You are twenty-four years old. It’s 1999. You are living in Chicago. You got on a plane in your home state of California, having never experienced an arctic temperature in your life, and you flew to Chicago on a bright January morning. Just the week before, you said goodbye to your fiancé of four and a half years.
Through almost all of college, you were with him. You loved each other. When you began dating him, he was picking you up from your parents’ home. When it was over, you were living on your own. In a very real way, you had no taste of how to be an adult without him next to you. Ten days after he drove away for the last time, you boarded a plane, heading to a place where no one knew you. You were numb when you boarded the flight. You were ready to fly away. You probably didn’t want to know anyone, anyway.
Right now you’re working two jobs, mostly to fill the emptiness eating you up inside. You’re biding your time. You’re freezing, because California stores don’t carry the kind of coat you need to endure a Chicago ice storm. You’re about to go through a very grueling and painful experience, without God, without friends, without family. This was by choice. Everything you believe has been severely tested, and now you want to do all the things they told you not to. Back home, under the watchful eye of so many who knew you, you wanted to do everything right. Now there are no eyes watching over you, no one knows who you are, and you don’t care anymore.
You’re just so sad, honey.
You’re all by yourself, going to see As Good As It Gets three weeks in a row on your Saturdays off. You practically live at the Brentano’s bookstore down the street. Your only conversations clocking in over five minutes are work-related. You’ve taken up smoking. Smoking! Not your brightest idea, kid. It’s going to take you four years to kick that nasty habit. Your grandpa asks you on the phone one day if you’ve heard from him. When you tell him you haven’t, he says “Then I guess he never really loved you.” You know he means well, but that just killed you all over again.
The upside is you’re writing some fierce poetry. You’ve taken up yoga, you got a cat (because they won’t let you have a dog), and you’ve been doing a lot of thinking.
I see you there, I remember it. Picturing you in your studio apartment, on your fold-out bed, wide awake at three a.m. staring at the ceiling, I imagine myself crawling in next to you. I lay my head on your shoulder, wrap one of my arms across your chest and watch your stomach rise and fall. I observe these quiet tears slipping out of the corner of your eye, sliding down to your ear. You have a sense of how this is changing you. But right now all you register is how it’s changing you for the worst. This is what I’d say to you: I love you. Everything’s going to be okay.
And it is.
I’m writing to let you know you made it. Broken and bruised, yes, but you made it. You came out the other end with a depth and a compassion that’s hard to explain. Ten years from now, when you hear a total stranger tell their story of heartbreak, you cry with them. You’ll know what to say to someone when they are all out of hope. You aren’t afraid to eat alone at a restaurant, or pick up and move to a new town when it feels like the right thing to do. You’ll know how to love somebody so much it hurts. And if that love leaves you, you know you’ll survive it. You’ll know that even when you stop believing in God, He never stops believing in you. You’ll know that in the moments when you’ve never felt more alone, you’ve learned a greater truth; He stands at your door and knocks. You will let Him in. You’ll know more about forgiveness, about giving away your broken, bitter heart, and how to ask for healing. You’ll know more about your own nothingness, and your infinite worth. Most importantly, you will know joy. Lots and lots of it. A happiness rooted in wisdom, sprung from struggle and strife. People might even ask you where your faith comes from. And then you’ll tell them this story.
I love you. Everything’s going to be okay.