Love's Letter Lost
From Better Than Bad
Happy birthday! I miss you already, more than I can really explain. It's only been three weeks, but it feels like three years. I can't believe I'm missing your birthday, I can't believe I had to go. There's a lot I can't believe right now, everything here feels so different. Feels so, I don't know, distant? Even though this is where I am right now, I feel like I've left most of myself behind with you.
Sorry! It's just that there's no one here I can really talk to about any of this. Well, about anything at all really…
Ah, Sorry! Here I am, being depressing, on your birthday! How was it? I tried my best to time this so it would arrive for your birthday, but I'll bet it didn't. So yes, I know this isn't actually your birthday. Though that's your own fault for being inconveniently born over a public holiday weekend. I hope you like your present, I mean, I bought it, so obviously I know you will. HOPEFULLY, I've left some sort of good impression on you, and you read this card before you opened your present. Of course, I won't hold my breath.
Mum wanted me to tell you to enjoy your first drink, she's so naïve. She still believes that we met in the after-school study class. I'll always remember it Adam, sixteen years old and blind drunk. We were in Jamie's parent's room, remember? The music downstairs was so loud that all the photos were shaking in their frames. We were making out, and you went looking for a condom in Jamie's Dad's drawer. It wasn't his drawer, it was his mum's, and you found, well, you found what you found. I've never laughed so hard in all my life! The way I'm feeling now I'm not sure I'll ever laugh that hard, or at all, ever again. Everything's just so hollow. I've barely spoken to anyone since we moved. Mum and Dad are treating me like I'm made of glass.
Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!
I knew I should have written this in pencil so I could rub all the sappy crap out!
Happy birthday Adam! I wish I could be there! I hope Mark took good care of you seeing as I couldn't.
I love and miss you more with every day!
Forever loving and not ever forgetting you,
Now that I have your attention, and no doubt anger over calling you Stephanie, happy birthday!
It's your turn to turn eighteen and Mum, not being as naïve as yours, said you can finally throw away my sisters' ID and use your own!
You, being you, will read this card before you unwrap your present. So before you do, count to three, then lower your expectations. I wasn't really sure what to get you? My first thought was to send myself, but I'm far too delicate to be posted! In any case, I think I've done all right! Right?
It's almost been a year since I saw you in person. Skype's good and all, but I still miss you. I miss seeing you and holding you. Honestly, I don't think there's been a day when I haven't thought about you. It's in the first few moments after I wake up that you come to life. You know when you wake up, and there are those first few seconds where you're not really a person, you're just, a thing? Then your memories realise you're not still in a dream and take back over? That moment, that's when I start thinking about you.
You weren't wrong about the whole writing in pen thing, I'm stuck with that sentence forever now!
I know we've missed a few of each other's calls, we don't write or even Skype as much, but I still love you Steph. I'm not sure that I'll ever stop.
Happy birthday you crazy crazy thing! I'm still going to try and come up during the holidays if I can!
Remember me? I certainly hope you do!
I know we haven't really spoken for a few years, and that yes, we've both missed a few birthdays. Look at that! I am for once conceding that it's not entirely your fault! Life kind of got away and got in the way for us, didn't it? I've still got you on Facebook, you've probably noticed the stray Like here and there. I know I have! (You creep…)
You're living in America! That's brilliant! Remember we used to talk about moving there together. We were going to have a shitty little apartment in New York, it would be too cold in winter and too hot in summer and in autumn you were going to bitch about the leaves you had to sweep out of the gutters. It's funny how this, what you're doing right now, was going to be our future. Instead, it's become our past without actually happening. I promise to use pencil next time I write to you...
I graduated! Everyone else threw their hats but me, it was too nice. Shut up, you know what I'm like! I did pretty well, not top of the class or anything, but I've already lined up some interviews. Mitch (sorry, too late now, blame the pen). Anyway, I wasn't going to bring him up, we haven't been together for that long yet, I doubt it will really go anywhere. Well anyway, he was there. Mum took a polaroid of the two of us and as it was developing his face kind of looked like yours. My God, I'm being weird, sorry!
I hope this hasn't made you angry? I know we didn't really break up, but we didn't really stay together either. You always said you'd visit soon. I guess I just got tired of asking how soon. I don't blame you, it's all right. Really!
Happy birthday Adam!
