A Love Letter, for Last


Maya Epstein

So I write notes on my hands and they blur in the sink. So I drink coffee (never black) and I spill tea and I don’t sleep. So I’m a writer. So, a few months ago, I promised Mr. Varca I’d write him something. Something snarky and bitter, something like black coffee, and I never did. But today is my last day of high school ever. I woke up too early and there was a magpie outside my window. My dad made me a tea. Isaac Williams chased me down the hallway to sign his yearbook in green ink, his tie swinging the whole way. So I was there, really there. I am here. Pinch me. I spun around in the cafeteria and it occurred to me: I will never see these people again. 

Snarky, bitter, coffee, no cream? Didn’t sound so good. 

So instead, I am writing you something honeyed. Something soft, both because I am sentimental and because Will Brent Inzana is persistent. Very persistent. 

I met this building at the second-grade Sock Hop. My mom had this poodle skirt, a real ugly pink and stained, from a mid-70’s Halloween. Janhavi’s mom bought us rootbeer floats and I remember thinking dear god, how does anyone find their way in a place like this. How does anyone make their way in a place like this.

The next time I walked here, I was sixteen and I wanted to die. So I wrote and I wrote like I was trying to write the sick out of me. I thought, dear god, maybe it’s my time to rot. It wasn’t. It might’ve been. It wasn’t. I’m not beautiful, but I could be and you should know: you are not cold. You are capable of tolerating your own heart. 

Today, I am in this building and the temperature is seventy-four. I took a government exam and I did not see the kid who told me I’m a martyr for a religion I don’t believe in. Genna bought me a chai. The bell rings in eight minutes, and I’m thinking about how we can’t keep on having more weeks forever, how this is the last one and how I better drink it in. I look around at the kids in my class, look extra at the ones I’ve known since Kindergarten. I think to myself: I’ll immortalize you in Ticonderoga rubber and Village Inn crepes that aren’t crepes, not really. In the staples we pull from DBQs. In drought. 

It’s my last day in this building, so I thought I’d share my gateway to the next one: somewhere warm, full of oranges and butter suns and Neptune. Somewhere frightening. Shining. As a final farewell — my college admissions essay:


I am what I am because of who we all are.

The opening night of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — my first weekend at the movie theater. A week before he was fired for threatening to take down Stephen behind the trash compactor, Elias taught me to make pretzel bites. Not too much butter, he said, don’t want ‘em drowning. Just enough so the salt’ll stick, or the cinnamon. Cinnamon, with that nacho cheese? Fire. Fie-uhr. 

A week after I began at the theater, Jase showed me the icing. You can just sort of put it on top of the hot dog steamer while the bites bake, and then it’s a little warm, he said. Kinda nice, but you definitely don’t have to. Good with the cinnamon and sugar.

That’s how Sunday mornings tasted for Dad in the fall of ‘76. Grandpa Jerry rose early. He cracked crackers and whipped cinnamon into eggs. Platters of fried matzos — glazed in sugar pearls, cracker dust, goop — were my kid dad’s breakfast of choice. Josh the Poodle licked the dishes clean. I, too, remember my childhood in cinnamon; that’s how Sunday mornings tasted for me. My dad, at the stove. Plain white sugar, sweet fried matzos. Jewish soul food in hot chicken fat, sputtering.

And I once knew a boy who was spluttering. It was the second-grade, and he had moles and a white pine allergy. He told me a false truth: if you pinch the skin above your second knuckle, and the fold stays standing, you are deathly dehydrated. I pinch.

It’s a summer compulsion for me now, just as grocery runs are in the fall.

Dewy spiderwebs lace Grandview’s parking lot — the worst parking lot — and there, on lunch breaks, we climb into a ‘94 Avalon christened Arthur. We drive to the store. Wednesdays, Krispy Krab Rolls are $5 a piece; Orezi says grocery wasabi isn’t real wasabi, “obvi.” I think about it’s-horseradish-powder-died-green-don’t-you-know every Wednesday, and I believe her, because she makes a mean turmeric couscous. 

It’s the same orange as the sun in my bedroom. It dances across second-hand books, over postcards and the PlayDoh Diwali lamp Janhavi made for me. The little pot is cracked now, held together by tired threads of paint. Next to it, there’s a lucky bamboo plant: Hannah’s gift. Hannah wears yellow berets in Eritrea. Hannah collects words with no English equivalent. Number ten on her list: ubuntu, a Bantu word, roughly translating to:

I am what I am because of who we all are.

I am held together by these people and our stories; I am the aria of their habits and hearts. Mixing wasabi and soy in thirty years, I will hear Orezi. And each summer, I’ll pinch to check for deathly dehydration. And every fall, I’ll make fried matzos, sweet like pearls and poodles. Winter is for film. I love movies because those I love loved them first. I spin stories to connect with people. To carry them everywhere. 

It’s autumn now, and there are new hires at my theater. Joseph, who allegedly competed with Sting for a job at Lowes, and curtain-bagned Gwendalyn Gibson. I will teach them well. They’ll know just where to find the burn cream. How to turn on the usher lights after the next inevitable Conjuring film. I’ll let them in on the secret of cinnamon-cheese, and the hidden staircases I found in theater five. 

They’ll always warm the icing on the hot dog steamer.

These lives will tangle. These recycled bits will seem new. The whole of who I am is a love letter — a story to, and of — the people who’ve touched me. 



Love always,