One more time I am the girl on the back of the bike. I move over gray roads away into darkness. What I have taken away from the writers' conference, along with brown skin, blonder hair, bursts of freckles, chipped tooth, bruises, sore dancing legs, lost suitcase, new books, blacked-out lines, a full silver notebook, is another fullness, a beating against my ribs, a hope that is heavy, a renewed energy to go, go tell a story. Go make something stick.
What I took away was: you are not alone in the world. Whatever it is you do, you are not the only one to do it. Not the only one to rhyme, to memorize, to count out patterns, to mix the colors, to stare out of windows, to stay up all night, to lose sleep, to want it to work, to want to dance.
And someone will find you, the way my new friend Justin, as I sat alone, glum and half-asleep, found me in the airport and we rode to Philadelphia together with Diet cokes and extra pretzels—the quickest plane ride ever because he was there.
Because if you find each other once, you can find each other again.
The last morning my friend took me to Willa Cather’s writing cabin, behind the tennis courts. It was raining. It was locked. We looked in through the windows: hardwood floors, empty wine bottles in the fireplace, dust on the ground. On the ceiling, someone had painted in black capital letters: LOVE.
We think we think are alone. We think we are the only ones who notice the tiny gray frogs in the headlights along the road. But we’re not. Someone else is noticing. Someone else hopes they make it across too.
You see, I was a beautiful child. You see, I was born into danger. There was a big field, and beyond it, woods: black, dark woods, and rumors of a creek. When you went inside the woods, the world got noticeably darker. But I went inside the woods, first with a friend to wake ourselves, and then alone, as a reminder.
I think that’s what writing is: not the going in the woods in the first place—everyone goes—but the coming back out, and then the returning, going back into darkness again and again and again.
Past the back roads, past the lit houses, past the party, past girls like me, like I used to be, hands gesticulating, spilling their cups.
The last night, I stayed up all night. I was alone in the big sky. But I am sure I was not alone, not the only one to stay up all night, to wait for the dawn in a hard-backed chair in the middle of the field, to watch the sun come up from behind the mountains, to drink strong black tea with milk and honey, to shiver in a red sweater and be glad to shiver, be glad of skin and light and morning. There was the big mountain full of roads and windows and lives: a man in his house on the other side, a woman waking up, a baby. I was not the only one to watch the sun. There are lives, other reasons to be awake, others rising even now.
One last time I am the girl on the back of the bike. But I am older now. I stay up all night. I write a name in my book and then I go home. You do too.