To send, or not to send.

In this digital age of Emails and Facebook posts, many people have little appreciation for just how special getting a posted letter is; finding it on the floor near the mail slot when you get home from work. Wondering why the slope of the cursive ‘t’ has suddenly changed, or why the loop of a ‘g’ seems distorted in an otherwise innocuous declarative sentence, is all part of interpreting the message, understanding the magic.
I grew up long before the internet, and I was well acquainted with the power of letters; waiting for replies was part of the mystique. My mother, I remember, had solved the problem with a routine of daily letters (and daily, if slightly dated replies) to her mother from whom she had moved when she married and moved across the country.
For me, as I got older and was trying to staunch the drift of different needs, the anticipation of replies took on a different tone. As I waited for answers from various publishers and agents, I would live in the kind of suspended hope I experience nowadays wondering if I’ve won any money from the Lottery. The results were -and still are- inevitably predictable, but in the interval, the wait seemed worth the effort. With a few minor exceptions, my expectations always exceeded my rewards. Still, had I not even made the effort…
I learned that lesson early in my life. My father worked as some sort of executive for the national railway, and as such, we were transferred to another location, another city, every three years or so. Whatever inconvenience my parents might have experienced having to sell and buy our different houses, those changes were dwarfed by my continuing need to adapt to new schools and find new friends.

The lesson -one of many, I guess- occurred when I was 14 and just beginning to feel the tug of new hormones; it would have been a confusing time of life even if we had not kept moving around the country. I was not only bewildered, I was devastated.
We had ended up in a small, largely Anglo town near Montreal, Québec, but its French roots were still strong. Any of my admittedly rudimentary French language skills, had been acquired in Manitoba, a largely English speaking prairie province far removed from Québec, so I found myself linguistically, and perhaps culturally, isolated from the students in my new school; fortunately most of them were bilingual. By and large they were very accommodating, I suppose, and there was additional solace in finding myself strangely attracted to the girls in the halls who spoke English with a delightfully French twinge to their words.

Hormones do not differentiate between languages or cultures at 14 -or at any age, for that matter. Soleil was different, though; she was not in my class but her locker in the hallway was only one or two removed from mine. Whenever we saw each other, she would smile at me with her eyes -maybe it’s a Québecoise thing but I found it intriguing. Special. It told a 14 year old prairie heart that she was interested in me. Soleil wasn’t particularly beautiful, I realized, but I found girls with short auburn hair and grey sweaters attractive at the time. And anyway, she always seemed to be in a good mood and liked to laugh and joke a lot with her friends… something I didn’t manage very often.
I don’t know whether it was my age, or the trauma from the frequent moves from city to city that I’d had to make, but I was uncomfortably shy in those days; wary, perhaps, of too close an attachment when it was likely, as always, to be torn apart some day. At any rate, retrospective falsification of memories is probably just another weak justification for my inaction.
I should have said more than hello I realize now, but at the time, there seemed to be a different imperative -although from the distance of so many years, I cannot understand what it was. I suspect I hoped she would make the first move to befriend me; her eyes told me she wanted to; her eyes told me she intended to, but there was always something that intervened. Another friend would happen by with a question or to unload a soupçon of gossip; someone she knew would bump into her accidentally; or perhaps the bell would ring and she would close her locker and hurry away. It seemed that anything could prevent her from admitting she was attracted to me.
After a while, though, I began to think that she was just teasing me -playing a little game that she could laugh about with her friends. I was simply too shy to initiate a conversation, although I spent a lot of time thinking of things to say to her. I imagined asking her if she had an extra pen -because that meant I’d have something of hers and would have to engage with her again when I returned it. Or, I could drop some of my notes on her foot -something silly like that- so I would be forced to confront her with an apology; maybe she would help be pick them up, and…

Well, when it came to actually trying any of my schemes, they seemed too silly at the time, and she’d hurry away before I could muster enough nerve to try them anyway. No, she had to be teasing me, or worse, making fun of me so I decided to write a letter to her and slip it into her locker under its ill-fitting door. Even the thought of that made me feel somewhat better; agency is a powerful tool.
I couldn’t make up my mind how to begin, though -I mean do I say ‘Dear Soleil’, or maybe ‘Cher Soleil’? Wouldn’t either of those be too… presumptuous, too intimate? I eventually decided on just ‘Soleil’. Once I had designed the opening, the problems multiplied: do I complain about her not saying anything to me and sound like I was whining; do I take a different tack and just say ‘Hello, I’ve been wanting to talk to you, and…’; or maybe simply pretend to be angry that she had been ignoring me because I neither spoke, nor understood the strange argotique of her Québec French? The latter option sounded a bit harsh, so I decided on the second. But, as soon as I wrote it, I felt embarrassed. Weak. Like someone to whom nobody would be attracted. So I tore it up and composed a diatribe about her feeling too haughty to talk to me.

I carefully folded the note and eased it into one of my class textbooks so it wouldn’t get creased. A harangue has to be neat and presentable if it wants to have an effect, I figured. I decided to slip it into her locker after she’d left the hallway when noon break was starting; then she could worry about it during her afternoon classes.

But, as luck would have it, she bumped into me that morning and dropped her notes on my feet, then after we both crouched down to gather them up, she touched my hand to say thank you. “I’ve been waiting for an excuse to say more than hello,” she said in her delightful accent. “Want to have lunch with me in the cafeteria…?”

Some letters are better left unsent, I think…


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