give to know that you still thought well of me, too. Even a little sign, nothing out-of-the-way or out of line. Just a small gesture, simple but clear and something I could remember on a rainy day. The thing is, I always feel terribly sad letting the people I care about get away. It’s a curse of mine, and it’s a rather difficult one to bear. For an emotional sort like me, it’s hard to stomach the thought that you can’t care for the people you want to care about, because the circumstances no longer allow for it. It’s doubly hard to feel the thrust of caring in the absence of feeling cared about in return. I don’t mean to strike a note of self-pity—it’s not that. But I can’t find the words to relay what I mean. Maybe there’s a way to put it better. Let’s see:

I loved you once and was glad for the chance to have fallen in love. I never regretted it a minute—mostly because you’re a lovely person with a funny heart and a wild brain. How could I have helped myself? But the difficult thing is that I never knew if you loved me, or even liked me, in return. Sure, I could guess and imagine and read between the lines, but the trick of the mind is always a threat, and I can’t be sure except in the way I am sure of many other invisible things—which is to say, I make a choice to trust inside my heart. But sometimes it is nice to have a tangible proof, a sensible token of things. Just to anchor oneself in the world again.

And the thought of passing from memory, of fading from importance, is always a punch in the gut. I’ve said it before—that once the heart loves, it will always love, no matter the shifting shapes and forms; what has entered the heart will always have its place there. I still believe that’s true. But is it true for everyone? Or just for me? The clash of realities is hard to bide, and I don’t know how to clean up the mess.

In other words, I’ve had my say and I haven’t even managed to say a thing. But you will understand the meaning behind my bungled words. For in this awkward way, I have only tried to tell you that I am happy to have known such a person as you—for there is only one—and will always think of you with fond feelings in my chest. Don’t be worried, I don’t intend to say that I’m desperately in love and pining for the past. Or that I’ve erected a monument to you in my mind, before which I shed tears of regret for what might have been. Nothing of the sort, I promise. Rather, I just wanted you to know that I’ve always thought you’re grand, and I always will. So you’ve got someone in your corner, cheering you on, remembering with pleasure all your goofy ways and happy to pick up where we left off and continue our game of cards, taking turns revealing our hands, laughing about the littlest things, like an old pair of friends.

Sincerely yours,
Me

Morning Routine

In the morning, at half-past five, Thomas goes to his window and looks outside. Very often, in summer, he sees birds flying from tree to tree, stirring their friends awake. When the weather is chill, the life outside isn’t so obvious, but Thomas knows that it’s there, for when he blows on the window with a puff of air, the fogged-up glass spreads into a funny shape and makes Thomas laugh like a child.

The reason Thomas laughs is simple to understand, if you have a child’s heart. For all children know that funny shapes on a window can turn into the most fantastic creatures when no one is looking. Once, when he was small, Thomas blew a puff of air that made a shape just like a bat—and Thomas was sure he heard the flap of wings and a tiny high-pitched shriek a moment after he’d turned his head.

Anyway, the point of me telling you all of this is just that I want you to see how training yourself to think a certain way—a way that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary—is a mechanism by which the most sensitive souls keep themselves alive in the bleaker times.

If you can begin your day by stirring up the signs of life, or recalling something that makes you laugh, you have armored yourself with a sturdy defense against the threats of habit and humdrum that otherwise tempt you into feelings of despair.

It is not hard to recover a sense of meaning in life if you loosen the grip of formal thought and let your spirit find joy in the little things.

Forget It All (Epistolary Series)

Dear Q,

Can you forget the things I said to you last night? If you would be so kind as to remove them from your memory, I would be most obliged. For you see, as I told you those things, I was suffering from a bit of a headache, and my mind was uneasy with the stink of rotten news.

And when I told you I loved you, I was really just playing a game in my head. For all I know, you’re a fool with a stone for a heart, and I would lose myself in impossible agonies if I were to hand you my affections without first asking the proper questions of you.

But you’re a kind-hearted fool, you say? That may be, but time will tell. If the sun strikes your face and you break into smiles, I’ll know the truth about you. A happy soul can’t help but grin when the light starts shining, so nice and warm, upon his face. That’s the mark of a gentle-man.

Now forget what I told you. Forget it all. I wasn’t in my right state of mind last night. You’ll understand me, won’t you? When I told you about the hole in my heart, and the way I cry when I think of you, it was only a manner of speaking. I am prone to trying out little phrases here and there, just to hear the ring of the thing. You mustn’t take me too seriously, for the sound is really more important than the sense, and there’s not much use in trying to puzzle out the rest.

