I wrote this fictional short story as an assignment for one of my classes at U of T, Generating Stories, taught by Ken Murray. Some stories tend to stay inside of us until the time is right to share them.
“Here’s a story I never told anyone.”
We were sitting around the campfire and I broke out of my trance when I heard my friend Matt say that. He threw a couple more pieces of wood into the fire and we waited, watching the embers rise up into the sky and scurry through the air like fireflies. We had just finished singing Hallelujah and there was a somber and reflective mood in the air. The brightest star I had ever seen shone in the night sky. The pole star.
“It happened back when I was a kid, growing up in Cape Breton.” He paused and smiled, the memories flooding back to him as he thought back to his happy childhood. Then his brow furrowed and his face tensed, as another memory struck him.
“There was a girl on the island that lived down the street from us. Her name was Julie. She was eleven, a little younger than me, with long brown hair and light brown eyes. Her parents home-schooled her, so I only saw her when all the kids played outside on our street. One day after everyone had gone inside after a street hockey game, only she and I remained, standing on the sidewalk. We just stood there face to face, not knowing what to say, and feeling like we knew each other from another life. She suddenly became shy, and said she had to go and I watched her run home.”
“She became my best friend. We started high school together, which was a tough transition for her. We were pretty anti-social in high school. I mean we had friends, but really only looked forward to spending time with each other. Eventually I had to leave the island when my father got a job in Toronto, the summer I turned fifteen. We wrote each other every week. Then after awhile her letters became more infrequent, until one day they stopped altogether.”
Everyone’s eyes got a little wider. I looked down at my arms and realized I had goosebumps.
“I was totally devastated. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept writing. Every week. I just didn’t send the letters. Writing to her was the only way I knew how to express myself. For years I wrote to her. It wasn’t until I met Lindsay that I stopped.”
“So what happened to the letters?” someone asked.
“I kept them. And then a few years ago, I heard from a friend who’d grown up with us that she had spiralled into a really bad place; she suffered from depression and was addicted to painkillers. Her parents had died in a car crash. I wondered if there was anything I could do. Then it struck me – I had to give her the letters. I located her address and I sent her a package. There were 136 letters in total. I waited for months, hoping for a reply, but I never heard from her.”
We fell silent, disappointed by the story’s ending.
“Until last week.”
I exhaled, relieved. “What happened?” I said with anticipation.
“She said that she’d waited so long to reply because she was so overwhelmed that she had to give it time before she could express her gratitude. She said that the letters carried her through the hardest time of her life, while she was facing her demons, getting help, and struggling just to get from day to day. Initially she had wanted to read all the letters at once, but she didn’t want the experience to come to an end, so she read one every week, over a span of three years, the same time it took me to write them. She said she’s doing well now. She made it through.”
“Are you planning to see her?”
“No, I’ll probably never see her again.”
Matt put some more wood into the fire. No one said anything for awhile. Then one of the guys picked up his guitar and started playing Nothing Else Matters. I looked up at my favourite star and began to sing.