Letters ICI

Written February 27, 2008

Ever notice how French toast tastes better at brunch than if you made it yourself? Perhaps it is the indulgence of not having to prepare it or clean up or maybe its the thicker bread, the slightly salty egg, the mixing with maple syrup in a proportion that I just can’t seem to make at home.

We used to come here for brunch when we started going out. They are slow and aggravating, but the food is sublime. In addition to the French toast here, you have to order the mushroom soup with truffle oil (yes for brunch), and something on the menu literally called “bacon with fat” – as if bacon did not already have fat.

“Bacon with fat” is a quarter-inch-thick slice of bacon cooked just crispy, but still chewy, and though I am the kind of person who cuts the fat from the rind of a steak, you can’t help but eat the whole thing.

We were back visiting for the weekend and were just finishing brunch. The waitress cleared off our plates and took an additional five minutes before she came back with the check; never mind that she never came back to fill our water. As we got up to leave, I noticed that someone had left something on the table next to us.

It was not a flyer, or notes for someone’s homework-the laid paper caught my attention along with the writing that was formed by a loving hand. The letter started with “My Dearest Melissa.”

“Excuse me, I think someone left something important,” I said to the waitress.

“Pardon me?” She replied.

“I think someone left something important.” I repeated and pointed to the letter on the table.

Michael looked like he wanted to go and didn’t see what the big deal was.

“Oh that,” she said. “Some guy comes in on the weekends and writes these long letters to someone named Melissa and just leaves them there. I read a couple of them at first, but now I just clear them away.”

I was troubled by this. Someone who writes letters and leaves them behind definitely ranked as interesting to me. After all, who hasn’t written letters and been afraid to mail them? But this guy leaves them for other people to read, like performance art or something.

“Can I have it?” I asked. Michael rolled his eyes and looked at his watch. We had a train to catch and he wanted to get there early so that we could get seats together. I gave him a glare in return.

“Sure, I was going to throw it away anyway.”

“You were? You didn’t happen to keep any of the other ones did you?”

“Like I said, I read one or two of them, but I throw them away now. I might have one or two somewhere, back when he first started coming.”

Michael said we had to run if we were going to catch our train. Helpless, I gathered my things.

“I can have this right?” I asked again.

“Sure, why not?”

“Do you know where the other letters are? The ones you kept?”

“I don’t know; somewhere at home.”

Michael went outside to wait.

“If I give you my address would you send them to me?”

“Why is this so important to you?” The waitress looked at me suspiciously.

“I don’t know; something about it interests me, something important.” I fingered the thickness of the stationery and felt the cotton in the paper.

“Look lady, I probably threw them away already, I don’t keep junk around long.”

I took out my pen and wrote my address on a napkin. The burgundy fountain pen ink bled into the paper and made a mess. Sometimes, a ball point pen has its advantages.

“Take this will you; if you happen to find them I would be interested to read them.”

“Whatever lady, I can’t guarantee anything though.”

“Thank you, if you find them, send them; if you don’t, its okay.”

Michael poked his head back into the restaurant.

“Look, I have to go, thanks for your trouble.” I said.

“I’m not guaranteeing anything lady,” she said again and stuffed the napkin into an apron pocket. Then looking at what to had to be desperation on my face, she grudgingly relented. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, thank you ma’am,” I said and sloppily put on my coat as I hurried out the door.

Michael asked if I got what I was looking for; I showed him the letter and told him the waitress was going to try to find the letters she had. Michael nodded like he cared, but he was walking quickly to the subway. We had a train to catch.

It wasn’t until I was on the subway that I realized I could have asked the waitress to pass a message on to the guy who wrote the letters. It wasn’t until we were on the train back to DC that I wished I had. The salty taste of bacon with fat lingered in my mouth.

We’ve all written letters that were a little too close to the truth to mail. Things we wanted to say to people; crushes unrevealed; apologies that would hurt too much. There are a number of reasons that we write them; I know that is what diaries are for; to write what is in your heart and, though no one will ever read them, you have got to say them out loud-at least on paper. Reading a letter like this is like reading someone’s journal.

Some of us just can’t write diaries or journals. I always think that someone some day is going to read them after I am dead and I am afraid of looking foolish when they do. Michael thinks this is idiotic since I will already be dead, but I don’t care – it is actually the reason I dabble at writing fiction, it serves the same purpose, getting emotion out, but at the same time it gives me some anonymity, some protection.

This whole blogging thing really freaks me out. A friend of mine sent all of us the details of his heartbreak online; I couldn’t do that, my emotions are too much my own.

Daniel’s letter, that is the name of the guy who wrote the letter, was never meant to make it to Melissa, and it broke my heart to read it.

The letter begins with “this is another letter I will never send you.” I suppose if he sent her the letters, assuming he wrote them once a week, it could be construed as obsessive or even stalking, but here was a poor guy who is clearly in love with Melissa, but makes it a point not to tell her.

Michael points out that he could still be stalking her and writing these on the side, but I like to think otherwise. I am a sucker for beautifully written things, and the fact that Daniel’s letter is written on laid paper with what looks like a fountain pen, lends to the romance of the writing.

Michael, was annoyed that I almost made us miss the train and we ended up having to sit across the aisle from each other. We fought the whole way home.

