Letters to Strangers

A new month means, a new letter. For your reading pleasure.


Dear Woman Riding the Bus in Chinatown, San Francisco, CA;

You and I are both alone on this very crowded bus. You have bags at your feet. I have a bag on my back. I am carrying a notebook, some Hemingway, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and stale, empty feelings. I forget the last time I took off this bag. I am 25 years old and my shoulders curl forward like an arthritic’s. You are sat in calm contentment, chin in your hand, lucid sunlight painting shadows on your face. The driver pulls the gear stick down. The bus hiccups. Everyone jolts forward and backward from the hip like static electricity or jellyfish, horizontally propelling and rappelling. No matter how much this ride shakes me, I can’t seem to drop this feeling, this clinging. It is a two-year-old heartbreak in residence in a heart that is still in a body that is in love with the man who broke it. I don’t want to let him go.

This city is so magnificent and magnanimous that it seems unreal to me – as if when we reach the crest of this hill that is California Street, I will see its descent and the lights, camera and crew will become apparent. I will understand that all of this has been an act. This is what I want – to pick up where he and I had left off. The neon-tube marquees, hand-painted signs, cyclists, pedestrians and Victorians on the other side of the window stretch and smear into colors and colors. I cling impishly to the hanging support straps which are too low for someone my height to find their footing. I am a monstrosity. I tower.

I can pump my music louder, I can walk every hill in this city, throw myself into the frigid Pacific, but nothing seems to ease my discomfort, this inside-break. This is something I’ve never felt. It’s as if my blood froze, my internal body temperature dropped and every single ounce of me is shattering like icicles in the thaw of new spring. We continue steadily upward. But, here on this bus as I watch you, I hear something shifting other than the gears. The orchestra that is orchestrating this life of mine is about to change keys. I hear consonance approaching like the hills. Change. The vibration is picking up. It’s beginning to ooze out of every value and key, every pore of me. Some of me is staccato, some legato. Maybe I will break again.

The bus lurches. Up and up. The gray and bald scalps, the folded foreheads, bob. I look to the floor—all heels dug into rubber, knees bent. Bracing. The bus kicks and jerks. It growls. It’s teetering on the edge and finally up becomes down. All the momentum picking up. I feel it in me. I close my eyes and I dig my heels into the still bus floor. I have wings. I am piloting this vehicle. I see the conductor’s wand in my hand. This is my movement. This body is my instrument. This magnificence is me. These people are feeling something too. Aren’t they? Are you? How did you arrive here, on this bus, with heavy-lidded eyes, placid?

Letter to a Stranger

Dear Children Playing in the Fountains at Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, August 2010:

The thing is, I don’t want to intimate what I learned about myself that day. It’s uncomfortable, as I was, standing there, heavily, observing you at the fountains, the people, my racingheartrunninghead, on the periphery of the crowd. But it was important. That public space. You, flinging your bodies, half-naked, against slabs of liquid-smooth black stone. It’s easier not to talk about it. My own vulnerability makes me shy.

Because the thing is, all the outfits of words that I can assemble don’t feel good. They are clunky. I felt clunky. I was a doofy 20-year-old, half brain-dead from consistent rumination – my body, its size, its shape, its feeling heavy and unbeautiful. If my skin could speak it would weep. It would tell you about the girl I was. It would tell you that I was afraid to be touched.

The thing is, I write a lot of letters, but, I’m not comfortable being so naked here, on this page, the way you all were careless and unassuming, running through fountains, bare-chested with water-slicked heads. Scorching sun, sweltering heat. You had the right idea. Chicago had been steeping in a heat-wave, 98 degrees, humidity like Vaseline. It was hot that stings, hot that lingers – like desire, not erasable, unyielding, encompassing.

The thing is, I was so pre-occupied with the young man standing next to me with whom I had been intimate with and wanted to be intimate with and was afraid to act intimate with because we were in that public space, because he had reduced my feelings about him to a crush, because that didn’t feel quite right when he said it, but I didn’t know the difference, didn’t recognize the compromise. I only saw the proximity of our bodies and so, your nakedness made me think about my naked body, which made me think of his naked body, of desire, and all I wanted was to consume his flesh: tongue, lips, breath to breath, head, hair, back, waist, hips, hands.

