This is a garden for letters.
Slip your shoes off. Take a stroll. Smell the rhododendrons.
These letters were all written by participants in the Love Letters Aren’t Just For Lovers e-class. At the end of the class, everyone is invited, if they wish, to plant a letter in this garden.
So, breathe in deeply. Gather up some inspiration. Most importantly— leave your footprints. There’s space below each letter to leave a little note for the writer, letting them know that you appreciate their words. It’s courageous to share stories like these. If you feel some magic, let the writer know.
These are each up for three months, so do come visit again.
Joyfully spreading seeds,
space space space
space space space space space space space
P. S. Questions or comments? Drop me a line.
Today is the day that your tooth hurts and you’re lonely. My turn to be on the other end of the phone while you cry without changing your voice much. Mostly you’ve done that for me, listened to tears over the phone — all of a sudden I’d be quiet and you always knew. But this time it’s you, sitting in your beautiful room with the kitchen table, blue vase in yellow frame, purple sneaker in black frame, shells and rocks on the window ledge so the cracks in the walls and the ceiling hardly matter. You’ve started sanding the old round oak table, so it’s partly worn, partly on its way to being renewed. The chairs are a bit wobbly but nothing to fall down over. The view is of spring, unabashed. And none of the things, even the view, help the lonely. I understand.
I know how to do this, how to sit quietly and let things come out over the phone line, tears fall and somehow keep talking, because you taught me. You taught me how to love my family, blood and water. You taught me gentle concern and more fierce concern, the giving and withholding of advice, the listening. You’ve done that for so many people and I am in your image, in that way, and I have a bounty of friends because of this. I can’t stand the thought of you lonely because so much of the peopled joy in my life is because of you – I am rich in friendship, and you deserve the same.
I believe you also have this bounty, but you doubt yourself and it enough to not leap in and realize its plenty, plumb the depths of friendships, allow them to unfold, make new ones. Because as a friend you are immeasurably fine. Anybody – everybody – should be so fortunate as to have you walking beside them, or on the other end of the phone line or across the worn kitchen table with cups of raspberry leaf tea between you. Everybody loves rye crackers and goat cheese, mom, because they don’t usually have it for lunch. Simple fare is no reason not to invite – and invite again, and again.
I love you deeply dearly.
I received a call about you today. My mom said that you weren’t alive anymore. She had looked for you in the depths of the interwebs after losing touch years ago. And there you were. W. L. S. Born: _____Died: August 3, 2007 in _________ Arizona. You were _____ years old.
In 2007, I had just celebrated my marriage to a man you didn’t even know I had met. We had a party at my mom’s farm house for family and close friends who hadn’t been able to make it to our wedding in a small chapel in the countryside of England. I thought of you that week. Not because I had wanted to invite you, but because I would have liked to tell you about my life then. My new husband. Our home in London. My new teaching job. I wanted you to know the woman I had become. Twelve years after we had ‘first’ met when I drove out West to meet you for the ‘first’ time in my memory.
Because you are no longer on this earth, my memory of you will always be still. It will always reside in the photo of us outside your trailer in the Arizona desert where I first saw a storm come in over the mountains. Dark billowing clouds rolling in, bringing heavy rain to the dry red land. Lightning from a storm miles away on a clear path towards us. Air thick with moisture from the heavens about to pour down, creating deep welts in the earth.
By the time the rain arrived, we were cozy inside. I was going through a book your daughter, my Aunt Sandy, had made me over the years. The years I did not know who you were. I wanted to fill my mind and heart with stories from the years we had missed with one another and you wanted the same. I told you about the pink dress I had received in the mail on my sixth birthday. The one with the white collar and big white flowers. I thought it was from the mail lady because I didn’t know about you then. Any memory I had, had been integrated into my subconscious as a dream. In my new life I was not to know about you so instead I loved the mail lady.
You sat next to me in your wheelchair, your left leg ending at your knee. My mom had told me the story. But I wanted to hear it from you. You explained the excruciating pain you felt when the oven had exploded while you were baking a cherry pie, causing you to lose your leg. How your twin sister, halfway across the country, had felt that same pain in that same moment in her same leg. I wondered if I would ever have twin daughters that would experience a connection like this.
Before we met I had a photo of you and your husband, my grandfather. You were young. Newly married. Dressed for a party. Long legs, both of them. I imagined your bright red lips and rouged cheeks in the black and white photo. Your eyes sparkled with happiness. I imagined the romantic life you had lived as a young woman.
