Nearly fifteen years have passed since we last saw each other. It was only for a moment, a profound moment in time that I have come to treasure. At the time it seemed like closure. It felt as if the purpose for us being brought together had been fulfilled. As time passed, I convinced myself of this, but I was always denying a certain truth about the strange twists of fate, or perhaps destiny, that brought us together.
You were able to tell me what I meant to you. The last time you spoke to me you told me how I had changed your life. You told me that I gave you reason to believe in yourself, that I helped you find the strength to overcome your fears, and that I had restored your faith and given you reason to believe in things beyond the obvious. You finished nursing school and you began your new life as a nurse, leaving behind the years you spent waiting tables and tending bar on Golden Sky Lane. And then, a year or so later, I found myself at the hospital visiting a terminally ill friend. He told me being sick sucked and that spending so much time in the hospital was a pain in the ass except that the nurses there were very kind. As I left, I stepped onto the elevator and turned around. The nurses' station was just across from the elevator and there you were, sitting there, and you looked up for a moment and saw me. Our eyes met as the door closed and we never saw each other again.
It was poetry. That I cannot deny. It was a miracle that I found you to begin with. After dreaming of you for almost three years and following very vague clues, I walked into your life. There were too many coincidences for it to all be an accident. In the end you told me everything that happened between us made you believe there had to be a God, or some kind of power beyond our meager human existence, because without that you could not comprehend how I had come into your life. What you said left me stunned and unable to say anything other than "I'm glad" or something equally inane. I don't know how anyone could possibly digest such a statement without being left speechless.
We changed the nature of the universe together. It wasn't just me. The truth I have long denied, or at least brushed aside, is that you changed my universe at least as much as I changed yours. My life changed after meeting you. I became something more than I was before I met you. Most of the time I thought of it as a realization of the nature of my own faith, as evidence that my death and return to this life was about something more than simply acquiring self-confidence and empathy, two things I lacked before my death.
During my experience with death I was given a dream in which you appeared. In a cabin in the woods, warmed by a fire but surrounded by snowy woods, you asked me to find you. The dream repeated almost every night for weeks, months, and then years. I tried to get it to stop. I considered it absurd. It made no sense to me, this idea of finding a woman who appeared to me in dreams and to do it by following such vague clues.
Go where there is no snow
You will know it when you see her
You will have no doubt and the sky will turn to gold.
And then, in the dreams, you told me, "Find me and I will give you the answer."
The answer was to the questions I kept asking myself after my death. "Why am I still here? Why am I still in this place? Why didn't I just stay dead?" Those questions haunted me until I met you. I felt certain that you could give me the answer.
At the time, however, I didn't understand the questions. They were all the same question, but to me it seemed like there would be a simple answer.
There were reasons for me to turn away, but you were my grail quest and I could not turn away. I was brought to Orlando by a woman named Christine. She was a wonderful woman with one of the kindest, most loving hearts I have ever known. When I met her I told her the story of my death and the dreams that insisted I go where there was no snow. She brought me to Orlando, where she lived, and we went out to Chili's for drinks and dinner. And there you were, waiting on us, acting nervous and confused, and Christine said you appeared fixated on me and didn't even notice she was there.
You told me you didn't remember that night. When I returned seven months later, not knowing if you'd even be there, you sat down at the booth I was sitting in and proceeded to tell me pieces of your life story. People were staring at us and I asked one of the other waitresses if you did that with all the customers. She told me you never really talked to anyone, that you kept to yourself and that you never hung out with the rest of the staff. They painted you as quiet, withdrawn, and aloof.
I tell you what I remember, even as memory is a monster that sometimes blurs reality, because I need to remember. I need to remember not because history is important to me, but because during the years I knew you my life changed. It acquired meaning and purpose. Because of what happened between us I went on to dedicate my life to helping others find their path and reach for their dreams.
Much has happened in my life over the past fifteen years. I am certain much has happened in your life over the past fifteen years. There have been successes, but there have also been disappointments. There have been joys, but there have also been sorrows. The mix of these things is vital to the human experience. I have also spent much time away from Orlando. I was reckless in pursuing something that was lost and nearly destroyed myself in the process. Then I returned to Orlando broken and unwilling to face my own limitations, which cost me dearly, and I left Orlando again in search of healing.
I did heal, but in the process I became very sick. I was broken both mentally and physically. I came close to death once again, but I looked it in the eye and said, "Either kill me or restore me."
This brought me to a realization, and it was once again framed by dreams. "Find what has been lost," my dreams told me. I went on a series of quests. I was able to understand the nature of my disappointments, of the times when I felt I had disappointed people, and I learned that sometimes I can only give what I can give. Give everything you can to everyone you know, the phrase so often repeated to me during my experience with death, became more vital. You are only able to give what you are able to give, and I have my limitations, but sometimes just by appearing in the lives of others I can have an impact.
I am returning to Orlando next month, October of 2015, almost exactly eighteen years after I first moved there after finding you. I have restored myself and I feel whole again, except for one thing. My poetry was incomplete. I lied to myself. That last look wasn't closure. It was validation.