The thing is, those things cannot baptize a young woman. I stood next to him, stiff and stilted.

The thing is desire is carnal knowledge. I was afraid to listen. Your innocence kept you deaf from the doubt I created. I shoved my hands deeper into my pockets, rolled my ankles outward, clung to my clothing. I was ashamed of my own shame and the weight of myself and that feeling – as oppressive as the heat.

The thing is, what about dalliance? Should I have, could I have, why didn’t I let attraction invigorate me?

The thing is, I thought I had to be an adult, that desire had to look a certain way.

The thing is, I thought I had to hide it away.

You guys were just playing around. A boy laid face down with fluttering arms, made angel wings, sent ripples across the ground. A girl with blonde-curly pigtails marched up to him, bent over and pulled at his leg. He sat up at 60 degrees and fought back. That was innocence. They were strangers to one another.

The thing is, I thought that there was this convention of adulthood or something that said that being naked, that undressing in front of strangers or a lover was for private spaces. That was a public space. Temper tantrums don’t solve anything. Sharing is encouraged. So what about sharing our bodies? It was your innocence, the beauty of that thing and me forgetting that there is a child inside of me that stopped me from sliding off my shoes, dropping my shorts, unwrapping myself from the armor of my clothing and laying down on the stones. I thought my skin was too pale, my skin was too stretched, the sight would have been too much for youthful eyes.

The thing is I have changed. My insides rearranged, all those intangible aspects like the concept of self and the soul. The thing is the vessel that is our body is fixed. Like our nature.

The thing is, my body is mine. The depth of the pool of my own personal intimacy, its boundaries, who I share it with, how to play in it, is mine to define. My sex is mine to satiate my flesh. The thing is, I wanted to lay down and baptized myself.

When did I learn to hide my body from the world?

Letters to Strangers – Dear Derek (Deja-vu),

Dear Derek,

When I met you I got this feeling – as if I have always known you, as if our bodies remembered a moment our minds did not, as if they wanted to embrace one another like good-old friends – as if we have been meeting and repeating for some time. Our present continuous. The way I see it: everything is a circle. You and I are iridescent infinities, clustered and grooved, moving like circuitry or synapses or millions of clock hands – meeting and repeating, repeating and meeting. Just picture that: reiterations of infinity. What is the word for that, Derek? Is that deja-vu? Did you know there are no synonyms for deja-vu. It is the ineffable thing which no cluster of words can directly attach itself to. Do you ever wonder if we emit particles, pieces of our clusters, that linger in our wake? IS deja-vu made of this residue? Did our infinite selves cast a film or scent that I picked up that night in the Mission on Valencia?

The next day you saw me, reiterated. A second sight of a moment your mind had hatched in the past. You were in deja-vu with me. We were doing that time dance, suspended, in the van, the backseat, our cell phones, our hands, all luggage and the band’s stereo equipment filling every crevice, the other side of the window, cigarette smoke tooling up the glass, the men in the parking lot, hum of the car – running, idling. The time on the was clock 2:22 (my lucky number) and the taste of dried mango and citrus was sticky on my tongue. Your pupils expanded and sunk into the deep sky-blue pools behind them. The reiteration. I saw the giddy horror of familiarity – the one deja-vu veils itself in. I felt that too.

What tense do you think suits deja-vu? The English language has 16 different verb tenses. Sixteen! Past perfect continuous – had been reiterating? Present perfect continuous – have been reiterating? The function of tense is to define verbs, to give the subject and object a relationship with the action being done, the thing that is or has or will happen. I have had to think a lot about tense because I am teaching English to non-native English speakers and now with all this deja-vu business there is a new lens to view it through. Tense is broken down into an equation: time plus aspect. Time is the moment of reference – past, present, future. The aspect is either simple, perfect, continuous or perfect continuous. The definition of aspect is, “a specific way in which something can be considered.” Therefore, can’t it be said that tense is the way in which we consider time? But what if something has happened, is happening, will be happening, has been happening all at the same time, like deja-vu? Tense and deja-vu are tricksters. They muck around. Do you understand the pretense of what I’m getting at? Language creates our reality. We are our own point of reference, and deja-vu exists within the aspect – how we consider things. How we consider ourselves. How we consider time and…what else can I say? This ineffable thing. How should I consider you and the car and us meeting and that feeling without my ego keeping me in the center of it all?

