By the time you read this, I'll be gone. Love, Stella Artois.

To my love, Cooter.

My real name is Stella. Artois, yes, like the beer- not "Candy", which you have come to know me at the club. I of course wish we could have clarified this at the beginning of our relationship. My mother conceived me one night on a bar counter in Houston, next to NASA, in 1973, with a French engineer passing through town. We always referred to my non-existent father as "Pierre", but the truth is, mother never actually got his name during the one night stand. There's still an occasional twinkle in her eye when she recounts the story of that fateful night. Usually this occurs when she arrives to the part about his French accent, only to immediately frown upon realizing that he then disappeared, leaving her "knocked up", and was never heard from again. She always finishes the story with, "Stella, never trust the French, they're frogs!"

My mother arrived last Sunday for her usual visit, and as normal, through the course of conversation; she persisted to advise me exactly what she thought of me. I've found, through my many years of her rearing, that I cannot win at arguments such as these where my own character is assassinated through cynicism. This time was no different, as I silently crawled into the kitchen in my mobile home to shield myself from her sharp ammunition, just like I had almost every weekend since I was child. While I'll admit that many times in the past, I've felt hurt by her unusual style of parenting; I can attest that this particular occurrence left me even more painfully perplexed, awash in my own self-doubt. Am I really like that? I knew the answer was no. I thought the answer was no. Now the seeds of self-doubt were planted. I was a positive person! Wasn't I? A week earlier I had written a letter to my dear friend Charlotte expressing optimism, beauty, and the gifts of living in this world. Mother did not now this, and I did not care to bring up Charlotte again. She is after-all, not American, and while merely my childhood pen-pal; Charlotte represented everything wrong with me to my mother, because Charlotte was nothing like her. Mother also was always a bit fearful I'd drop everything and take Charlotte up on her offer of living in Antwerp, leaving her behind. "Imagine that! Stella Artois, living in Europe!"- I'd laugh to myself in private, pretending from atop of my bed to channel La  Mode as I wrapped a scarf around my neck, and then cringing when my deep southern twang could not properly pronounce "bonjour!'

My worst fear, is I'm not who I believe I am, that I'm not a good person. So when you, the love of my life, at least for the last week or so, crawled into my body; I asked you to tell me the truth. I expected an endorsement that indeed my life stood for something positive. As silly as that sounds, that's what I needed. I needed consolation, I needed confirmation that my whole world wasn't inside out, yet apparently the truth, according to you, is that, my life fails to reflect such attributes.

So I'm faced with the realization, that I'm this horrible monster, or merely surrounded by people insistent on my own failure, to retain me, to master me. Do you see what you two have done to me? I've created a conspiracy out of my own life. I'm going mad trying to reconcile what I believe to be my reality, with what people now tell me that they think me to be.

So I spent much of last night crying, while you slept beside me. Trying to figure it all out between the dogs howling and your snoring. I wrote out a list of things I did good, and those things which by my own actions resulted in a negative outcome. Then I realized I really didn't care. If I believed I was a good person, then that's all that mattered, right? What I need now is people around me who see me for the person I could be. Maybe I do sing bad, and you will always cringe when you look at my crooked teeth or wrinkled smile, but somewhere out there is someone who hears my song, and doesn't cover their ears. They don't hear finger nails on a chalk board, they hear an opera singer, a rock star, or a sweet lullaby. Somewhere out there, that same person, sees me from just a little be different angle than you do and finds me beautiful, wonderful, maybe even amazing. I'm positive of that.

So by the time you read this, I'll be gone. On some train, or plane, in some foreign country, in some place where Stella Artois is more than me, more than beer, one night stands, or just some story. Maybe one day, our paths will cross again? Maybe, I'll even see my mother again when this letter causes her to abandon her life of indebtedness in that Houston bar, and comes in search of me. There in some tiny in village that she's tracked me down to, she'll walk up to some local woman with a photo of me, a good kind woman in my mother's opinion, and ask her, "Have you seen my daughter?" And I'll reply, "It's me mother! Stella Artois! You've found the real me."

Goodbye, my love.

Stella Artois.

**The above is a work of fiction.


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