With faith in your ability to forgive and, most of all, forget,

I remain

Your friend of sorts,

M

Niceties and Milk (Epistolary Series)

Jane—

If I cared enough to tell you, I would. But, my dear, you bore me with your tedious outlook on life and I can’t really be bothered to entertain the logic of fools any longer than I have to.

Does that sound harsh? Well, it’s meant to. I don’t get through to you when I speak in coddled words, dressed up in the art of being quaint. What you need is a proper dose of truth—the bluntest sort you can find. Your stomach has grown too weak with your diet of niceties and milk. You’ll need something meatier in you if you ever wish to take your place in the halls of a greater house than the one you’re in.

Don’t argue with me. At least give me a moment to explain. Yes, yes, I admit, you’re not a stupid girl. Your head has some interesting thoughts floating around; they’ve put in an appearance every now and then. But most of the time, you’re inclined to be lazy with yourself, letting the good thoughts wander off into the unknown and dressing yourself in emotional mudrooms instead.

Don’t pretend it’s not true. You know full well what I’m getting at. You’ve gotten yourself into enough tangles to blush with shame at the mention of them. You’re a smart girl, but a silly one, and you have a lot of growing up to do. This all sounds sharp, I know, but the thing you need is a cold, hard slap of truth. That’s the best way I know for getting a girl to grow up fast.

Well, you can’t be troubled with such things, I see. I guess I’ll take my wisdom where it’s wanted, and leave it to fall deaf on the ears of the ones who need it most.

Mrs. T

Old Red Chairs (Epistolary Series)

Dearest L,

Can you put into words the sound your heart makes when you’re about to meet the man of your dreams? Or the gurgle in your stomach that precedes the long walk down the aisle on the one day of your life when everyone is looking straight at you? How can the world be so full of impossible people when the people I’ve met seem to confine themselves to what’s plain and possible, in the squarest of senses? You know me—when I get into a mood like this, all I can do is spit nonsense at you. I hope you’ll forgive the mess.

A hundred people came to the play. They sat down in old red chairs with plastic armrests and started making little noises—the kind that come when people have to sit still for longer than they’re used to. Coughs, sighs, rustles of candy wrappers—that sort of thing. Halfway through the show, right before the actors took their break, a man began to snore in the back-left corner of the room. His snores were big and grumpy; it sounded like he had a lot on his chest that he could only get out when he slept. A woman sitting behind him poked him with her umbrella and he jumped awake. He didn’t look too happy about the whole affair. But the woman’s umbrella, one must admit, was rather a bit too pointy for putting anyone in a particularly cheerful mood.

If you could see the people I talk with on a daily basis, you’d be amazed. Not because there’s anything especially remarkable about the conversations they have, but because their eyes are all fastened to their heads with a singular sort of piety. No, that’s not the right word. With a singular sort of… vision? Who can say? The only thing I’m trying to get at is that I’m lonely here without you and wish you would join me soon.

Love always,

E

Confused

She hated being confused. She hated feeling so wishy-washy on every topic, every inclination, every desire that sprang to mind. It was like she was in a constant, tiring dance of taking one step forward, then one step back—moving confidently in no direction at all and surrendering her only movements to wandering gusts of wind. It was hard to explain, and frustrating to keep pent up inside.

One moment, she felt as if she knew so many things, had so many things to say—but was without any good, clear way of turning that knowledge, those beliefs, into something useful. She was trapped inside herself—a mute, thought stupid or incapable by others, but containing within her a storm of unexpressed ideas. Then, the very next moment, she would feel as if in fact she really didn’t know anything, that her certainties had been misplaced, that she was overcome by too much choice; and then she would be stuck with some strange and irritating guilt at having had the pride, the audacity, to have once thought so confidently otherwise.

She would feel a desire, then mistrust it, and a whole debate ensued about accepting desires with simplicity and grace—acknowledging that they were natural and good—versus being in a state of surrender to whatever was meant to be—desireless except for a single desire, which was to do the will of God, or to have that will be done.

The complication was a mess—and not helpful in the least. It was an exhausting business to be so at war with herself that she didn’t even know how to think, how to want, how to move, how to look at herself in the mirror.

