The Vacant Lot

A bike ride past a vacant field filled with memories.

Note: Instead of working on the actual “coherent” stories I’ve been trying to write, I’ve been reading the older stories I’d written years ago. They’re not too bad, and it’s fun to tidy them up a bit. This is one of them.

Without a clear goal or plan I turned left at this street and right at another. I was a free spirit, riding in whichever direction I fancied at the time. The way I took was dictated by emotion and past memory: I remember going down a certain street in high school, or a girl I used to know lived down a street which I blindly turned down. Memories were everywhere — the time was different and sometimes the scenery was different — but the memories still lingered in some way even though they were horribly nonexistent in the present.

I rode by the park we used to play football in, years ago in high school. I wondered if we would ever get people together to play again. Maybe as a ten-year, twenty-year, or even a thirty-year reunion. We could be fifty-year-olds trying to play tackle football at the old park we used to play in. I knew we wouldn’t, and at most maybe a friend or two would meet up someday and throw a football around for nostalgic reasons. But those games, no, they were forever gone. No one ever knew at the time we were playing the last football game that we’d ever play.

The street I was on along the park also had other familiarity to it. It took a few moments of thought — some tying of the strings of my memory — but I finally connected the dots in my head: this was the street my ex-girlfriend and I had rented a house on. It was long ago, not terribly long ago — only a few years — but I was immensely changed since then, making it feel like ages had passed. I felt decades older and wiser even though I’d only gone around the sun two and a half times since. I had no goals or plans that day, so I continued on down the street. It’d be nice to ride by the old house and reminisce.

As I got closer to the house we had rented I realized something; the houses that were along this street were gone. I remembered years earlier there had been a flood, these houses which bordered on the creek had become lost causes, and the city moved to purchase and demolish them. Her and I were together when the flood happened, and being alongside the creek allowed us to see a large part of what had happened. We were on the higher side of the creek and our street didn’t flood; our house wasn’t afloat. Around us were houses seemingly boats in endless water: drifting in a lake that had appeared out of nowhere from the clouds and the rain one August night. The vacant lots allowed me to see the next street over, unimpeded by trees, houses, or any other obstruction and it seemed very strange. Only the creek which had caused the flooding was between me and the street to the north. The creek seemed harmless and nothing like the demon that I knew it could be if fed well enough.

I continued on and finally arrived where our old house was, but something didn’t seem right. I glanced back at the street sign to make sure I didn’t mistake what block I was on, and it was the block, but where was the house? The vacant fields of grass that had stretched endlessly also stretched into this area completely catching me off guard. And further down the road, the field continued. Had the city demolished the entire area?

I slowed and eased my bike towards the curb at the location where I thought the house used to be. There was the same, bland grassy field and nothing gave away the hints of the past. But here, along the curb, was a tree: a single tree between the sidewalk and the street. As I parked under it, I glanced up and felt something. It was a tree, a tree that was unremarkable in every way possible, but something in my memory moved. This was the tree I had parked under for years straight, never really looking up to examine it but seeing it so frequently made an imprint on my memory. It was a ghost, an image of a peripheral that etched its way into my mind. Never noticed but always there. It felt familiar, like an old friend or acquaintance, and I knew this was where the house used to be.

I looked at the field with determination and yearning. Behind me was slightly lower where a driveway used to be, and imagining the memory of the property fit like a puzzle to this sparse field with a creek in the middle of it. Here was where the driveway was, and here was where I put our garbage out on a Wednesday, and there was where the next door neighbors lived, and over there was where I’d sit on the steps and think about us and how we’d never work.

I frowned as I examined the vacant field some more. The memories were both good and bad and they randomly came at me with no rhyme or reason; they just appeared as ghosts of the location. 

I thought of the house, and where I happened to be currently. There was a pile of rubble of the old house somewhere and I wondered if anyone thought of the memories they held. There was a chunk of concrete out there in the world that I walked on daily, and a board of wood that creaked every time we went up the steps, and the walls that watched us smile, cry, scream, and yell as the days came and passed. They existed somewhere and in some form out in the world without anyone but myself knowing their history.

Reality slowly creeped back in as I stared into the air. I was standing there next to a field and, well, I was on a bike ride that day. Feeling the outside world pressing in on my senses again, I mounted the bike and kicked off from the curb that her car tire had rubbed on countless times. I imagined that maybe there were bits of rubber from her car on my shoes as I sped off down the street. But that was the past that was past and this was the neverending present and it was time to get on with life.

I moved on from that day, from that leisurely bike ride, without much conscious thought about what I had seen. Going to work, sleeping, eating, and generally existing were enough to fill my time, and I didn’t think of the lost house very much. But as much as I’d have liked to think it didn’t weigh on me, it must have, because my mind would somehow turn to the image of the empty field with the creek behind it, and it would seem to occur when I was alone, trying to not think of anything at all. As I tried to fall asleep, I’d see the field again, and sometimes the house that used to be there. I thought of her, and wondered what she was up to. The thoughts were never strong enough to give me pause, to keep me awake at night, or to make me think deeply; they would randomly appear and then after a few thoughtful moments, they’d drift away into the oblivion from which they came.

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“Unsent Letters” Introduction

People hiding behind masks, never saying how they feel, and the regret of not doing so. And more ramblings!