The future perfect continuous is: a verb that will occur, has been occurring and will continue to occur until a future point in time when it becomes the present. The tense is, through this lens, an affectation of what we would like to see, what we project. (This is pretense, is it not?) The best possible result. This is perfect for you, Derek and deja-vu. For you, I will use the future perfect continuous tense. Isn’t this something like time travel?  You and I have pasts and they are perfect in their stasis. We have a present and a future and it is continuous.

By the time you read this letter it will have become a physical artifact to make our coincidental-everything connect – the time between our infinities having looped. A gap, our gap. I have been writing to deja-vu for a few years, but never sent the letter, could not send it. I attempted to allocate language and nothing was specific enough. Nothing was sharp. Ineffable. Now I know that the words I wrote for deja-vu are better suited for you. These sentences about coincidence are yours to read. They can synchronize my examination of the past present continuous and pretense.

A NEW Letter to a Stranger

Dear Tim,

The thing we must not forget, or rather, the thing to state first is that not too long ago we were strangers. You were, simply put, a tall German guy from Berlin who walked into the hostel where I live and work. You had a sing-song tilt to your English and you were hesitant to use it. Our conversation was question. Answer. Answer. Question – nothing similar to the cadence of your speech, and I wasn’t sure that you were even listening. Who is this person, Tim Kochler, and what’s inside his brain? What does he want? My American trepidation trickling into my reality. My guarded self.   

You came back to San Francisco after a sojourn from the city to the woods. We spent that day walking and talking, and you described your experience hitchhiking and camping in Marin County – all of its serenity and tranquility. You explained the hesitancy Americans had to let you into their cars, into their reality –  American trepidation. Strangers in a strange land. Was this the same trepidation I had when we met? Did you get this sense from me? Later that night, after the walking, a home-cooked meal of pasta with market-fresh asparagus and a few glasses of wine, you asked about my affinity for filling myself with smoke, which, in the deepest, darkest gullies of my heart lurks like a ghost, keeps me clouded and numb. Pain is not something I prefer because I experience myself as always having had it live inside of me. This is the thing I did not say when you asked me that the question on Spring Street – the city subdued with night turning into day.

You spoke, also, of time – your time is valuable. You cannot get time back. I keep time on my side. I like to think I always have more of it, but what I never acknowledged was time’s relationship to my body. It wears on us. Kindness to the self is what makes time precious, it is how we can appreciate and make the most of the time we have. To honor the self. Tim, your time with me is a reminder of the pervasive impermanence of time. Time, like thoughts and experience, is fleeting. We cannot touch it, only navigate and steer ourselves and our minds toward clarity. Time is precious, just as we, as humans, are precious, and we need to take care of ourselves. Thank you for this reminder and for living by example. You honor your time and your body. You get high from the fruits of this labor.

We are gigantic spirits bound to these fleshy sacks. At your age, 19 years young, I had not yet come into the willingness to take responsibility for myself. I flaunted wild ideas and interacted with people, led by that tickle of inquiry. Who am I when I ask questions? What changes when I open vulnerability’s doors? Though, I never kept that door ajar, only let the light trickle in. I see in you this same curiosity and awakening which brings the unsavory and unknown, the complex and gray matter of the heart into the light.

These are my truths: I am attempting to escape heart-break. (A sobering and new perspective gained as I write these words.) I am alone and I am searching for a home within myself. I am building the foundations for comfort to live inside my heart, to make that muscle stronger. Everything else is a distraction. I am good at distracting myself and telling stories that disguise themselves as truth. Nothing is static.

