This post is part of the Secret Messages Project, first published in January 2015. Every day for thirty days, I left my words in places where they might be found — or might never be found at all.
Yesterday, for the first time, I caught someone in the act of discovering one of my little offerings.
I never meant for this to happen — in fact, as a rule, I avoid the possibility. I’m careful to leave my messages when no one’s looking, and I never go back to search for them. The way I see it, once I give them away, they no longer belong to me, and this is how I want it. There’s pleasure in the not-knowing.
But yesterday, in a completely unplanned moment, I got to see a stranger experience my words from afar. And I have to tell you it moved me. It moved me so much that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. So I didn’t do either. I just watched, and then made a quiet exit.
But if I’m going to tell you that story, I think I have to begin at the beginning:
You should know that I’m a summer girl, through and through and through. You can’t tell it to look at me, with my pale skin and dark hair and long heavy black eyelashes. I look like I belong in cableknit sweaters and Pendleton skirts, burgundy and brown and copper, and I *do,* in fact, spend plenty of months living in those. Still: I wander through this half of the year desperate and hungry for green, for the sun on my bare shoulders, a film of salt on my lower lip. The constant white-noise of locusts and songbirds and children playing ball in the dusk. The wink of fireflies. All of it.
And every winter about this time, the cold gets into my bones and it doesn’t leave. I carry it around with me like grief — heavy. This is not — believe me — an overstatement.
This was what I was feeling, yesterday morning, when, returning from an early-morning errand, I was suddenly overcome with the intense desire to pull over on the side of Brandon Avenue and get out of the car.
Lakewood Park sparkled to my right: a perfect slice of green sloping toward the woods, and every last inch of it, every blade of grass and grain of earth, was coated in glittering frost.
I walked slowly across the field, toward the stream that cuts the park in two. The ground under my feet was so hard and nubbled with ice that it was difficult to get my footing, but I kept walking, past the volleyball pit — oh, God, that stab of remembered summer! — and toward the pond.
The pond… It’s my favorite thing about this place. Any time of the year it beckons, perfectly round and surrounded by benches.
Today, however, it was filmed by a thin skin of pale ice so that it formed two concentric circles: the outer circle of the bank, and the inner circle where the ice ended and the open water began. The whole pond looked like a giant eye, staring up at the sunrise.
I stood quietly, watching the weak sun burn its way through the gray. I looked down at the bench beside me, which was frosted like a cake, beautifully white. And that’s when I decided that this was where I was going to leave the day’s message.
I had it already prepared: the words inked on the shiny green undersides of six acuba leaves, with their brilliant gold speckles. I stuck a hand in my pocket and ran a thumb over their leather skins.
Yes. This place. This.
I waited. In just the briefest span of time the frost suddenly went from ice to water, and the bench beside me instantly beaded over with liquid. I placed the leaves there, in just the right order. I played with them a little bit, getting the spacing right. I snapped picture after picture, trying with all my might to believe in the message I was leaving.
It was like a prophecy, and my own heart doubted it the whole way.
And then I left.
Crossed the field.
My boots by then were muddy, my toes cold. I stopped to take a breath, looked back, and that’s when I noticed her: a stranger, crossing the street to the park. I couldn’t see her face for the hood of her parka, but I could see that she was walking a beautiful white dog.
She walked straight across the field toward the pond. Crossed the bridge toward the bench without a moment’s hesitation, as if it was exactly where she intended to go.
A little moment of panic kicked through my chest — I didn’t want her to see me there, didn’t want her to know it was me. But of course, by then we were already a good fifty yards apart, and who was to say what she would think, what she would know, even if she saw me?
Still, I hurried back to my car and got in.
Sitting there, my breath fogging the windshield, I had the perfect vantage point to watch her for a moment. She stood there facing the bench of the longest time, just staring. The dog stood very still beside her. Her breath came out in clouds.
And then she bent low, her face pushed right up to the words.
After awhile, I realized what she was doing: she was snapping pictures, just like I’d done only a few minutes before.
I started the car.
I drove away.
I felt the laughter escape me in a single note that was almost a cry.
And for the first time, I believed my own message — really, really believed it, in every cold-benumbed corner of my soul:
And it will. I promise you that. ❤