I'm writing this on your birthday, so however long it does actually take to get to you, it still doesn't count as belated. Disclaimer out of the way: Happy birthday!
I had to delete my old Facebook, too many incriminating photos and not enough potential employers. I looked you up before I did, but I couldn't seem to find you? On that note, I have no idea where you actually live these days, so I've sent this to your parent's house. Hopefully, it finds its way to you from there.
I don't know why I've chosen this particular birthday to get in touch. Well, to be honest, that's not true. Truth is, I kind of do. Ok, the truth is I absolutely do.
I've been thinking about you a lot lately. Not on purpose. You've just kind of been there, not as a happy memory or a sad memory, just as a girl I used to know. Full disclosure: a girl I think I still love.
I may as well just come out and say it. I'm going through a pretty bad breakup right now. You won't be surprised to hear that it's my fault. I sabotaged things, and I don't know why. It's made me think about you and about every girl I ever dated after you, and the fundamental problem they all had.
They weren't you, Steph. That was their problem. I knew this girl and I wouldn't work pretty much from the moment we met. I can even pinpoint the exact moment the glass broke for me. Her name's Jess. Anyway, the other night, I slipped and called her Steph. She didn't correct me. She just stared at me for a moment, smiled, then carried on like nothing happened. You wouldn't have let me get away with that! You would have kicked and screamed then said nothing at all for at least a week. That's what I wanted her to do, but she didn't do it. You're who I was waiting for her to be but the moment never came. This is the direction this card was going to go. It's funny that I don't feel at all weird for saying these things to you. We used to blame the pen, remember? I think we both saw through that. I could have written this entirely in pencil and not erased a word. I hope you're doing well, I hope you've forgotten me and don't recognise the name at the bottom of this letter. I hope there's someone in your life who doesn't remind you of me in the slightest and I hope that that's ok.
I hope you have, are having, and have had a happy birthday Steph!
Happy birthday Adam. I'm angry at you, Adam. I'm angry at you like I haven't been for years. I'm angry at you because last week I got married. I'm angry because last week you weren't at my wedding. I'm angry because I didn't invite you to my wedding and most of all I'm angry because it isn't you that I married.
It's been a few years since your last card. I still have it, you know. It's hidden away in my drawer where Stephen (my husband) can't find it. I've lost the others over the years, but I still have that one.
I loved that card. It made me feel like I'd won. I know how petty that sounds, but you said it, I'll kick and scream and be silent for several years. The way you felt, the way you described yourself in your last card, is exactly how I feel now. I'm so angry, Adam because it means I didn't win at all. I ran through the finish line only to realise that it wasn't a sprint, it was a fucking marathon.
I spent years convincing myself you weren't worth it. I deleted you and blocked you from my Facebook. Did you know that? I slammed my laptop closed then opened it five minutes later to see if you'd noticed.
I love Stephen, I really do. We have our fights, and then we move on, but the one thing I can't forgive him for is for not being you. I hate myself. I married Stephen but am forever betrothed to you.
I pictured us at the ceremony, not us now, us at eighteen. I don't even know what you look like now. We were eighteen, and we were getting married, and all our school friends were there. Then I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was twenty-eight, they were all gone, and I was marrying someone who wasn't you.
I love Stephen for not being you, and I hate you for not being him.
The house is very quiet right now. The kids are at their mother's place. I suppose you didn't even know I was married, let alone divorced! Well anyway, it dawned on me that it would be your birthday in a few days. So, happy birthday!
I hope you're still married, I could be ambiguous and pretend I didn't remember his name, but I do. I genuinely hope both you and Stephen are together and well. There's no way I can make that seem truly sincere is there? An ex-wife and two kids, where does the time go? It feels like only yesterday I was eighteen and in your daydream, getting married in front of all our old school friends.
I told my ex-wife about you once. She listened with a kind of sweet sadness and said, 'Well, lucky now you have me!' I meant it when I agreed. Then a few years later, we had two little boys, Phillip and Jake. Phillip's six and Jake's eleven. They're good kids, brilliant kids in fact! My ex isn't entirely bad either really. We speak amicably, though not often. Honestly, I think about you more than I speak to her. Sometimes when I'm playing in the yard with the boys, I'll look into the empty living room window and imagine you bustling about in there.
