Nonfiction by Judith Serin

Dear Sue

I thought of you the other day. You seem so far, which maybe isn’t strange because it’s been over thirty years. I’m in my sixties now, and you would be too. I know you took sleeping pills and swam out into the bay. But because all I saw of your body was ashes, I imagine you on a train, riding away, your pale face in the window. Did you even for a moment think about staying, stepping back onto that gray concrete platform, breathing the sooty winter air? I picture this on the East Coast, on a train like the one I used to take to New York City from New Jersey: winter chill, the animal smell of wet wool coats, clouds of breath, sweat evaporating in cold air. But you were here in California, where winter is just wet and we’re all supposed to be happy.

Do you wonder what it would be like to be older? It seemed forever, being young: me so sure of my body, bendable and determined, able to wear out four men dancing all night; you so alienated from yours. So much has changed for me; so much is harder for my body and easier for my mind and heart. I can’t even imagine what you’d be like now. You are thirty-three, amber-eyed, shy and smart, and, in the end, always sad. You refuse to listen to relationship problems because you feel single peoples’ problems like yours are never taken as seriously. You give me the delicate cream-filled Swiss chocolates—hazelnut, raspberry, and pear—your mother brings from Zurich when she visits. Peanut butter is against your religion, you say, not wanting to explain that you’d read it's made with rotten peanuts. And you claim going to your reference librarian job in Modesto is like driving back into the Middle Ages.

Before you left, you got together with each of your friends for a goodbye we didn’t know you were saying. With me you took a long walk at Point Reyes Seashore. A series of unsolved murders had occurred there recently and you told me how you’d walked and walked alone, courting death. You left a letter for your mother saying “I’m sorry to do this terrible thing to you;” a large check for your roommate for several months’ rent; an illegible poem for me on the windshield of the car you drove to the bay. I miss you.


Judith Serin's collection of poetry, Hiding in the World, was published by Diane di Prima's Eidolon Editions, and her Days Without (Sky): A Poem Tarot, seventy-eight short prose poems in the form of a tarot deck with illustration and book art design by Nikki Thompson, was published by Deconstructed Artichoke Press. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction as well as poetry, and her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She teaches writing and Literature at California College of the Arts and lives in San Francisco with her husband Herbert Yee.

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