From what I can gather from the letter, Daniel has loved or has secretly loved Melissa for a long time, though he didn’t know it at first. He references a deep friendship and a love for the conversations they have had. Apparently Melissa has recently gotten married, and – this is the part that gets me – instead of professing his love for her, Daniel writes that her happiness is more important and writes these letters instead.

Michael says that if he loved her he would have said something, that he would have fought for me if I had been about to marry someone else. But there is something very honest about what Daniel is saying, about letting go because he wants her to be happy. I am not sure if I am just sappy or if there is something to it. I just can’t help but wonder if that kind of nobility is right when you are in love. Love is sometimes necessarily selfish.

Over the next couple of days I read and reread the letter, looking for insight into Daniel’s life and his psyche. Unrequited love can linger even after finding happiness. I hope it doesn’t prevent Daniel from finding someone of his own. It bothers me that he leaves the letters out for people to read, as if he is looking for someone to help him, and goodness knows I feel like I want to help him.

He mentions friendship and very deep conversation; he references something Melissa must have said about the night and the phone stripping away masks and facades leaving only souls to speak to one another. It rings true to me and echoes what I have felt as well. Michael and I met when we were living in different cities and much of our early relationship was over the phone. There was an intimacy to the conversations of those days and even now, when we get into huge fights, Michael will go to the other room and call me from his cell phone to talk and when we do, it does strip away the masks and facades, and we find ourselves talking to just ourselves.

Love is pedantic in real life and that is the beauty of it. I am not disparaging being in love at all, but the reality of loving someone every day is not like the ups and downs of falling in love – though you have to fall in love again every so often to make it work. No, what I mean is that there is something wonderful about shopping together, eating together, brushing your teeth together.

Being together is part of the every day. It is not the tumultuous emotional rollercoaster of a Hollywood movie, nor is it the giddiness of the honeymoon so much as it is knowing that you can count on the other person and feel beautiful at the same time. It makes me think about unrequited love, and what it was like to be single and waiting for love.

I feel like the intensity of the emotions of being young was incredibly pure – vivid and alive. I remember being lonely and hurting and wanting and those emotions were like a live wire feeding your angst. When you think about it, feeling so alive, you can actually miss it, though logically you would never want to be there again. If you have not been so ridden with angst before, it is like when you are frightened in a nightmare or blissfully happy in a dream – because there is no filter of reality, the emotion is completely pure and vivid – it feels good, but is completely unreal.

I worry that Daniel is feeding on the intensity of that emotion, the fact that he loves this friend so much can very noble, or very scary. In the letter he says he is voluntarily keeping away. I can relate, I have very close guy friends with people that we had some chemistry before in the past, but never acted on it – they are some of my closest friends. One of them even calls me when he wants to “talk with someone beautiful.”

When I think back to dating and the intensity of the loneliness I felt, I miss it in a perverse way. I would never give up the happiness I have now, but I liken it to heroin. It feels so intense that even after you give it up and embrace the honesty of a good and healthy life, it lingers in the back somewhere like a craving making happiness seem a little grey.

The waitress never sends the letters. I wait for weeks and fret over getting them. I drive Michael nuts. I know it is unlikely, but I hold out hope and drawing it out like that is agony and messes up my days. I don’t like to think I am obsessed, but Michael says I am.

I want to know more of the story, so I write the diner in hopes of getting in touch with Daniel. There is so much I want to ask. I want to think there is closure not just for Daniel, but for me as well. For another week I hear nothing, if feels like an eternity.

Finally, when Michael is away, I make French toast with the left over sandwich bread; microwave bacon is a miracle and is crispy in just thirty seconds; I feel gourmet and sprinkle powdered sugar onto my plate and find some blueberries in the refrigerator. I wish I had some mushroom soup, but that is outside of my abilities.

The mailbox is empty again, so I call information and get the number of the diner. I call and after some difficulty explaining that I want to speak to a particular waitress, no I don’t know her name, she has brown hair, ties her hair in a bun, works on weekends and so on, I finally get to talk to her.

“Hi, you may not remember me, I am sorry I didn’t get your name. I was there a couple of months ago and found the letter on the table, you said that you may have saved a couple of letters?”

Her name is Janet, she remembers me, and does not have any more letters.

“I am sorry to hear that, are you certain you looked?” The instant I say it, I know I am being annoying.

She tells me that she didn’t find anything.

“Perhaps you could leave my number for him, it is urgent that I talk to him.” I really need to find out why he writes these letters, how he is and if he is in contact with Melissa.

“Wouldn’t be any use, darling.” Jane says.

“Wouldn’t be any use,” not “I don’t think I can do that.” My heart stops. He is surely dead. Unrequited love, letters to nowhere, broken heart.

“He’s okay isn’t he?” I ask.

“Wouldn’t know,” Janet replies. “He stopped coming here after you and you husband came.”

“So there aren’t any more letters?”

Her laugh is brittle. “No lady, there aren’t any more letters. Look, I can tell you are broke up about it, but I don’t know anything else.”

I thank her for her time and hang up the phone. All sorts of scenarios run through my head, and though my first reaction was that he killed himself, I convince myself otherwise. I decide that he is probably okay; that he found someone for himself; and though he has feelings for Melissa, that he can outgrow the angst even if, from time to time, he spends a nostalgic moment or two over her.

He ended his letter with: “when we are eighty, perhaps we can spend time in a café and catch up on life together.” Perhaps when they are eighty they will. I am hopeful. For now, I take my sandwich bread French toast and microwave bacon and watch the morning begin.