What are your truths? What dwells in the dark and untouched corners of your heart? The answers to this question can take you higher, can allow you to get access to your own power. Tim, you are lustful and this lust is compulsive. It is neurotic curiosity. As if there were no other alternative for the passing of time, and having gotten to know you, I understand that for you, there is no alternative. Keep smiling at life, Tim. When I remember you, I will think of your bright and innocent smile, folded flat against your face, tightly pinched and held at the corners of your mouth, at the crevice where cheek meets jowls. I will always wonder, “What is it that you are thinking, Tim?”

WIth love,


Letter to a Stranger No. 12

To Turkey,

I have been waiting to write to you. After all, you have been the greatest stranger as of late. But now it seems I have nothing to say except, hello, merhaba! My arrival, our meeting, has been a prospect for five months. You turned from a thought, a desire, to a possibility and then a reality. My reality. Each month my perception of you shifted. But, as the day approached any expectation I desperately clutched concerning you dissolved to pieces—ash in the wind. Now that I am here, I am the stranger and any preconception of myself that I held onto has disintegrated.

I went to New York City, The City, my city, a month before my departure date to get my visa at the Turkish consulate—my very first interaction with this foreign place, with the language, with the customs. I was alone, on my own, walking down 33rd Street, breathing the chilled January air, the tip of my nose and cheeks frozen from the wind, the aroma of garbage and car exhaust quaffing across my face, the sounds of New Yorkers’ footsteps and tidbits of phone conversations buzzing in my head.

A. Lombardi 2011

Everyone was on the move, connected to something other than the moment they were experiencing. I felt the deepest gratitude to be an outsider in the city I identify myself with, to see it with new eyes, to hear and feel every vibration of life on the island. It was the first time I had taken the bus to New York alone. The first time I tread the streets by myself and I thought, “If I can do this, I can do Turkey. I can get on the plane. I can be without my twin. I can discover who I am individually. I can color in the pieces and choose whatever color I want. I will not have to discuss it with anyone! I can be fearless.”

(Though, all of this has taken on a new meaning since my arrival.)

When I landed in Istanbul and stepped off the aircraft I was caught up in the thrush of a Bolivian soccer team. They were a traveling pack, clad in lime green and yellow, and I was not one of them. As soon as their steps exceeded mine I was completely on my own. All my fearlessness disintegrated. I wanted to crawl up into a ball. I wanted to cry. I wanted someone to tell me where to go. I wanted to speak English, to be able to express what I needed clearly. And then it hit me. You hit me all at once. I had waited to meet you for five months. But after getting off of the plane, arriving at my dormitory and night after night of sleeplessness, physical heartbreak and longing to be with my twin, I realized that I had been running away from you while sitting in the same place. Holding time in my head. Telling myself, Turkey is the key, Turkey will teach me what I need to know. But, now I see that you are merely a conduit. As I discover new parts of you, I uncover pieces of myself.

A. Lombardi 2011

You are surrounded by water, two seas encase you and connect both sides of the world. You exist on a divide! Fog hangs over your head everyday. Prayer calls are sung to you five, six times a day. Your people are beautiful. They are passionate. They walk arm in arm with one another and take their time. They enjoy coffee and tea, kahve and cay, I should say, and smoke cigarettes one after another. They have given new meaning to the saying, “You smoke like a Turk.” They eat dinner at nine o’clock, begin their night at eleven, go to the bars, and dance until the sun comes up. You are a city unlike any I could have fathomed. I am a person that I never thought I would be within you.

I am the stranger here–to you, your people, and to myself. Everything about you has taken me by surprise, even my own voice. I look forward to acquainting myself with you, to learning your language, to treading your streets fearlessly. I am my own map and you are the legend in which I will direct myself. Thank you for having me and for all of your sweet disposition.


Letter To A Stranger No. 11

It’s time for another one! Enjoy! And let me know what you think. This is the first time I’ve addressed two letters to the same stranger!

If you missed the first one (To You, Who Is Really Me) check the letters page above and familiarize yourself with the series.

