Secret Letters

I found him by chance. A story he wrote landed in front of my eyes, read on a silly afternoon.

It was a snippet about a new city, its sights, the smell, the people. I walked with him through the streets, heard his voice; accented and perfect pronunciation mixed in static noise — like sounds coming out from those boxes we used to call radios. I met the people he met, the ones he longed for in his words that gave my heart paper cuts. I coloured in the rooms and the coffee tables and chairs where he sat people-watching. I coloured in the coat he wore. I coloured in the sky, but he wrote it was cerulean, so I could be cheating.

He was a ghost between fiction and truth, I never knew which. His story was even worse, or better, I never knew which. Words dripped truth wrapped in caresses that left me bare to the knowledge that we were both alone and often lonely. He resonated, and though I knew in my head it wasn’t only me, it felt like I was on the other end of the string. It felt like his arrow could only find it’s home in me.

I would say I craved his words, but it wasn’t with the heated passion of a lover. It was a craving in winter. I followed him, not like a stalker, but some nights I would browse through the piles for a new piece from him. Some nights I would reopen and relive the echoes his words brought in into fractures I never knew existed. I could’ve reached out, but that would break whatever illusion I had of us. That would be giving this familiar stranger some power I dare not relinquish. So instead of allowing him to break my heart, I chipped it away with chisels of my own making.

One day I decided to start writing, though I knew I couldn’t possibly compare to his skills and imagination. I wrote secret letters that he would never read, I wrote like his stories were letters to me and he was waiting for my reply. I wrote my part of our conversation. In my mind, I was spending the days with him, just listening to his stories, just like in his stories.

Then one day, a note: “Hi, this is great work. It spoke to me.”

Somewhere, something was falling without sound.

I had to reply, so I chose a cautious short ambiguous reply, “Thank you. I’m a fan of your work too. Please keep writing.”

To my surprise, we continued the conversation; I discreetly continued writing my story-letters and wondered if he would put the two together. We told little bits about ourselves; small hints that highlighted our distance. We were separated by 3 timezones, 6,821 km, and 11 years. Any one on its own was enough. Together, the three numbers were unspoken clauses in a service level agreement we would never sign.

Yet when I read his notes, the static in that radio voice disappeared and there was only his — still in that perfect pronunciation. When he read my notes, he said he laughed out loud. Sometimes those three numbers between us shrank to a background watermark in my sanity, where if-only-jets flew and skywrote impossible words.

He wrote about cats, I wrote about dogs.

He wrote about old music, I wrote a listicle of my favourite songs.

He wrote about travelling, I wrote about home renovating.

He wrote about broken hearts, I wrote about loving an invisible man.

Then he disappeared. I wrote about flowerpots, a plane, telephones, and then nothing.

I knew a little bit about him, but I didn’t know how to find him. I didn’t want to look him up and show up in places he wouldn’t expect me to. He’d come back. If he’d wanted to tell me what he was doing, he’d have done it already. He knew where to find me. I held my chisel tighter, chipping deeper. Don’t be clingy. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be.

Somewhere, something was falling without sound.

Eighty days passed.

Then I thought to myself, what was the worst that could happen? So I left another note after holding myself back, I missed you. If there was a delete feature I probably would have used it, but there was none and nowhere to go back to.

A note with few words arrived: “Lots of things’ve happened. I’d like to tell you about them. I’m coming.

Thirteen hours later, while the sender would still be stuck in an overnight plane, I wrote something that would be read, perhaps when I would be there to watch its effect. I wrote about secret letters and longings. About soundless fallings. About holding a chisel. About the possibility of handing it over to someone else, and watching if they’d break you apart or turn you into an art.

I’ll see you at the airport soon.