a smorgasbord of used books circled me on the floor. i sat with the recliner behind me, acting as a sort of backrest, as i ransacked sacks of bozeman’s secluded library. rows and rows of books, and i had struck a humble treasure.
money, of course.
i’d found fifteen dollars cash hiding in one of the self-help fitness guides, and surely, i thought, there could be more. i was swiping books off the shelves, rummaging through pages like i was scrutinizing flip book animation. paperbacks and hardcovers i tossed aside; volumes of information scattered about like litter. my eyes hoped for green, maybe green outlining the number twenty.
a plastic owl bookmark here. a square greeting card there, decorated with a grandmotherly sparrow design, a short note scrawled on the back. a list of church events on a crinkled white flashcard. no more money.
but there was something: a blue-violet handwritten letter. i traced the browning edges as the paper unfurled, along with patterns of hand-drawn blue stars. a letterhead read marieka freestar.
8 • 5 • 96
Dear Wally & Rita,
How are you? It’s been a long time. I had such a wonderful trip when I came to N.C. . . . My school plans now are that I’m not going to go . . . I’m going to go traveling. I’m getting excited. I’m going to take all my money, sell all my material junk, pack a framed backpack & put on my hiking boots, & fly to Costa Rica. That’s the plan at the moment . . . I’m going to go wherever my adventures take me: the Amazon, the Carribbean, Africa, New Zealand, who knows?
i had stumbled on a stranger’s manifesto. it discovered me.
it was september. passing thoughts of travel had been nagging me daily — subtle disruptions of speculation stopped me as i walked to class, outlined essays, read. another year at school, and what was i doing? i could be somewhere else.
four months after falling upon the letter, i itched for a story to read as winter break came to a close. the steilacoom library held a copy of patti smith’s memoir, just kids, which i had thought about since august. the cover, wrapped in library protective film, featured a black-and-white photo of patti and robert mapplethorpe at coney island, patti with a bohemian headband, robert topped with an oscar wilde-esque tipped hat. the spine curved in my hand, the cover opened. i blazed through in three days.
the memoir awakened something in me. it was more than patti’s hypnagogic voice, her exciting yet apprehensive life in new york city, or her recollections of coming into her own. early in the book, patti writes about her and robert’s special symbol: a blue star replacing the t in robert’s name, a symbol inspired by the sheperd’s star, venus.
i pulled out marieka’s letter, studded with blue stars.
some interpret through coincidence, some through connection. to me, the stars had composed a certain constellation.
i decided to leave montana state university after that spring semester. since then, i’ve explored san francisco, new york city, boston, new orleans, los angeles, france, germany, and prague. but the past year hasn’t been as romantically nostalgic as just kids, nor as adventurously optimistic as marieka’s letter. self-doubt, apprehension, regret, and loneliness have all paid a visit, sometimes for too long. i haven’t written much beyond my journals. art supplies sit in the corner, unused and lightly shrouded in dust.
i remember a series of illuminations. reading marieka’s letter on the floor. finishing just kids in the january darkness. driving west, out of montana’s april landscape, an ocean of green hills. returning to western washington, dancing along the orange clay coast. walking the san francisco streets at midnight, busker voices still echoing off the pavement. riding the subway to rockaway beach, the glass towers behind me. an endless collection of short-lived solitary exaltation, moments when i thought “i have something in me, i know it.”
yet i have little to show for these moments. i figure i owe it to marieka, and to myself, to put it all down somewhere, to share creations, no matter how simple or small.
currently living and working in astoria, oregon.