To You (Who is Me?),

The pulse of change is vibrating through my entire being. Now I know that letters to you accompany it. The first time I wrote, you had appeared like a freight train, barreling through my head, taking out every thought in your path. Mass destruction. The most beautiful and difficult kind I have ever endured. Nevertheless, something has changed for good. That vibration. That pulse. It’s constant and invigorating. My body is my own, my thoughts clearly defined, my actions directed forward like the train. But, now I am the conductor, not a passenger. I know where I am heading. I can catch my breath and each molecule of air galvanizes my heart.

At this moment I am sitting on the beach. There are retirees strung along the shore manning fishing poles and I am at peace with my surroundings. The sand, coarse and speckled, is gathering between my toes, my corduroys are rolled up around my calves, the sun is beating against the back of my neck, and the ocean is laid out in front of me like a magic carpet, rolling in and out. You and I, we are not so different from fishing. That pulse, the vibration, has forced me to cast out into the unknown. My line sits in the water, waiting for a catch. But as the saying goes, it’s called fishing, not catching.

I am fishing for things that bite, things worth reeling in and keeping for my own. Though it’s impossible to know what will bite until it is directly in front of me. Sometimes the catch slips away, like you, but I remember that some things are best left to let go of. Because like the ocean and the line, more will flood toward me with the tide, with the hours passing through my body, with each galvanizing breath I take. There is no need to let anxiety overtake me as I wait. The things worth catching will make their way into my hand, onto my line.

I thought I wouldn’t be able to write you another letter. That last one was hard. Me, purging myself of you and all the destruction you carried. Which, I in turn carried inside and held onto so tightly—all that toxicity fermenting in  my blood. It’s funny that when I wrote you last I ended with water. I said, be like water, it is still and we are still because now we are fishing and manipulating its flow.

Letter to a Stranger (Madlibs)

I cleared my head today and found new letters waiting for me to write. Here’s a new one for you all. This one’s interactive. Make it your own. Enjoy!

No. 9

To (insert name, noun, or meaning here),

Here it is. Here you are, (insert name, noun meaning here) , in my letters. I wanted to keep you out, but as always, you’ve resurfaced. You urged me not to leave anything out, to be fearless with my words, to say what I want and give no thought to what anyone thinks, to express everything I’m thinking, to mean what I say and say what I mean. But, when it comes to (name, noun, meaning),I found myself in a constant state of confusion. Confused about what to say, how to say it, what to ask, what not to ask, what to leave unsaid, and so, I held myself at a loss for words.

Then there was a revelation, or maybe it is more of a resolution, personal clarity, a clearing in the trees that started to grow too tall in my head. The whole thing, the back and forth, the uncertainty surrounding you, was part of the process—my process of discovery and growth. Which, in retrospect, you catalyzed. (Insert name, noun, meaning), you were the flint that started a fire which burned out all the old thought patterns, angles of approach and self-doubt in that forest in my head. You allowed me to begin to see me.

More than seeing myself and dealing with all these foreign things you made me feel, I realized that you, (insert name, noun, meaning) , were a part of the equation as much as I was. So, I want to say the thing I always forgot, the thing that constantly slipped my mind, but the thing I intended and meant to tell you all along.

You, (insert name, noun meaning), are a powerful, intense, and beautiful thing. Maybe your blinders are on too often, like mine were. You don’t even realize it. But, you affect everything you come into contact with–whether it is a noun, a verb, or an idea that you are dealing with—you affect everything, as you affected me. I thank you for letting me to see this in you, even if you cannot, because I now see it in myself.

I only ask that you let yourself be as uninhibited and aware as you allowed me to be.


Letter to a Stranger. No 8

The letters are pouring out of me. So here is a short one for you. I want to keep writing to this one, there’s a lot more to say that I can’t find the words for now.

To Crying,

(Concerning your presence as of late)

I cannot breathe. Or hear and absorb and metabolize. Everything stops in my eyes. I can’t say anything because everything talks to you.

Do you understand?

This is you.

My inability to manage everything–thoughts, sounds, people, reactions, anxiety, this somewhat manic perspective I’ve taken on–is my fault. We can put that on the record. Quote me on it. This I know. But you are exploding every second, pockets of air catching on one another, turbulent punches of life, realizations streaming out of my eyes.

