The first love letter I wrote to you arrived the same day I did. It came about two weeks late. I spotted it stuck in the mail slot on our way out to dinner, growing mortified at the thought of you reading the letter in front of me. I’m sure you thought about opening it then and there, teasing me until I turned to dust, but you simply took it, tucked it between some of your neighbor’s mail to pick up when we returned and off we went to get some food.
Despite the chilly London air, it felt like summer again. When we met, it was still cargo shorts season, for you, at least. You leaned against the traffic post in front of the bar I chose, and I stopped dead in my track at the sight of all your pockets. When you read this, you will say “They’re good shorts!” and I will roll my eyes.
“He’s my London boyfriend with an American accent,” I tell my friends. All that means is that he sounds like a jackass when he uses British slang and adds a “u” in “color” and “favorite.” I find it cute, but I’d never actually tell him that.
We learned that we had very little in common almost immediately. We liked different music. Drank different beers. Eating habits. Hobbies. Academic interests. At some point, I would have expected us to just give up. But we managed to carry the conversation all the way back to my flat to start a movie neither of us really had any interest in watching. You played with my hair, and it felt like we had shared years together — not just a drink at a bar. Yet as nice as it was, you would tell me much later that you considered bailing on that walk back.
Apparently, reciting my favorite serial killer facts to the date I just met is not as cute or impressive as I had thought it would be.
A few weeks later, conversations about serial killers long-depleted, we walked from a pub back to your flat. It was late summer, and I was going soon. We joked on the first date that we wouldn’t get too attached. But then we passed by the park with the big willow tree. And against my better judgment, I grabbed your hand. Probably against your better judgment, you squeezed it and held it tight.
“I did a horrible thing last night,” I said.
“What did you do?” my friend Jack said, patient as ever with my romantic follies.
“I held his hand.”
“How long?” Jack was horrified. He knew about the cargo shorts.
“I don’t know, maybe … three minutes?”
I promised to myself that I would shake this crush. I needed to focus on returning back to the United States, getting a job, anything but this. Thank goodness it never came to that, huh?
Months later, I — a former devotee of lazy weekend mornings — wake up before 8 a.m. each Saturday and Sunday to call you. Behind your head, I can just see the letter I sent you taped to your wall, next to the photo of your family and the, sigh, periodic table of elements.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in it. Probably how much I missed you — how much I value the little time we did get to spend together in the same city — how much I will always look forward to seeing you again, until we’re back in the same city. Each and every possible way to say “I love you” without actually saying the words.
When we pulled the letter out of the mail slot, I saw that a mailman had scrawled “Not enough stamps” on it. “Return to sender” stamped twice, I think. The envelope’s seal was broken. I like to think that the mailman had read a little bit of the letter, felt sorry for us, excused my five-cent deficit in stamps and pushed it through your door with well-wishes for young love.
At this point, we’ve been apart for more time than we’ve spent together in one place. We’ll be long-distance until we’re not, we tell ourselves. ‘Til then, you just have to keep promising that you’ll never read any of my letters in front of me. Even this one.