I was fifteen when we first spoke on the phone. Your voice sounded far away in an accent I didn’t recognize. I wondered how Arizona differed from Michigan, the only home I remembered. As we talked you felt less further away; I relaxed and we started to share stories. After our first conversation we started to exchange letters and I planned a trip that I never really imagined I would take.
After that you sent three porcelain china dolls for my collection. A collection my mother had started when I was just a girl but now feel is extravagant. But I hold onto them, boxed up in her basement until the day I have my own daughter to pass them down to. All except one. A baby girl dressed in a blue frock. She arrived with a broken arm. I had always planned to visit the doll hospital, but never did. One year, not so long ago, we drove her to the Salvation Army for another little girl to have for Christmas and to take to the doll hospital herself. Even though I wasn’t attached to this thing, it was like letting you go a little bit. We had shared so few memories that this doll had created one of them. And now she was gone.
I’ve searched all of my notebooks and journals and I can’t find one which tells the story of that trip. It’s difficult for me to believe that having kept a diary since the third grade, I would let such a momentous time in my life go undocumented. It comes to me in bits and I want to get them all down, more so now that I no longer have the option of discussing them with you.
My mom showed me a list of ailments you had written down for her before she took us back to Michgian. In case. For the future. Helping me be prepared for the health issues that run through my genes. Thank you for thinking ahead.
I lost both of my grandma’s last year. My mom’s mother, and her mother. I was too far away to mourn them with family. Now I have just discovered that I lost you years ago. There is no one who can mourn you with me. No stories or memories shared. I can pay $2.95 to read your full obituary online. And I want to. I want to see the list of relatives you are survived by. Partially, I want to see if I am on that list. But mostly? I just want to make sure it is you.
I will always treasure the memories we were able to create that week during the summer of 1995. But now, I will have to put away the hope that there will be more.
I was only 8, and I killed you.
I am sorry.
I remember the journey to the small mall in Scarborough. I was with both my mom and dad and my older brother. I don’t think that mall is there anymore. You were my first real pet. My own. We looked at hamsters and guinea pigs, but for some reason, it was you, the gerbil I was drawn to. I think it was your tail that did it for me. There was something more elegant, more graceful about the tail of the gerbil than the stubbiness of a hamster tail. It seemed dignified and graceful. We picked you out and brought you home. Your home was in my room, in an old aquarium where fish once swam. A gerbil, you, were so much cooler than the fish. Sure, watching the colourful little things swim around was fun…for a little while. But what can an 8 year old do with a fish rather than feed them and watch them swim in endless circles. The novelty soon wore off. You were a grown up pet.
I may not have always treated you as well as I could have. I did love you though. At times I didn’t change your water quite often enough. Maybe I didn’t clean your cage as much as I should have. But I did love you. I’d lie in bed at night and be reassured by the small scratching sounds I could hear coming from beside the closest where you lived. The woodchips in which you slept gave my room a sweet smell. A smell of the out of doors. I’d even hold you. Your small nails tickling my hands and my arms. You were the first thing to teach me responsibility, to teach me how to care for another. You also taught me that sometimes terrible mistakes happen, mistakes that can have amazingly huge consequences.
Eventually my mom and dad let me let you out of your cage. Since you were so adept at squeezing into small spaces, flattening your body in such a way it was questionable where your insides went we had to make sure you couldn’t get out of my room. So instead of simply closing my door, we put a piece of plywood in front of the open door. We thought you would be safe. You’d run around, having a great time. I’d watch you closely, making sure you didn’t disappear into some recessed area in my room, or squish yourself between the books in my bookshelf. But, one day you got out. Somehow you found a crack around my door, and snuck in the hallway. I remember my dad on the phone to my uncle. They were both teachers. It was Labour Day. First day of third grade was the next day. I panicked slightly when you snuck out, but I also found it humourous watching you scurry around the hallway. You were free, and you knew it. I stepped over the plywood, and scurried after you, desperately trying to scoop you up. It was almost a game. But then, you went so fast. I lifted my foot to take another step, and as it lowered to the ground, you ran under it. I still remember the awful mix of the softness of your fur, the flexibility of your body and feeling the hardness of your bones. You turned over on your back, convulsing. I remember screaming for my dad to get off the phone. He didn’t know what had happened. He quickly got a towel and picked you up gently Jasper. He took you, a wee creature to the emergency vet, on Labour Day. Most parents would not have gone that far. Most would have found another way to put you out of your misery. My dad treated with the compassion you deserved. He ensured you were put down in a humane and respectful way.
