Letters From the East
June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
“One day I held a letter in my hand
He signed his name
Ripped it open, and my soul bent as the words began”
Letters from the east did not come very often. Once or twice in every few months you could find a letter wedged into your mailbox, the address on the back barely legible from the unkempt writing. You were lucky if the break between the letters was a month or two. Usually it was more.
It kills you when it’s more. It’s unbearable and you check for his illegible handwriting everyday only to find letters with perfectly printed addresses and your name in block capitals at the top. It is bills and junk mail and letters from people whom you were in contact with all too often. It is almost never him.
He called once, the caller ID reading unknown. You had given him the phone number, never expecting him to use it. He had no phone. He had given you no number. Still, he called you.
He whispered “hello” as if he was afraid. You didn’t recognise him. How could you? You asked him who he was. He replied with his name and you had to stop[ed yourself from screaming loud or dancing around the room or exclaiming with delight. Instead you greeted him back. Gently, calmly.
You talked all night, you fell in love with his voice and the way he spoke so softly, making every single word count. You could hear the smile in his voice, or maybe you just hoped you could because you spent the whole night smiling from ear to ear. You parted with a soft goodbye and nothing more, wishing that it could have been longer, that it could have been different. That was the first and last time you heard his voice.
Now, you wait at the kitchen counter, drinking a mug of tea, as you do every morning, and hoping that letter comes today with his handwriting on the back of the envelope, your name at the top of the letter with an address that you can’t even read. Your daily life is almost eventless, a day-to-day routine you follow without particular benefits to be reaped. The letters are the highlights to your days and weeks and months.
You did not remember when it was that you fell in love with him. You just remember knowing one day that he was special, more special than the little boy whose hand you had held walking home in fifth grade and more special than the man who had kissed you under the stars in your second week of college. What was it about him that you fell in love with? You didn’t know. You had only met him once, many years ago when he had shyly avoided your gaze. You barely even got a look at his face. He spoke very few words.
Yet, here you were, many years later, waiting for a partially legible letter from the shy boy who couldn’t even glance at you, wondering when, how and why you fell in love with him. Was it his words? You couldn’t be sure. He wrote in broken English often. He was not a native speaker and he never attempted to be poetic with the words he wrote. Yet, his letters had the ability to bring you to tears, to cause your hands to shake with grief or excitement or happiness; sometimes they even shook so hard that your fingers could not keep grasp of the paper any longer. You read every letter over and over again, until you could remember each like the back of your hands. You carried a piece of him, the words that he chose to share with you, everywhere you went. You remembered his words on the most random of moments, the words that he wrote on the tip of your tongue. And you never knew when you fell in love with his words.
Maybe it was his voice, you thought, and the way he speaks gently so that every word is crucial. You still treasure that one long phone conversation where you tread on eggshells, unsure of how he felt, what he felt. You were unsure of what you felt too, only aware that hearing his voice made your heart beat too fast and your palms too sweaty.
You never believed in the one, you still don’t, but you know that he is special, that he is different. You have kissed men and held their hands and spent months in their company without ever feeling like you do every time you read one of his letters. Yet, you have barely glanced at his face. You couldn’t say what the colour of his eyes were, nor the colour of his hair. But you know that he made you feel like no one else ever did despite being far, far away. You treasure every one of his words; every letter and that singular phone call.
You are in love and you both hate it and love it because he will never love you back and you will never be together. But that feeling when you grasp his letters close to you and read every word as if your life depends on it; that feeling is worth it.