Of course, it wasn’t always as bad as all that—and after a while, she learned to mostly ignore those thoughts as phenomena which diminished when not paid attention to—but having such music as the soundtrack to her mind could be exasperating. She envied the people who simply moved with their intuitions, uncluttered, uncomplicated, undivided—not backtracking, or doubting, or entertaining interminable dialogues in their heads. How nice it would be to know what you wanted, and to believe that wanting those things was good. What a simple relationship!

The secret to that freedom she craved was to stop thinking of herself—to be lost in the contemplation or doing of other things. But how she could get there when she was so deeply entrenched in the habit of introspection—when she was so apparently and frustratingly obsessed with herself—was a mystery to her. Falling in love was probably the best remedy—but what could she do when she couldn’t find anyone to fall in love with? She just huddled up in her warm bed at night and wrote little journal entries to pass the time, I suppose.

Welcome to the Hatter House, where all the heads are hatted with hats and all the hats are headed with heads. The dues for membership will be waived in due time, as it were. We see you haven’t got much change to spare so our crowd will make it as easy on you as we can.

Asleep on the Grass / Addormentato sull’erba

In order to work on my Italian, I’ve decided to write some pieces and then translate them. I only began to learn Italian in February of this year, so of course I’m not fluent and I’m bound to make some mistakes. If anyone happens to speak Italian–you’re by all means invited to correct my errors and point me to a better way of expressing myself; I’d be grateful for the instruction. (Note that sometimes I opt for a loose or non-literal translation.) Here’s my first effort. Enjoy 🙂


Once upon a time, I found you sleeping on the grass, and you looked sweet, so sweet that I could have kissed you right then and there. But the rules being what they are, and my conscience always troubled by the thought of trespass, I just stopped for a long moment and looked at you.

It was a beautiful moment, really, because it was then I realized how long and black your eyelashes were, and how perfect a flush rested on your cheeks. You didn’t know this, but when I saw you for the first time—do you recall? we met in front of a church—I fell in love with the look in your eyes, and I spent that night lying awake in bed, trying to remember exactly how you looked when you looked at me. I was sure you must have felt the same—how could I have imagined such connection, such spark?—but perhaps I was only fooled by the intensity of my desire into thinking you liked me back.

At any rate, the day I found you sleeping, I realized something important about myself. For years, I had been trudging through life under the impression that love was a dangerous thing—something that, because it could harm, should be avoided at all costs. Or, if it were to be approached, it was to be approached with caution, for the thief of souls was always lying in wait to bring ruin to the ones ensnared by love’s false promises. Yet, as I stood looking at you—admiring the grace of your features, all calmed by sleep—a great peace came upon me and wrapped me in its arms. For a moment, or maybe two, I was overcome by a knowledge clearer and simpler than any I had yet possessed, and my heart spoke what my mouth could not. For in those instants, I understood that it was possible to love you even if you never said the words I longed for in return. Indeed, even if you never again gave me that look—the look that so quickly made me crazy about you—I could still feel content at having known one so sweet, and at having loved him without reproach or demand.

My friend, if ever you wish to know me better, I will be here and bursting with joy to see you again. But if, instead, you move on to other things—fall in love with other people, perhaps—I will bear you no ill and wish you the best, simply remembering your sleeping face and the warmth it once sent rushing all through my soul.

Italiano

C’era una volta che ti ho visto addormentato sull’erba, e sembravi dolce, così dolce che proprio allora volevo baciarti. Ma dato che nella vita ci sono certe regole, e che la coscienza ha sempre paura di sconfinare, mi sono soltanto fermata per un attimo e ti guardavo.

Era un momento veramente bello perché di colpo mi sono accorta di quanto fossero lunghe e nerissime le ciglia, e com’è aparso un rossore perfetto sulla guancia. Non lo sapevi, ma quando ti ho visto per la prima volta—ti ricordi? ci siamo conosciuti davanti a una chiesa—mi sono innamorata dello sguardo che avevi negli occhi e poi ho trascorso tutta la notte a letto senza dormire, tentando di ricordare precisamente com’era il tuo aspetto quando mi guardavi. Ero sicura che ti sentivi come mi sentivo io. Non è possible inventare un rapporto così forte che diventa quasi divino, vero? Ma forse era solamente l’intensità del mio desiderio che mi ha portato a pensare così.