Why had you been hiding? What were you waiting for? Because now, I can’t even smile, the thought gets stuck in my eyes too.

You’ve been sitting, sleeping, composing yourself like a symphony inside of my chest for two years. You are speaking now and it is the most eerie silence I’ve ever listened to, it’s astounding. And the sound is focused and textured and sharp. It is rattling every piece of me, everything. And it is so specific that I cannot put words to it. All I can say is, I don’t know, I don’t know. I am mourning.


Letter No. 7

Credit: Zoe Townsend

For Kelly, Zoe, Lindsey, Mark, Greg and Dave.

To the woman driving the mint green mini van on I-40 toward Gallup, NM,

In another life, maybe you could have been my grandmother. I know you’ve seen things. Scarred and callused hands, broad fingers and strong palms. Your hands do not know manicures or delicacy. They have raised children, held grandchildren, put men in their place after too many drinks. Maybe you were a bartender or an outlaw in a past life.

Where are you heading? May I come with you next time? I wanted to be anywhere but where I was when I saw you, the grey pickup that slid past you with the bright blue camper shell. There were four of us in the cabin and it was stuffy and I was hung over and sleep deprived. It was the day of the balloon fiesta, though we bypassed the festival to hike petroglyphs right outside of Albuquerque. Funny how that day keeps coming back to me–the anger and frustration over failed plans that turned to hilarity, the realization that we were in the middle of the desert running on no sleep hiking a dormant volcano, then to sublimity by the end of our hike and the balloons ascension. Was it because of you? Did my optical absorption of your profile blazing by me, your car, and your silence stay with me? Did it change me? Were you the alternative for who I was? The option of solitude which continues to be a stranger.

You were driving alone, your hair pulled back in a tightly wound spiral bun, comb marks still visible, your nose and chin hooking toward one another and I thought for a moment, Gertrude Stein? The 7am sun was finally peaking over the Sandias descending behind us, slicing the sky, yellow, orange and blue stacked on top of one another like a books on a shelf, the remnants of a city and hot air balloons dissolving behind me. We were listening to the Beatles and I bet there was no music in your car, no radio station streaming through the speakers. Were you headed home so early in the morning? Or leaving your house for Gallup or Arizona, even?

I imagine your car has a scent, distinctive to you. Like patchouli. No, not patchouli, maybe pinon or cedar. If I had been a hitchhiker, would you pick me up? Did you want the company? Or were you content? I wanted to be in the car with you, in silence with nothing to say, our thoughts drifting where ever–with the sliding concrete underneath the car or to the dream catcher and prayer card hanging from your rear view mirror. Are you religious and do you have a god or many of them? I need that type of power in my life, I need someone to intervene. My sister recently told me, trust thyself, know thyself, but would you teach me something. Anything. Teach me about solitude. Teach me how to sit. Show me how to be steady like your eyes and your hands and your car. Take me with you and teach me anything, please.


Alas, Letter to a Stranger No. 6

I have finally written it. The exact letter that I have until this point, been petrified to write.

To Home,

Mom talked about it in passing, but it never seemed serious, or plausible. But the talking got louder and compulsive. Then it was constant, though rooted in panic and doubt. After a while it was just words. New job. Change. Florida. College. Change. Santa Fe. Home. New Jersey. Summers. New job. Moving? Change. Jacksonville. Florida? Plane ride. Train ride. Change. Friends. Family here. We there? We might be moving moving. Goodbye. Goodbye.

How does one say goodbye, when they don’t have time to to realize that they’ve taken it all for granted? When he or she drives away from a structure knowing, but unable to understand or comprehend the weight of distance and time and change. And I mean all of this in most literal sense.

And the numbness was ubiquitous. Like novicaine of the mind, thought anestheic. The prescription for avoidance. Side effects—denial. I disconnected myself before they had their foot in the new door—ran away—arms flalling, ears plugged, eyes sewn shut. Took up chain smoking because of all the phone calls during that dry, cold autumn. Dad’s painting the walls, he is re-doing the kitchen, the cabinets are being stripped, the countertops replaced, the house is being packed, your closet is in boxes, do you want to keep all of your old journals and books?

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