It’s late June, and I’m having trouble seeing you.
We’re eating dinner together outdoors at a cafe in D.C., and the sun has nearly set. I can’t look at your face anymore without my eyes tearing up because I don’t believe in sunglasses. The sun’s too strong, and it might be for the best that I can’t remember the exact expression on your face as you listen to me speak.
“It seems like there’s two ways to make it as a writer,” I say and slide the boat of leftover dumpling sauce so it points across the table. “You can write stuff for grown-ups that’s serious, you know, and is full of literary merit …”
I take one of your dishes — I don’t remember which one, just like I’m more or less making up the exact words I’m saying to you now because it’s two months before Crunchable existed and even my memory can only reach so far before my arm muscles wake up broken and tired — and place it parallel to the first dish.
“… or you can write children’s stuff.”
I am envisioning a bridge that must be passed here, from my side of the table to yours, and there are only two paths to take beneath it.
“What I’m writing now really isn’t one or the other.”
But that makes it interesting, you point out.
“Yeah, but it’s hard to get people’s attention when you aren’t one thing or the other,” I reply. “So I’m going to try writing a children’s book, and try to make it better than anybody else before.”
The best way to make me fall in love is to tell me secrets, and I hope it might work the same way with you. I’ve already tried to pass all your tests tonight — so what if I couldn’t guess that your favorite musician is Paul Simon? I could eat thin whispery sesame salad with chopsticks with grace and dexterity, and I’ve been earnest and listening and careful and moderately intelligent, and we end up sitting in a park that doesn’t have a name that’s near a building whose name I don’t remember watching planes landing at Reagan National Airport (before September happened, before Crunchable existed).
You tell me about how lost you feel, how you don’t know what to make of yourself even after having seen India and some other places left out my memory (broken, broken, broken), and with the sun nearly gone but its rays still touching our eyes, I realize that if you look at it long enough, the whole scenario is downright romantic.
Watch the planes with me. We are trapped in a Rome that wants neither of us. There’s nothing the United States of America wants less than another poor kid trying to spin out stories with words. It’s the typical bullshit people will tell you every day, how art is seldom appreciated while its maker is alive and even then, maybe not, but the problem is that the bullshit is true.
The problem is that writing isn’t read with the same fervor that attends movies and music and anything else that isn’t stuck down on pages and ink. The problem is that children’s stories are for fake writers, who want to make characters out of turtles and stories out of premises that don’t make any sense.
And you? You don’t even know which story you want to believe in. You don’t know which story will be yours. We are in Rome and the barbarians are advancing and the planes are silent. But it’s romantic. Don’t forget it for a second. Nobody wants us but maybe us.
Think about it.
It could have been beautiful. So many things wouldn’t have had to happen. There would have never been a Crunchable. There never would have been this story.
There would never be the questions people will ask me after this story. They will ask me who you are — or maybe they’re already smirking to themselves as they trace out the clues with an index finger pressed against a monitor screen.
You do have a name in the real world. But you don’t have one here.
You aren’t a person here in this story. You’re not real. Nobody in any story I write is real. (Please write this on a Post-It and keep it on your index finger and maybe there will be less heartbreak in the future.)
You’re the dream I had when I had just left behind childhood, of being strange and great, of finding a good day job and discovering that the world was warm to the touch, of having a girlfriend who’s devastatingly intelligent (like Trillian and Arthur, only without the destruction of the Earth, without Rome falling), a girlfriend so beautiful you only notice if you stop to really look at your face and your eyes and your nose closely. It was the dream I had of feeling alive each and every day, of being someone special, of being handsome in a quirky way, of never forgetting a single detail of anything, of building a garden that can’t be set afire or poisoned or demolished.
This dream doesn’t come true.
We never have dinner together ever again, and the only thing I get out of my children’s stories is a matching set of rejection letters mailed back by interns just like me. I’m still 50 feet short of handsome and barely anybody wants to hire me.
But all dreams never come true. That’s what makes them beautiful. Don’t you see?
It’s in their shadows that we put bricks down on the grass and start to build things that are real. What ends up in the real world isn’t half as graceful or meaningful or logical as the things we see with our eyes closed. But you have to build them anyway.
Otherwise, you’ve got nothing at all.
This is my part of why there’s a Crunchable. The much bigger part is everyone who for some unfathomable reason writes all kinds of words down without a hope of reward, and the other much bigger part is everyone who spends irreplaceable minutes reading this stuff. God help us all.
I’m sorry that Crunchable won’t be what anyone dreams it will be. And I’m sorry I won’t be the person anyone dreams me becoming.
But I have to try.
Don’t you see?