By the time I approached the lobby of my apartment building I knew I had not dressed warmly enough. The draft through the entrance door blew so fiercely that I almost decided to take the elevator back up and put on a heavier jacket. These are the minute moments of the day that usually plague me, mostly because I know I will wave off the sensible thing to do and move ahead. This particular Sunday morning I had only a few errands to attend to. With this in mind, I walked quickly to the end of the block on my way to the only dry cleaner in the neighborhood that was open on Sundays. My next stop was the Korean grocery, and then the smoke shop.
Laden with clothes in one hand and a bag of vegetables in the other, I braced myself for the ten-block trek back home. I waited at the crosswalk for the light to change, and as I hurried across the boulevard I noticed an envelope the wind was carrying along. It tumbled with force and I reasoned that the contents, albeit paper, were thick and weighty. Tempted to grab it, I looked up and noticed the crosswalk sign blinking with warning. All I could do was kick it along as quickly as possible until I reached the other side of the street. I dropped my grocery bag, and with one swift motion grabbed the envelope and kept walking.
The phone was ringing when I unlocked my door and guessing that it was my mother, I let the answering machine pick up. Once everything was put in place, I picked up the envelope and noticed that it had a return address as well as one for the recipient. There was no stamp. I weighed the envelope in the palm of my hand and decided it was at least five or six pages long. This was a trick I had picked it up when I began my teaching career. When all the students handed in their homework, I would weigh the pile in my hand as if it were a scale and predict how many students had neglected to do their homework. Usually, I was on the mark, and perhaps off by one or two papers. I’m not sure how I developed this footnote of a talent, but it always impressed the class.
Now only one question remained. I looked at the recipient’s name: Adrian Tross. Surprisingly, his address was close to my neighborhood. The return address did not include a name, but judging from the handwriting it was obvious that it had been written by a woman, and was further away from me than Adrian Tross’s.
I am not by nature a nosey person. Perhaps it was the weight of the letter and the woman’s handwriting that left me stalling for a decision. I put the letter on my dining room table, and made breakfast. The morning moved quietly and slowly as I began grading papers, and managed to finish a pot of coffee before noon. I tried focusing on the all the grammatical errors, fragment and run-on sentences that riddles most every paper, and found myself correcting more than I would usually. Occasionally, my mind would wander and I would glance over at the letter.
It was snowing by one o’clock and I had completed all my work. I even called back my mother and indulged her with a half hour conversation, where she detailed every meal she had made for the week, and the new interest rate of her credit card transfer. There were several people I thought of consulting, but I was determined to make my own decision. The letter was meant to be lost and not mailed. Maybe it was meant for me to send it to its rightful owner. I didn’t know, and after much decision, I didn’t care, because by the time an inch of snow had covered the ground, I had opened it.
Carefully I opened the folded pages; my calculations were wrong. The letter was written on bond paper and in total, four pages long, with both sides covered. The handwriting stood small and upright, the words neatly spaced, as if printed with careful deliberation. Without hesitation, I unplugged my phone and sat cross-legged on my couch.
“Dear Adrian,” it read, “I hope this letter finds you well. I know you are leaving a week before Christmas and I found myself writing you. I also know that we just saw each other at Annie’s party, and you are probably puzzled as to why I have sent you this letter. Understand that by no means do I expect a reply or even an acknowledgement, and you will understand why that is as you read on.
I know you have wanted to leave for quite a while, and you always joked about moving to Germany, and we would laugh about it. I supposed I never thought you actually would, or that Laura would join you. That’s what makes it even more difficult to write this. I am suddenly scared and want to stop, but I have to keep going. I guess at this point I have nothing to lose but my pride, and I don’t think anything can be as overwhelming as this turmoil.
I wish I could tell you all this over a few drinks, because it’s really the only time I feel comfortable enough to say anything to you. I remember once when we were all hanging out, I think it was me, you, Jack, Francine and Tomas, and we had decided to go to that bar on 18th street – do you remember? We both drank everyone under the table and just when I thought it was time to go home, you announced that you wanted everyone over to your place to hang out. We were sitting next to each other, and I remember feeling elated and wanting to hug you or kiss your cheek because I was so happy that the evening wasn’t coming to an end. Under the table you grabbed my hand and squeezed it, almost as if you knew my delight and wanted to reciprocate.
It has been so difficult all these years…… Always wondering if you saw me as anything other than a surrogate sibling, and feeling incredibly lonely. I know we’ve both always been in relationships, and even during those relationships I questioned my feelings for whoever I was with because I never could stop thinking about you. And the fact is, that I didn’t break things off with Joel because we weren’t getting along, as much as it was the fact that knowing you always interfered.
You know I love you, Adrian. I always tell you I love you. I also always have to control my voice to make it sound like a passing comment. But the fact is that I loved you from the day I met you. It sounds so silly and cliché, but it’s true. I am a coward. I know I am because it’s safe for me to send this to you now, since you are leaving and never coming back. I can only assume you won’t because you took so long to make this decision and follow through with it.
I want to ask you not to tell Laura about this letter. I’m not sure why I care because I don’t know when I’ll see either of you again, but I want to know that when I do it will be long after you read this and it won’t matter as much. I’ve tried not to make you matter as much in life, and I feel defeated and pathetic because no matter who I am with or what I am doing, I know that I love you….immeasurably….. even when I’ve tried not to.
