It's September 1st today. It's weird, isn't it? The way most kids associate the start of September with brand new backpacks, pencil shavings and the panicked beating of their hearts as they get on the bus, pretending all the while to be perfectly collected, not even a little nervous? I guess that's one thing this whole thing has given me to be grateful for. Dr. Spence says it would be a good idea for me to write a list every day of things I'm grateful for. You'd like him. He also told me I should try writing you a few letters telling you how I feel, even if I would never send them, and it's not like you'd open them even if I did. Anyways, don't get me wrong, it's not like the start of another year doesn't faze me, it's more like I'm used to it, you know? And besides, I have other things to think about.
Charlie. It feels strange to call you Charlie. It's like when we used to go to that sushi place on 3rd street that you absolutely loved and we would order the rolls with the tiny orange fish eggs on top, which I always thought were absolutely disgusting because of the way I could hear them pop in my mouth like little fluorescent balloons, but you always loved them so I ate them anyway. I guess our relationship never really was that ordinary. Everyone always called you “Charlie” because you hated the name Charlotte, you thought it sounded too old-fashioned even though I always thought it made you sound regal. Even when you were small and not even tall enough for your feet to touch the ground while riding the train to school, you would always insist on people calling you Charlie, even if that led to sub teachers' mistaken assumptions that you were a boy time after time. I guess you minded being called Charlotte more than you minded being mistaken for a boy. You were weird like that. I never understood why you didn't mind it when I called you Charlotte, though. Maybe it had something to do with your obsession with secrets, the way you thought secrets made people seem more complex and beautiful. I suppose that was it. The way I pronounced your name, Charlotte, the soft shushing sound of the first two letters that shaped my lips as if I were about to kiss the air, it made it sound as if your name alone was a secret, meant only for us. Charlotte. Shharlotte. No one else called you Charlotte, and it made it special, like our memories of hushed voices in my beat-up truck watching the geese's wings brush against the surface of the lake, like that scene from "The Notebook" you loved.
I was always the too-lanky-to-be-smooth type, the socially awkward, the gawky teenager trying to make his way through high school without doing anything that would permanently damage his reputation. And then there was you, the complete set of colliding and conflicting turmoils of opinions and characteristics. You were the unrest of a storm, the uproar and chaos of a concert, the undoubtedly potent power of what it's like to be different.
It's been different, since you left. I suppose I've grown, or so they say. Not in height, of course, I think I've already done enough of that, but metaphorically, you know, like how my mom always says going through hard times is a good thing, because it makes you mature and get tougher. I've even gone back to the lake. It wasn't easy, though. Although I used to love the way the seaweed would kiss my feet, all the water does now is bring back memories, and even the good ones are hard to think about. You always said you wanted a house close to the sea. It was all the good things about the lake without the worries of leeches. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. My parents say living in a house by the sea is a bad idea, they say the water does horrible things to wood, it becomes moldy and unreliable, and the tides are unpredictable, but I think that's exactly what I'd like about it. I guess those tides remind me of you, in a way. I guess that means I'm the wood. I hope you haven't made me moldy.
I've tried going on dates. I know it's not gonna go anywhere, but Jenna keeps telling me going on a first date with someone doesn't count as leading them on. There was even this one girl that lasted longer than the first date. Kate. She was a swimmer. I liked that about her. I met her at school when I rejoined the swim team. I suppose she was very pretty, I got no short of pats on the back from the other guys on the team. But still, she wasn't you. And I don't mean that in a melancholic way, not really. I mean, I do wish I could go back to tracing invisible words on the back of your hand while we sat in my truck or sipping hot chocolate in a cafe downtown, and I would trade any number of chlorine-tasting kisses with Kate just to eat gross sushi rolls with you one more time, but that's not where I'm coming from. What I mean to say is that; realistically, honestly, looking at it from a third party perspective or just about any other, I'm still completely, unhealthily in love with you. And although I want to be with Kate and wish I could be the boy that gives her everything she's ever wanted because she deserves it, I know I can't. It just didn't feel right, it didn't make me happy, and pretending that could ever change would be a lie. I wish I could just move on, y'know? But I honestly think all that “closure” stuff shrinks talk about is bull.
The truth is I've never been a firm believer of true love. Unlike you and your dreamy theories of soulmates and the Greek gods slicing a person in two from the moment they're born, I've always thought there's more than one “the one”. I think that, theoretically, we could fall in love with tons of people under the right circumstances. And yet I've never met another. There's only ever been one you. Only one Charlotte that hums Belle and Sebastian and glides under the water upside down just to look up at the kaleidoscope formed when the water is broken into a million pieces. I believe that, if you're lucky, you meet a person that's unlike everybody else in the entire world, and you can talk to them for ages without getting bored, about anything and everything. Maybe that's what people call a soulmate. And you think maybe you could have fallen in love with someone else, maybe they're not actually as unlike everyone else as you think they are, as special as I think you are. Maybe you even meet someone new who's just as incredible in their own way. But, theories aside, once you fall for someone like that, there's just no comparison, no going back. That person that's unlike everyone else in the whole world is always on the back of your mind, and nothing you ever do can change that. Some people never find that person, and they end up settling for a phony version of what could have been, maybe they think that's what love actually is, and they never realize that something's been missing, or maybe they live their life as if in black and white while watching other couples living theirs in full color. I guess if you're lucky enough to find that person, you spend the rest of your life together. You'd be stupid to let them go, and I suppose plenty of people do, but they're the broken people in bars eating frozen meals for dinner. If you're like me, if you're lucky enough to meet that person but not lucky enough to be given the chance keep them, then you spend your life like Cain; a wanderer, an outsider, numb. Then you're really in trouble, because not only have you tasted happiness and lost it, but that's when you really start to wonder if you'll ever find it again.
Sometimes I drive by your old house and try to take in all the details, see what has changed. I wonder about the people living there now, if they're happy, if the kids that leave toys all over the yard ask their parents for bedtime stories, if the mom makes pancakes on Sundays. Have you ever played back the story of your life in your head, like a movie? You know, go over possible scenarios of what could have happened, alternative endings to friendships and exams and arguments? That's a summary of what happens inside my head every day, the what ifs that stream from fragments of my life time after time. What if I hadn't suggested we go swimming that day, in the lake? What if I hadn't told you it wasn't deep enough to need a life jacket? What if I had paid attention in CPR? It's amazing, the lengths of human memory, the way every aspect of that day is burned into my brain like hot iron, the way I relive it in nightmares and wake up tasting lake water and feeling cold sweat dripping down my back. I heard a Biology teacher say that the human mind is made to forget, and maybe that's why I've started to find it hard to remember what you looked like, whether the heart-shaped birthmark was on your left shoulder or your right and the exact shade of your eyes, and yet there's not a day in the calendar that I don't remember the day you died. Writing it out makes it real, but saying it out loud is worse. I can never escape the self-loathing I feel every time I look in the mirror, the sadness I feel when I remember I let you get away. I thought dating someone like Kate would make it better. Because she was a swimmer, I thought she would never drown, and I would never have to lose her. I guess I am like that wood after all, wrecked from the inside, beyond repair. In any case, I hope you're happy now, wherever you are. You used to say you wanted to be a tiger in your next life. I go to visit the tigers at the zoo a lot, now. I doubt anyone has ever looked at tiger cubs with this much love in their eyes.