Comunque il giorno che ti ho incontrato nel sonno, ho scoperto una cosa importante su di me. Per tanti anni avevo camminato a fatica per la vita; l’amore mi sembrava una cosa pericolosa che dovevo evitare ad ogni costo in modo di non farmi male. Oppure se volevo avvincinarmi all’amore, bisognava farlo discretamente, piano piano, perché c’era sempre un ladro di anime che aspetava nel angolo, cercando di disturbare chi credesse alle promesse ingannevoli dell’amore. Però quel giorno che ti guardavo—ammirando la grazia del tuo aspetto, tutto calmato e riposato—mi è venuta una gran tranquillità che subito mi ha preso in braccio. Per un momento, forse due, sono stata sopraffata da una conoscenza perfettamente chiara e semplice, e il cuore ha detto quello che non riusciva a dire la bocca. Perché in quelli istanti ho capito che era possible amarti anche se tu non avessi detto le parole che volevo così tanto in cambio. Infatti anche se non potessi fissarmi mai più con il tuo sguardo—quello sguardo per cui sono diventata pazza di te—avrei potuto essere contenta perché avevo conosciuto un ragazzo dolcissimo e lo avevo amato senza secondi fini. 

Amico mio, se hai mai voglia di conoscermi meglio, sarò qui, pronta e piena di gioia al rivederti. Ma se invece vuoi passare ad altre cose—o se ti innamori di altre persone—non ti auguro niente di male, anzi ti auguro ogni bene e mi accontento di ricordare il tuo volto addormentato… e di pensare alla magnifica luce che una volta mi ha fatto resplendere dopo averti visto in tutta la tua gloria.  

 

Boy Like an Angel

Library

Once there was a beautiful boy with very long eyelashes and silver-blond hair. He stopped into the library one day while I was working at the circulation desk. I saw him appear, like an angel, through the rotating doors—so small, so fragile and light. Something in my heart leaped at the sight of this boy, though—do not mistake me—not in a lustful way. I’d given up romantic fervor long ago; my age was such that I now preferred the calm equilibrium of platonic love, of kindly affection unmixed with the frenzies of passion. So when I saw the boy, I ached with a love that erred more toward compassion than desire, and something about his delicate frame aroused a feeling of protectiveness in me. I watched carefully as the boy turned to the right and found a small blue chair in the corner, near the books on Natural History. He settled himself into the chair, cross-legged and compact, then dropped his hands to his lap and looked serenely ahead. He was carrying no bag, so far as I could tell, and he seemed uninterested in taking a book from the shelves. Indeed, he appeared more keen on imbuing his surroundings with the intensity of his gaze—his eyes were grey-blue and wonderfully round—and filling the room with his preternatural light.

The Dream Girl

Sleeping Beauty

Coralie was a lovely girl who lived long ago. She had skin the color of calf’s milk, eyes as blue as the late spring sky, delicate hands with finely curved fingers, and hair that fell in long coils down her back. She was considered a remarkable beauty in her country town, and there was little to fault in her small-boned face or her gentle manner.

Thus it was only a matter of time before the young men came calling in droves. As Coralie entered the bloom of youth, suitors began lining up outside her door, bearing all kinds of gifts and romantic tokens. Coralie received each of her guests graciously, with a half-curtsy and polite conversation; she was never coarse or rude. But even the dimmest-witted of men could see that there was something distant in her manner, some part of her mind, or maybe her soul, that dwelled in another realm.

For Coralie was a girl much given to fantastic thoughts and spent long hours adrift in a sea of gossamer dreams. She was blessed (or cursed, as the case may be) with a crystalline vision of her one true love, and every night, upon going to bed, she dreamed of the man she would one day wed. She saw perfectly the cut of his chin, the color of his hair, the curl of his eyelashes. She heard his voice, ample and splendid, as he regaled her with stories of devotion and praise. And then, after waking, she thought of her beloved all day long.

So when the suitors came calling, Coralie knew precisely what she must do. She rejected each man who came, politely but firmly, on account of some mismatch he suffered with the man from her dreams.

She said to the farmer who brought her a basket of his finest wheat: “Oh, but your skin is much too tan. My one true love has the fairest, palest skin I’ve ever seen.”

To the bashful-looking boy who cantored at church: “I’m sorry, darling, but your voice is pitched so awfully high. My beloved speaks at least an octave lower than you.”

To the doctor’s apprentice, who asked her to accept his tin of ointments and creams: “Ah, but the man I will marry has hair of golden brown and it falls about in the most perfect curls. Therefore, I know you are not he.” And so on and so forth in this vein.

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