I was struck by a passage in Alice Munro's collection Too Much Happiness from the short story "Fiction" about how happiness and unhappiness are inexplicably linked:
"It seemed as if there must be some random and of course unfair thrift in the emotional housekeeping of the world, if the great happiness--however temporary, however flimsy--of one person could come out of the great unhappiness of another."
From that thought came my "Dear John" letter to 2009, expunging the great unhappiness of this year past and hopeful that 2010 would bring with it great happiness, however temporary or flimsy.
I’ve often wondered what writing a “Dear John” letter would feel like. To be able to write all that could not be said in your presence. No interruptions, nobody begging you to be reasonable, just a cathartic expression of one person’s perspective, more importantly my perspective, as I say that final goodbye. So, 2009, as I prepare to leave you and all of your unhappiness, I’ll write our farewell, my very own “Dear John” letter as 2010 glimmers on the horizon whispering sweet possibilities in my ear.
No matter what transpired as we spent our time together, I will always remember our exotic beginning. You were like a worldly lover as we set off for Jamaica. We left no parish unexplored, hiked pristine waterfalls, only to dive into the blue pools waiting beneath us, letting the force of the falls wash away the silty mud clinging seductively to the exposed skin on our winter bodies. You surrounded me with the most wonderful friends and held my hand as I swam from secluded lagoon into the swells of the Caribbean calling out my sister’s name, fearing her lost, gone, drowned. You held the tears back as I swam and helped me compose the words I would use to tell her husband that she was gone, confirming all the reasons he had to distrust such a selfish excursion. How could I face my nieces and nephew and how could I go on without my constant cheerleader, the one person who believed at the core that I was good? And then you produced her carefree, languid body, waving at me from the beach, and I whispered in your ear “thank you” before I allowed anger to displace my despair. When I think of you, the scent of mango and freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee will hang like a halo over all of the many deep and painful indiscretions that were yet to come.
I will miss the way you coaxed me into believing that I was an athlete with firmly toned muscles that were the envy of my peers and belied my age. I swam at dawn in an aqua-lit pool reflecting the morning’s sunrise and felt the force of firmly placed feet pushing off the wall as you convinced me to tackle flip turns, the butterfly and multitudes of laps surrounded by all those that surpassed my ability but still welcomed me as part of their morning ritual. You made the snow fall covering all the ugliness around me with a soft blanket of silence, seducing me to believe in your beauty before the sting of cold bound my hands and feet. By St. Patrick’s Day you pelted me with snow, sleet, and finally freezing rain as I tried to outrun you in a dash that left me cold and uninspired. I piled on the miles, like a marathon runner, gradually increasing the distance between you and me. And yes, I finished my first marathon, channeling strength and finishing it like an athlete, earning a badge of honor that qualified me for the grand daddy of them all: the 2010 Boston Marathon. As I crossed the finish line, I wondered how did you know that I could be this person, what did you see in me that I could not see in myself?
April was when I saw the cruelty lurking inside of you. Like a clueless puppy I followed your lead as you threw the sticks you expected me to fetch. You knew I was always a good retriever so you threw my unfinished past at my feet, introduced me to what it felt like to be noticed, and then laughed as you watched my foolishness and folly. You led me and my family into a dark tunnel where we lost a bright, yet desperate soul to suicide. You tested me, expecting me to be strong as I cried in the dark, into my already sodden pillow. And you left me to battle the demons alone. Your worldly love and romantic intentions were no more. Life with you was stark and painful. I embraced the pain, gave what I could to those left to suffer and invited suicide’s sister, depression, home with me. As I looked for grace, I felt the flicker of a familiar flame, the spark of hope. Was that gift from you or did I find it within myself?
Yes, 2009, as I prepare to sing Auld Lang Syne to you, I will remember how you tested my risk tolerance. Did you really think that I was someone to straddle the fence? Someone who would waver when faced with you, the starting pitcher, throwing your best stuff at me: your economic curve ball, your emotional spit ball, or your specialty: the off-speed pitch? You surrounded me with doubting Thomases, those that let fear direct their lives, devoid of dreams and absent aspiration. Oh, how little you know me. Are you surprised at how intensely I focused on your pitches, took my bat and swung at each one? Does it shock you that I was prepared to miss grandly, satisfied that even if I didn’t make contact I still believed that I could hit your pitiful hardball out of the park? Oh no, 2009, you misjudged me. I will never be content to stand still and let the pitch go by.
You did know my weak spot, my vulnerability. You slathered my days with great art and great music. As if you were repenting for the sins you had already committed. But no matter, the joy of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro persisted and because of you I no longer empathized with spunky Susanna, but with the Countess as she sang her aria Dove sono i bei momenti – "Where are they, the beautiful moments." I also experienced a breathtaking double bill of Bluebeard’s Castle/Ewartung in an exquisite Robert Lepage production and later at the Met his equally fascinating Damnation of Faust, an intense and intimate concert with the Portuguese fado singer Mariza, and spent an entire month attending four full cycles of Wagner’s Ring. You encouraged me to delve into the world of poetry and I rediscovered the sensual world of Pablo Neruda and picked up my own pen and began writing. Thank you for all of the many books you helped stack beside my bed offering me respite from the year you shared with me.
And yet, even in all your wickedness, you allowed me to see and do incredible things. You opened my eyes to the fascinating person my daughter is becoming, turning from shy girl to confident teenager. But I will never forgive you for redirecting the devotion that used to be mine to the tiny keyboard hidden within her cellular phone and constantly in her hands. I find myself starved for the words, “I love you, mommy” and settle for a less than sign coupled with the numeral 3 (<3) staring back at me, appalled when I learned what I was convinced was a face of a mouse was really a heart, a text replacement for the word love. I’m sorry, but a text will never replace hearing those words in person and for me love is still the greatest of them all, not less than three. I saw thousands of swifts make a nightly ritual to nest, one on top of another like interlocking shingles inside a tall and protected chimney. Symbiotic existence is alive and well. I discovered which friends would pick me up, restore me, and make me laugh, and which friends were virtual cutouts. I almost believed that you would repent and redeem yourself before year end, but then you brought a merciless cancer that claimed a friend and colleague, ravishing a healthy body and brilliant mind in just seven short months.
No, 2009, I do not love you anymore. It will not be hard to let you go, to say goodbye, and to look ahead. Because I have a new courtship, promising a new decade with all its happiness, waiting just on the other side of the new year.