Each year, Riley would find herself reading over their correspondence. They had never met in person, but the few months that they swapped stories were ingrained into her soul.
She had saved them. At the time, it was all she had left of him because what are memories when they’re digital? You don’t walk by a shop and smile at the time you ran into them. A timestamped note from a stranger a million miles away and an inside joke about sexy cookies.
But she turned to his emails whenever she felt down or lost. Something about the encouragement he had given always gave her hope even now. Long after he disappeared, his words remained her old friends when she needed a shoulder to cry on.
As the years went on, Riley cried on that shoulder less and less. His existence became an anecdote at gatherings. A mysterious man who had swept her away with words but whom she had never met. Friends would chuckle and say it was like her to meet some lit nerd on the internet and fall in love. And maybe it was.
Riley had always believed in love and romance. Fate had brought them together for a reason, even if that reason had faded years ago. Still, on the lonely nights, her mind would travel back to him.
On this particular lonely night, Riley found herself puddled into a pillow. A few drops of wine and tears speckled her shirt. For no reason in particular, the pits of depression pulled at her.
Pulling her laptop to her, she began to type a silly story about a dog who was obsessed with soap operas. It was trash, but it was distracting. In the wee hours of the morning, she dragged the file over to her Google Drive, and then she saw the folder. His folder.
She was only going to read a few lines, but as their story began to unfold in front of her, the pang of jealousy hit her. She wasn’t jealous or angry he had disappeared. She was jealous of who she used to be.
So full of love and hope and wonder. She had big dreams. She was going to move to England and backpack Europe and fall in love and get married. She was going to find a job writing, and she just knew she’d write a book.
Slowly, as she read, she felt the loss. Not just of him but of herself. She had taken jobs just for the money. She had dated men just because she was lonely. She hadn’t even seen most of Europe. What had happened to that woman to become this one?
The tears rolled down her face, and she watched herself looking for him on social media. She found his email. She sent him a message and told her how down she was and thanked him for believing in her so many years ago. She hovered for minutes over the ‘send’ button. But send it she did.
Then she stared up at herself in the mirror. No more. She would not let this be how her story played out. Closure. She had to let go of this man who had chosen to exit her life. She had to close the door.
She opened a new document and began typing. Goals. Ideas. Mottos. Mantras. She was not going to hold on to the past, but she was going to change her future. She was starting a new life. It hit her: their reason for meeting was not for her to love him but to realize that she needed to love herself again.
It may have taken years for her to see it, but it was so clear now. She typed furiously for what seemed like hours, and when she came to the end, she wrote one last mantra:
Riley Burch, you’re going to live again.
Escaping the real world by writing worlds of my own.