I'm writing to tell you I'm dropping out of college; I haven't told anyone. I'm twitching, Michael. The hunger came back a few weeks ago, and I'm not sure it ever left. Regardless, it's crying now, and I need to go. I need to keep moving on. I'm leaving for Chicago tomorrow. My train takes off in the afternoon, and when I get there, I'll leave again. I want to go somewhere new, Michael.
I want to go somewhere I have never seen before.
Now, I know you have to be worried, but don't, Brother. Don't you be afraid. I'll write to you wherever I go. I won't leave a return address, please don't try to follow me. You can't, Michael, you're too smart. Your place is here among these people; and mine is out there. You're meant for your books; I'm meant for my trees. I want to roar from the woods with a pen mightier than Henry David's. I want to feel what the giants have felt. And so I'm headed for infinite train tracks, and by God almighty, I'll take them under water if they'll go!
I am free, Brother. I am free, and I hope some day soon you find the happiness that completes your own freedom. Good luck, Michael. I will always love you.
I'm sorry I haven't written for so long. I've been working out here, Michael. I've found myself a house in the woods of western Washington. A family is letting me stay here in exchange for taking care of their home while they travel. The fish in these creeks are outstanding if you cook them over fire. Oh, I wish you could see all of this, Brother. You would feel it, Michael. You would be part of the wind and the trees just like I am
but it's just too selfish of me.
Michael, if you can, tell Mother I love hertell her not to worry about me. And Michael, please write to me, and tell me about your life. You're graduating high school this year, right? Is there a woman in your life? I'll leave an address for you to write to. I'm dying to hear from you.
I love you, Michael, and I hope you know that.
I got your letter today. I'm so glad to hear you're doing well. Missouri State is a great school, and I hope it fits you better than it fit me. You seem so smart, Michael, and I think you're going great places. I'm excited to hear about Arienette, and I hope you two are doing well. I hope I can meet her some day. Tell her I say hello.
Right now I'm on a train headed a little farther east. A man in Colorado said the freest he'd ever felt was working on a farm. A man from Kansas said he'd always felt the same, and he said he'll let me stay with him and his family and let me work his fields.
That's all I really have to say for now, Brother, so I'll have to write you soon.
I got to the farm in Kansas yesterday. The sun seems to shine so much brighter here. The family I'm living with is so nice. The man who I met back west, his name is Karl, and he has such a wonderful family. His daughter is especially beautiful. Her hair is gold like the sun's reflection in the wheat field. Her features glow soft against the grain, and she wears the prettiest summer dresses. She's so much like me, Michael. She lies in the fields staring into the ocean of clouds. Her name is Laura, and she seems perfect to me.
Karl's wife Sara makes the most excellent food. (Don't you dare tell Mother.) It's funny how until you've worked in a field you never really realize how wonderful everything tastes. I was really hungry for the first time in my life.
After dinner I washed up, and I went to my room and I read. It's a book called Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, who was named for the great Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's an interesting book. I recommend it. Just as I was falling asleep though, Laura came into my room, and sat beside my bed where I was lying. She smiled at me, rested her head on my shoulder.
She asked where I was from, and I struggled to answer. Finally I said I felt my home was the train, and my family was everyone on it at the time, that I was born in Columbus, Ohio, and really, I lived my whole life there with you our parent
She asked why I was far from home, and I said I'd been traveling. Of course, Brother, you know I like to move around and stretch my limbs. I like the feeling that I can go anywhere and be anyone at any time
She echoed you, Mother and my own self then, "Are you unhappy?"
The answer, Michael, is no. I've wondered the very same thing this whole trip, my whole damn life. I'm never unhappy. In fact I'm always happy where I am. There's beauty floating through everything in this world, and every place I've ever been has shown me who I am.
I meet the most beautiful people.
I see the most beautiful things.
"So, why would you leave?" she asked.
I'm not sure I know the answer to that, Brother. But I told her it was because no one place is best or best for me. Of the so many places I've been, each is better than the last, because it's the next. Ideally, I'd love to live everywhere in my life, and just before I die, return home.
See, for me it's like reading books is for you. The more of them you read, the more you see into the world. The more things you learn, the better you understand. If I stayed in one place, well that'd be like reading just one book. And no wise man only ever read one book.
Honestly, even with all the love I feel for everything I've ever seen, I've never felt more at home than I am on the tracks.
She seemed surprised with me, and she told me she had always wanted to see the ocean and the city. So, I promised her that when I was yearning to move on, I'd take her to New York. She threw herself around me, kissing my cheek.