I can only assume that you have never felt the same way, because if your feelings had been strong enough you would’ve done something. I know you, Adrian. I know that when you want something, you take it. And not only that, but make it the best it can be. You are so resilient and so positive and so unbelievably passionate about everything you do. Perhaps I see and love those qualities in you because I don’t find them in myself.
There was one moment a few years ago when I had resolved to end my feelings for you. I spent the day looking through pictures of you, and our friends, and I grieved you. It was unbearable, but loving you all those years and containing it was unbearable in a completely different way. Obviously, it didn’t work. Because a week later we all went out and again, we had been drinking, and as you ordered me another drink, you leaned and you said, ‘You’re beautiful’. And at one point you told me you loved me. But that’s what everyone tells each other when they’re drunk and reeling and having a great time. It was those evenings that made me question if you loved me, and it would send me through the same spiral of hope and desperation.
I guess that’s it. I don’t want to send this to you, but I’m going to feel like an even bigger coward if I don’t. I wish I had known you all my life – it would make your leaving easier and I’d have more memories of you.
I would appreciate it very much if when you contacted me you didn’t mention any of this. Please pretend you didn’t read it. I know it’s also selfish because I’m writing this letter for me, and not because I want to disrupt what you have with Laura, although that would be selfish in a different way altogether.
Thanks for reading this.
With great affection,
By the time I was finished, I had read the letter five times over. I had practically smoked half my cigarettes. There was suddenly, a great weight in my chest and I sat back on the couch, frozen with thought. Now I knew I couldn’t call anyone. I was too embarrassed with myself, and hated the idea of relaying any of the incriminating details that lead to this dilemma. The options were enumerable and unsatisfying, and at one point I considered re-inserting the letter, copying the addresses onto a fresh envelope, and leaving it in it’s exact location outside on the boulevard.
Finally, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote carefully.
You don’t know me. I found your letter in an unstamped envelope on the boulevard. I am ashamed to say that curiosity got the best of me and I took home the envelope, and don’t know why. Furthermore (and much to my surprise), I found myself opening up your letter and reading it. I don’t know what was meant to happen with or to this letter, but I thought the rightful owner, the sender, should make that decision. It is far too important a one for a stranger to make.
I deeply apologize for this random intrusion. Best of luck to you, sincerely.
Best wishes and hopes,
I carefully folded all the papers together and tucked them neatly into an envelope. As I recopied her address, I began thinking if there was something more important that I was supposed to do. Perhaps this lovely Sophie had stood on the corner of Queens Boulevard, exasperated with her cowardice and tossed the letter into the middle of the street, with the hopes that fate would take over. And how soon after had I found it? The envelope was not only intact, but virtually unmarked and unscathed by the abuse of the traffic and trampling pedestrians.
If this letter was not read by the Adrian that Sophie loved so dearly, all their lives would be consumed by the inevitability of their own path. If this arbitrary surrender to fate was truly Sophie’s intent, I can think that perhaps she would wait through a four-month grace period, never hearing from Adrian, and either assuming that he received the letter and didn’t reciprocate or had never read the letter at all. As far as Adrian was concerned, he would move to Europe with his girlfriend, and never know about Sophie’s feelings.
I had read the letter over so many times, and still wondered if he did love her… “Under the table you grabbed my hand and squeezed it, almost as if you knew my delight and wanted to reciprocate.” In reading the letter, I couldn’t assume that Sophie was delusional in the least. And yet, wondered that despite all these “signs” being visible and obvious, perhaps Adrian was just a flirt, or unusually affectionate. It would then be easy for Sophie, smitten with his attention, to hope that he loved her.
I saw my breath form clouds in the air as I walked through my neighborhood that evening. When I found the house there was a young man shoveling the snow surrounding a parked car in his drive way. I stood across the street and watched him as I smoked a cigarette. Every few turns, he emitted a grunt and tossed the snow into the street. There was only one light on in the back of the house, and it seemed there was no one in the vicinity except for him.
I crossed the street and stood under the bright lamp with my hand in my pocket feeling the torn edge of the envelope.
“Excuse me,” I said.
He turned around and waited. His brown, shoulder-length hair was tucked behind his ears, and his cheeks were pinched pink from the cold.
“I found this,” I said, and pulled the letter out of my pocket. “And I’m afraid I read it,” I added, and forced myself to look at him as I handed him the letter. Before he could ask I interrupted his thoughts and said, “I found it on the street not too far from here. I thought you would want to read it.”
“Thanks,” he said, and held the envelope. He narrowed his eyes and looked at me.
“I’m not being weird,” I said. “I really just found it, I swear.”
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”
I crossed the street again and when I was sure he wasn’t looking I stepped behind a car parked behind a large tree and watched. He pulled out the thick folded pages and took off his gloves. He must have taken just as long to read the letter as I did. He face remained expressionless, but every so often he slowly shook his head. When he was finished I saw his breath under the streetlight, exhaling. He pressed his brow with the palm of his hand, as if he were massaging it. He stared into the cold. Finally, he walked into the house and shut the door behind him, leaving his shovel behind and his gloves in the snow.
Pen Pusher – April 2008