I hope I don't sound possessive? I've lived a life perfectly fine without you. As I assume you have without me. However, you're the one that got away, without ever actually going anywhere.
I hope you have kids of your own, I hope you don't look through your living room window and picture me instead of Stephen. If for no other reason than that I've gained some weight these last few years...
Happy birthday Steph, I hope your family is good to you.
I've lost all your letters, I've forgotten what you ever looked like, and I'll be perfectly honest, I don't actually know when your birthday will be. Still, a tradition is a tradition, so happy birthday!
It's been decades since I last heard from you, I must admit, I don't remember the particulars of your last letter, I remember you mentioning two young boys and an ex-wife. I hope your boys have grown into men and that you've remarried and found the happiness in this world that you truly deserve.
I mean that. You've been such a big part of my life without actually being involved in the majority of it. I'm an old woman now, as I assume you're an old man. I'm sure, like me, you never saw it coming. Then, one day, you woke up and didn't recognise the face in the mirror.
My daughter just dropped by to check up on me, she worries. Her name's Annette. We call her Anna for short. I think she would have just preferred it if that's what we'd called her in the first place! Stephen and I wanted a boy as well, but it was never meant to be. Annette, on the other hand, has two boys and a girl!
I'm a grandmother! You can get used to a lot in this world, but being called Granny isn't something that comes easy.
I suppose I've chosen today out of the thousands that have passed, mainly because I'm lonely. Stephen passed away last month. There was no illness. He just passed in his sleep. We loved each other very much. It felt to me like we were still on page one. It seems cruel that the universe can suddenly decide to stick a full stop in your life and that's that, the story's all over.
I miss Stephen. I miss him so much.
Well anyway, I'm sorry to burden you. Maybe you can reread this on your actual birthday (whenever that might be) then maybe it won't seem as outrageous as it actually is.
I'm missing you now more than ever.
Happy birthday. I know it's highly unlikely that it is your birthday, or that you'll even receive this at all. Still, I'll say what I will. I'm not very well, Adam. This could be the last chance I have to wish you a happy birthday. I believe I've seen the last of my own.
The doctors and my family fuss, they want to make me comfortable. They all mean well, but I find it very frustrating. No matter.
Adam, I just wanted to say goodbye. It's as simple as that really. I still adore the high school boy who was my first love, and as it turns out my last love. I always had this idea in the back of my mind see, I'd be doing the shopping with Stephen, and I'd hear someone behind me say, 'Steph?' Stephen and I would both turn around, and there you'd be! I'd smile and introduce you to Stephen as the man who'd started it all, and then I'd introduce Stephen as the one worth finishing it with. We'd all laugh and go our separate ways, and that would be the end of Steph and Adam. Instead, that day never came, and you became Adam without Steph and I Steph without Adam.
Really, I was Steph with Stephen, and I think that makes me happier than anything in the world. I miss him more than you, but I have the chance to say goodbye to you, Adam.
So happy birthday and goodbye, my love.
The old man watches the funeral from a distance. He knows he won't be recognised. The only person here who knew him is the one he's come to see. Yet he still tries to blend with the scenery. He tries not to laugh because it doesn't seem appropriate, but he realises he needn't try that hard to be inconspicuous. An old man in a cemetery? Somebody call the cops! The suit he has on he hasn't worn for years. It's too big for him now and hangs lazily from his shoulders, making him wonder who is wearing who. He's aware of only two things in this world; the funeral wrapping up in front of him, and a small white card, carefully concealed in his blazer pocket.
Family and friends are hugging each other as the old man dips his fingers into his blazer pocket. His heartbeat quickens, and his nerves begin to tingle as his fingertips graze the paper.
The funeral ends and leaves him alone in the graveyard. He can hear car doors close, engines start, and cars tentatively edge away through the carpark. He strolls, almost lovingly, through the headstones. He comes to a stop at a grave, mounded with fresh soil. His eyes wash over the headstone, the man skips a breath as he recognises the name. His back aches as he bends down and places the small white card on the woman's grave, then he has to pull hard on an invisible winch to lift himself back up. The man says nothing. He turns and is followed to the carpark by a brisk autumn wind which washes a sea of golden brown across the graveyard, the small white card flips open.
The words seize their chance. The forbidden symmetry of two hearts finally aligns as the words escape the page and enter eternity.
I love you very much.
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