I've gotten a new job and it is five minutes away from the Chili's on Golden Sky Lane, where we met and where miracles once happened. I will be living close by and I will be returning to Chili's regularly. I will tell my story there once again. When I went there after my job interview in July, I could feel the ghosts all around me. It was as if they were trapped in time, waiting for me, smiling at me and welcoming me home.
Tina, because of you I went on to devote my life to helping others, to giving everything I can to everyone I know, to helping people find direction and inspiration. At first it involved wandering around and entering people's lives for brief periods of time until I was able to inspire them or help them in some small way. Then it became my career, and I have come to work with damaged people of all ages helping them to find new direction. If I have done anything to help them at all, it is because of you. When I think of how you told me how profoundly I had inspired you, and how we never spoke again, I am struck by the realization that I have never been able to tell you how profoundly you inspired me.
I have a dream of heaven. It goes something like this... I am sitting at the bar at Chili's once again, and you walk in and sit down beside me. Sometimes I wonder if you have gone there looking for me over the past fifteen years. Perhaps every once and a while you stop by and wonder. I used to avoid the possibility, figuring I would screw up the poetry of our final moment by seeing you again. Maybe you did the same.
Not a day goes by that I do not wonder where you are or how you are doing. Sometimes I see you, out of the corner of my eye, watching me with that nervous half-smile you used to wear so regularly when you looked at me. I once told you I was in love with you, but I don't remember if I explained what I meant, or even if I knew what I meant at the time. I wrote a story over 200 pages long that detailed the journey I had taken to find you. For months you denied having read it, saying you didn't have the time, until the end when you said, "I did read your story, you know." It was part of who you were, the adorable nature of your character, where you always acted oblivious, confused, or in the words of one of your co-workers "like a deer in the headlights." You always knew, and understood, more than you let on. You could hide who you were behind that façade.
I am a deeply flawed person, and one of my greatest weaknesses is pride. I believe it is the reason I must get knocked down so often and fight to get back on my feet. This process reminds me of the dangers of my oversized ego. It is that same flaw that caused me to want to retain that final image of you, the poetry of the moment, as you looked up at me while the elevator door closed. I could have gone back to that hospital. I could have found reasons. I had a friend on the unit you worked in. Yet, I stayed away, and I did so to preserve the moment. As a writer I saw it as a perfect ending to our story because it was so poetic.
It was my choice to walk away. I was always the match and you were always the candle. You weren't going to run after me. You saw me walk away without saying a word. Maybe it was the right thing to do. Maybe the poetry of the moment mattered. If I had come into your life, inspired you to complete nursing school, helped you overcome your fear of death, and then you were working as a nurse on a unit for terminally ill patients and one of them was a friend of mine... well, damn, how do you write a better ending?
We're not living in a novel.
I didn't need to walk away. I didn't need the last line to finish the story. That was pride talking. I didn't want anything we said to ruin that perfect moment. And so I ended our story.
I don't know where to find you, but eventually I will walk through every hospital and medical facility in Orlando looking for you. I thought I knew your last name but I don't know why I know it or even if it is your last name. I have looked for you from far away, but now I am returning to Orlando. I am doing so for many reasons, mostly because it is the place that feels like home, but it never would have become home if I hadn't found you there.
My dreams tell me you want me to find you again, that I have to show you I am still searching, and that I didn't do it all just for that final moment and the validation it brought me.
I don't know if you will ever read this. Part of me believes that you have told the story of how I came into your life and what happened during the time we knew each other. Finding you the first time was an impossible quest, but I found you, so part of me knows I can find you again. In order to do so I must believe I can find you again. If you have told our story then perhaps someone you have told the story to will find and read this. Maybe they will tell you about it. Maybe I will send enough energy into the universe that you will hear my voice and know that I am searching for you.
I have loved many women, but never once have I come close to loving someone on the deep and spiritual level that I love you. When I came back from the dead in 1994 I was given self-confidence and empathy as tools by which to change my life. You gave me the faith, validation, and inspiration to become who I am today, which is much, much more than I was before I met you. The changes you inspired in me have spread like Indra's net. I try to give everything I can to everyone I know, to inspire positive change in others by any means at my disposal, and I have worked to expand my knowledge and abilities to become more effective at this, my life's work, and that would not have become possible without you.
We are both older, and hopefully wiser, than we were so long ago. Whatever it was that brought us together, that created the miracle that made it possible, does not want us to remain in exile from each other. I am searching for you again. Perhaps you are waiting for me again.
The other reason I am searching for you is because I can't remember if the story is true or just something created in my imagination that I have convinced myself is true. I need to see you again so that I can remember it is more than just the story I turned it into. I need to know that you are real. Sometimes I wonder if any woman could possibly be as beautiful as you on so many levels and actually be a real person.
In love eternal,
PS: If anyone out there in the universe knows an RN in Orlando named Tina, probably in her early to mid 40s, blonde with big doe eyes, let her know I am looking for her and pass this letter on to her.