Starting grade three the next day, I was a little less child than I had been at the beginning of the previous day. Bad things happen. We sometimes make mistakes that can have big consequences. You taught me to grieve, to understand the fragility and sacredness of life. And for that I thank you. And I truly am sorry.
It’s caught in my memory, the exact moment I realized we were over. The exact moment I understood that there would be no salvation, no righting of a terrible wrong, no admission of a dreadful mistake. I feel like it was yesterday, that exact moment I realized I was being cut off from you as though I was a ruined, infected limb left unattended to on its tree long enough to spread harm and disease. But I was not, am not, diseased, harmful. I was a perfectly functional limb suddenly being severed and left to fall. But this truth did not matter, still does not matter, and never will matter.
In that moment, I felt the cold shock of icy blood run through my forehead, numbing it. I felt the heaviness of unshed tears ballooning in my throat, the same throat that fused shut as though to keep a dam of feelings and words at bay. I felt the freezing, wet dripping of sweat trickle down my spine. One part of my brain knew it was over even as a larger, loud part protested – without words. And, how odd, I think now, I felt the heavy, pressing ache in my chest akin to the one that manifests while watching a loved one suck in her painful last breaths with the utmost difficulty. I remember that moment because I had no choice in it. There never seems to be any choice in those, the worst moments. This time was different though, it was even more unnecessary, if that was even possible. Apparently it was all because of me – my actions, my words. At least on the surface. That was what I was supposed to agree to but the edges of that alleged truth were foggy and hard to define. The repercussions vast and unclear. And all I knew to do was sit there and watch, to accept, like those other deaths. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I must have learned that to maintain ones dignity in times of unspeakable horror is the measure of a woman. That to sit and accept whatever is doled out by those with authority is proper. But it was wrong. So wrong to take you from me. That was the real horror, do you know that? Do you know that above all that is nearly unbearable now, your absence in my life and mine in yours – that is the tragedy in this chapter?
I remember you so clearly. Nearly every day I think of you, even as I try to stamp out those thoughts. I loved you even when I hated you. And sometimes I did walk that precarious line between love and hate; I suspect we all do when it matters. Mostly, however, I gave myself to you without regret. It seems as though I spent a lifetime of energy on you and devoted myself to you, often at considerable expense to myself. Still, that was my choice, and did not seem wrong. It was what I did, and did well, I say, for the very little that is worth. Then, like any good heist, suddenly you were taken from me, ripped away from me without warning. Apparently I was bad for you – but far worse – for those you represented and protected. They said. But this is not about them, or their blatant lies and twisted truths. Perhaps somewhere, someday, karma will intervene, but that is of no consequence to me. This is not even about me – the part I played, my abject humiliation, nor my surrounding feelings. This is about you and our end. And how I feel, directly, about that.
It has been nearly a year and I know that we are over, you and I. I also know that I must accept that, under or around the disgrace, the lies, the regret, and my need for vindication. I shall never have that, any more than I shall ever have you again. And yet, I have refused to admit, even to myself that I loved you; that you meant far more to me than security and habit. Until now. And, although I have written these words today, please understand that I do not wish to speak, think, or feel them again. I want to bury my love for you in a box, under miles of sand and the heaviest of rock; and then again under tons of mortar and grout. You see, to admit my love for you makes your loss even greater, and so much harder to bear. It is similar to so many things; it is easier to pretend you did not matter to me. Easier to let their assumptions lie unchallenged. That way they did not take nearly the rest of everything away from me. Not if you didn’t matter.
I dream about you now. Sometimes they are just dreams and all is as it should be again, until I wake up and remember. Most often, however, they are nightmares that leave me shaken, unsettled, and empty. And I awake realizing I want to cry an ocean of tears for your loss even after all this time. Funny that: I want to erase your very existence, deny and reject you; and I want to cry for you in the same moment. My life without you seems pathetic and odd. I wasn’t ready. I am never ready. Perhaps so many years are too many to get over. So now I just wait for the pain to end. And I know the root of that pain was not contained in those pages. It is your absence, your removal, my ban from you. And so I punish myself; that is my choice now. I am not brave enough to start over again, to open myself again. I won’t, if only because I cannot take any more of those moments. You see, I remember the exact moment I realized we were over.