Note: I’ve been sick the past week. This has negatively affected about everything in my life: creativity, motivation, writing, brain-storming. I haven’t done anything. I’ve been slacking. Although I’ve been consistently writing chapters for the Creepy Story (or whatever) and while I don’t want to break my flow, I also want to get something posted in the meantime. This is an introduction (kinda elaborated on here) about some bullshit hypothetical “story” about writing letters to people from your past but never actually sending them. While I don’t think I’ll make any progress on it because I’m having so much fun being creepy lately, I do like my introduction to it. So while I’m working on getting my shit together again, enjoy this.

Sometimes lying awake in bed you start to think of people from your past. They drift into your thoughts like waves coming in from the ocean, memories here and there, times both good and bad, and you start to wonder what happened to them. It has been years since you’ve seen them and you start to reflect upon the fact that there was a singular last time you’ve seen them and how at the time you never knew it was the last time you’d see them. You start to feel bittersweet and nostalgic and yearning for this lost past. People that are no longer part of your life but somehow part of you as they gave you a memory of them. They formed you into the person you are today. What exactly happened to them? And what did they mean to you? What did you mean to them? Did you mean anything to them?

As time passes you get a clearer image of how they altered your life. As pain, happiness, regret, yearning, joy, and sadness are dulled with time you’re left with only truth as to how they changed you as a person and how you feel about them. Exes and enemies turn from hated individuals to fondly remembered people for how they helped you grow and change. It wasn’t them that was flawed, it was you and them as a pair that were flawed. Old friends and coworkers also take on a new light as you find yourself wondering what happened to the vast number of people who have entered and exited your life, sometimes forever, and who have left small but permanent changes to you. Carving you in the slow and permanent way that flowing water carves stone.

I always find myself wanting to talk to these people just one more time. Not enough to break societal bonds and actually talk to them — that’d be weird — but enough to fantasize about when I’m unable to sleep at 2 a.m. Mental conversations with them as I run into them at a store. Facebook messages sent drunkenly at 3 a.m. on the weekend. Maybe the stray email here and there. Or, lastly, writing on a computer or in a notebook that might not be discovered until after I die. A sort of final “thanks for being in my life and sorry for not saying what I wanted to say when I had the chance to say it” to them. Maybe somehow ramblings about them in personal notebooks might make their way to them and they’d know how important they were to me.

Maybe that’s part of it too: kicking myself in the ass for not being as genuinely open to others as I should’ve been. I still do it too. You always have to play the “be cool” game with people you know. You can’t tell people you love them if they aren’t family, and conversely you can’t tell people you despise them, once again, if they’re not immediate family. While some are more open than others, every one of us walks through life carrying around a mask showing a certain face to everyone else we interact with. The times you actually get to see the soul underneath the person, the thing that really matters, are surprisingly sparse and I can’t help but feel that this is a major area of regret in everyone’s lives. It’s like life is a constant lie that we tell to other people…and that people are telling to us. Who are these people that we go to school with, work around, are friends with, are in love with, see in grocery stores, or get mad at while driving? We see them and we think we know them, but we don’t really know them.

Sometimes in one of these rare moods I’ve found myself writing letters to people, letters that I’ll never actually send but where I can trick my mind into getting some things off my chest. Say what I need to say to these long gone fragments of my past. It sort of worked too. I used to actually open up the Yahoo email app and write these things as drafts, writing a legitimate email and only stopping before hitting the send button. I’d write heartfelt letters to people totally ripping open my soul for them to see and just not send it. I’d feel better afterwards even though I knew I never sent the things. Apparently my brain and emotions are that gullible.

(I don’t know how I feel about complaining that we don’t open ourselves up enough while also saying that I purposefully write letters that I don’t send. It seems like I equally want to bond with people but also hide my true feelings behind some elaborate mechanism for hiding myself. I’m just point out that, yes, I’m aware of how dumb and hypocritical this sounds.)

This is where the pragmatic author in me appears and goes “that sounds like a great idea for a story!” and I really do think it’s at least an interesting idea. I can write all of these fake, never to be sent letters to people that I want to clear things up with, delete the names and any other pertinent information, and make it into a book. I don’t know what to think of it as it sounds: cringy, terribly thought out, like a good idea, kinda contrived, ungenuine, heartfelt, clever, stupid, and overly emotional. It’s all over the place. It can act as an autobiographical account of my average as can be life while also being a fragmentary puzzle that is purposefully vague. Plus, since you’re only getting my point of view you’d wonder how factual it truly is and how the people I’m writing to might have totally different outlooks on things.

A part of me likes the idea of doing some experimental rip open your soul work especially while trying to put together an actual narrative. Sometimes you just want your damn heart to bleed onto paper and this seems like a perfect thing to do just that. I don’t even care if it turns out horrible because it sounds like it’ll make me feel better and maybe even give me some closure to past events. At the very least I’m sure I’ll unearth a bucket load of demon buried deep within my subconscious and if that isn’t fun then I don’t know what is.

Another Note: As with everything, you might think you have a good idea until you find out it’s been done already. Not that I’ve found an actual story or collection of unsent letters (mostly because I don’t even want to look and be discouraged) but I have found a subreddit with basically the same thing going on. People writing anonymous letters to others so they can get things off their chests, vent, feel closure, and whatever other reasons people feel the need to write anonymous letters. It’s really interesting.