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Travel means embraces, whether coming or going, but that's because I hardly ever travel. When I travel, I go home: I live in Manhattan and my family lives in California. I spend vacations there, back to the arms of my hometown.
It's only lately that I've been traveling for readings -- business trips, essentially -- with no one embracing me on either end. This is a lonely kind of traveling, moving around without any familiarity of the destination; it provokes in me a kind of nostalgia. The cramped isolation of the plane, the ride from the airport, and the strange silence of hotels allow me to do nothing but be alone in my thinking.
To ward off the loneliness, I write letters, small dispatches from wherever I might be, grateful that the unfamiliarity of travel prompts a new awareness of my surroundings. I don't write postcards, which for me are shorthand for obligation, but a real letter, a sit-down that requires some time to put pen to paper; then the search for a mail drop or a concierge who will take my letter gladly.
Dear Angel, they begin, wherever I happen to be (a nickname, because he wore the Thierry Mugler cologne). From a lunch counter in Austin, still shaky a day after a turbulent descent into Houston. From behind a coffee shop window in Chicago, looking out at the early November flurries. From a beachside bar in Miami, where he used to live, but still I took time to describe the palm trees swaying, the red-tile roofs, the sea-salt air in every crevice along the streets, because we all want to remember the places we love best.
Dear Angel, I write, because I know he comes home tired in the late hours, as we all do, and to open the mailbox to find a note that says he's been on my mind is a tiny gift with no ribbon.
It's hard to explain to my friends why I do it. Aren't you over him?, they ask. Maybe I'm not. How do I explain it, while at the same time urge others to do it, to take the time to slow down, gather thoughts, and write? Take notice of things, like yesterday a beautiful man on Santa Monica Boulevard with long brown hair and a green shirt, writing in his portfolio; he was left-handed and had to put down his pen to smoke.
I may not have noticed this in New York, safe at home, but while traveling to a strange city, trying to situate myself quickly, details give me comfort, if only as a way to have someone with me: Angel, I want you to imagine this. I wish you were here to witness.
Get a blank card: no sentiment, just the blank space you need to fill. Dear Angel, I always begin, those words always enough when it's someone you love. Though sometimes I use his real name when I don't feel the old feeling. Dear Angel, I'm trying to explain, early-morning Los Angeles, clouds breaking up, eating breakfast alfresco.
A letter as a gift, sometimes even reciprocated. His first letter back was a sweet fumble: sitting at a saltwater pool in Miami, then dipping in, the taste of salt making Angel hungry. I could close my eyes and see it. That's the purpose of letters. Wish you were here. Wish I were there. Whichever sounds less selfish. Dear Angel, I'm trying to explain. I always close with the specifics: This is exactly when I thought of you, away from home. Love, Manuel. Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 7:43 A.M., Los Angeles, Calif.
Manuel Munoz is the out author of The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue and Zigzagger.