She went off to bed after that.
Brother, she seems young; she's nineteen, same as you. But I am only twenty-four myself. She has some discovering, some exploring to do; and Michael, I think I can help her. I think she's like me, MichaelI think she has a twitch in her like I have the twitch in me.
We're finally leaving for New York. Her parents seemed to object almost more to my going than her own. It makes me afraid, Michael, because I think maybe she only feels the twitch, because she can't see the home in her life; and that's a scary place to be. It's an illogical place, and I am afraid she'll be consumed by it, but I don't say anything. I don't say anything, because I'm selfish and because I want her for myself.
We're on the train now, and she's resting quietly on me. She breathes gently and innocently. I am afraid for her, Brother, but I think I can take care of her.
Life in the city has been amazing. I almost can't believe I'm saying it, but I no longer believe my home is road, Michael. I think I love her. She is my home, Brother. This could be happiness and my freedom.
We're living in the city of course. We stay in this romantic little one-room loft. Laura learned to cook from her mother, and now she's teaching me. We've both gotten jobs, and the train seems to be coming into the station. We may not stay here forever, Michael, but I believe that my traveling days may be done.
Wish me luck.
Laura and I have bought a house in upstate Maine, Michael, and you see I have a return address. I'd like for you to write to me. I want to know everything that's happened in your life.
How's Arienette? College? Tell me absolutely everything, Michael. I'd love to hear from you; and if I don't write often, know that everything is perfect in my life. Know that I love a woman more than I've ever loved anything except for you. I do love you, Brother; and I always have.
Two years in, and it's happening, Michael. I need to go again. I have the twitch in my bones, and it's shaking my life apart. I can't go on living with my Laura, but, Michael, I do love her. I just need to go. I need to satiate the trembling within me; and I know it's wrong, but I have to go.
I have to go.
What happened next, I remember very well; I was sitting at my desk when it happened.
The phone rang, and my mother's voice shook. I stayed silent and unsurprised, just as I had when his first letter arrived. He was dead; my brother, Calvin, was dead.
For the rest of that day, two thoughts played in my head.
The first was that his death was appropriate, because even from beyond the grave Calvin could hurt my mother and make her fall to tears.
The second was surprise. Surprise at the knowledge of his death. Calvin was always so careful to make sure we never knew where he would be going next. It was Laura who found him drowned in the river just a mile away from their home. Part of me likes to believe he was coming home to see her before he passed, but who can truly say such things.
My wife and I went to spend the weekend in her home, she kept us company and shared stories of his life. Arienette and she laughed jovially, but I couldn't bring myself to smile.
She never asked questions, and I admired that strength in her. My whole life I wondered why Calvin had left us. Laura said she felt peace, knowing that he would never have the compulsion, or the need to leave again. She said he'd finally found what he'd always gone looking for.
When I asked her what that was, she laughed.
"When you're ready, you'll understand," she told me.
Calvin was right: she was just like him.
Almost a week later, I was sitting at his funeral. I looked on in silence as they lowered an empty box into the ground. It was his last wish that he be buried in the dirt without a casket. He would decompose and become part of everything, settling nowhere and everywhere.
It was my mother's idea to have him buried in effigy. And I convinced Laura to let her do it.
And as they lowered the casket, I swore I watched my mother's lips turn in a smile as the weight of worry was lifted from her shoulders. Her son was home, and this time, he was going to stay.
I was sitting alone in that bench, facing the sea. As all the memories rushed in and floated away with the tide. I looked to the shore and saw my wife, Arienette and our son playing together in the water. I smiled and walked to them.
They smiled back at me as I stood there with the last thing my brother left me. It was a small river rock, a skipping stone. He left it in a manila envelope with a note that said: Happiness completes freedom.
I shifted the small rock in my hand, feeling it so warm from my palm. I spent so much time trying to understand that I could never really understand; but now I thoughtI believedI understood my brother. It was when I didn't think, that I understood him best. I walked over to my wife and child, and I kneeled. I kissed him first and then my wife. I stood up, and I threw the rock into the ocean. It kissed the surface of the navy blue water, and it flew on to the next place, skipping onward to the next, and to the next. The first leaps were the largest; as they continued they were smaller; and where it stopped, it sank.
And as I watched the rock sink, all my anger and feelings of betrayal were washed away. I understood Calvin's struggle, and I knew him better than I had ever known him.
He was a man apart.
His happiness was in the leaps, but his freedom was in the water.