So farewell my friend. For certain you will never know all that you meant to me.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted you on the first day of this year. It was terribly hot that day but the moment I caught your sight, I felt like it just rained over me and my heart expanded with joy! You were in a group of three. I was delighted to spot you all, my gifts for the New Year from Heaven. My gaze was fixed on you as I squealed and screeched with my voice choked from excitement. I immediately ordered Alex my friend to stop the bike we were riding on. He didn’t know of my love for you and what it means to me to see you in flesh and blood, in your lovely brown coat, walking down the road and in such close proximity to me.
Despite the big group, I was drawn to you. Your friends seemed lovely too, but it is with you that my soul connected. The others made me happy, you made me feel blessed.
My very first instinct was to walk to you with my arms flung open, to embrace your warm body, stroke your neck and whisper words of affection into your ear. But alas, I will always have this regret that I did not do any of those. I stood there watching you, wishing to pour out my love to you but paralyzed in my action fearing a lot of stupid things – the people on the street might get me wrong, you might get me wrong. I know love has its own language and I tried to speak to you, maybe you heard me too? But I didn’t want to intimidate you. Watching you was a blessing and I took as much of your warmth as I could and gave you mine, in the few minutes of our togetherness.
I remember last seeing someone from your family over two decades ago, on a street in my grandmother’s village. Perhaps that was your grandmother? I remember being very amused at the sight of her but I didn’t know so many lovely things about her and about you as I know now.
In a moment, everything seemed worth it and I would do all of that again if it held the promise of another meeting with you. Taking the journey to Pondicherry wasn’t easy. I was travelling alone with half my mind wanting to go back home to spend the New Years with my family and another half asking me to continue on my journey for the reward of a ‘special experience.’ Listening to that other half, I put through the dirty advancements of a lewd co-passenger on the bus who almost made me consider getting off at a remote village at 2 am and head back home. I tolerated him all through. Contrary to what I imagined, I missed my family terribly but then there was the sea, also promising a ‘special experience.’
And along came you.
Over the last two years, I have tried to answer one question to the best of my feelings but I am afraid none who took them could completely understand what I meant. The most basic of those questions – ‘Why do you love donkeys?!’ always made me feel grateful that I do and I know why I do. Having loved you dearly for years now, none of those reasons to love you make any sense any more. Love is the most natural feeling that fills my heart at the very mention of you.
I wish I lived in a world where it wasn’t so strange to express my affection for you, where I didn’t have to think so much about the social awkwardness of embracing you, where I could take you home, bathe you in the river water, clean your hooves and kiss your forehead. As I stood beside you, I imagined and deeply wished I could do all that. That I could just abandon everything behind me and walk the world with you, slowly and gently – admiring every inch of the beauty of this lovely, beautiful world.
This life of mine seemed like a joke that I couldn’t do what I longed to, for there was little reason that made sense behind my not doing so – my inability in taking you with me and having you for life. As I write to you now, I wonder if you could listen to my heart speaking to yours. Will you remember me when our paths cross again? Will you forgive me for being a coward? Will you let me hold you gently and apologise? Do you like the name I picked for you? You’re my Galileo – sweet, gentle, warm and kind.
I will come back soon to your place to look for you. It will be a miracle if I can find you but hope is the sweetest thing. This world and its mighty forces are very kind, they might once again bless me with a sight of you. I will abandon my baseless, absurd fears the next time and stroke you gently, communicating my love to you through my touch.
I cannot forget the look in your eyes which held in them a sense of melancholy. I am imagining your eyes getting brighter now as you stare at the sky and the stars, feeling my love for you at this very moment. I love you my dearest Galileo, I will come fetch you wherever you are in the world. If I should fail here, I will not be failed in the Heavens. We will walk those beautiful gardens together and I will never leave your side.
I did not move an inch until you walked away from me, following your friends. I felt delighted that there was a hesitation in your strut. Maybe you wanted more of me too but this is life and one has to keep walking but as I said, the world is kind… and maybe you will find me and I will find you, walking towards each other – this time not as strangers but as friends.
Sweet Carrot Love and Gentle Strokes on your Neck,