Love Story: Page 14
November 21, 2015
October 2005 to September 2006 – Toronto, ON / Bonn, Germany
I think we only wrote one letter each. Paper letters, I mean. Mine was a long, disjointed cadavre exquis of personal essays, flitting through homemade lino print stationary, looseleaf and sketchbook paper, various pens, highs and lows over the course of several days or honestly, probably weeks.
He responded with 5 neatly margined, carefully considered computer paper pages in tidy, double spaced, tightly looping blue fountain pen. Thoughtful responses to each of my impulsive musings. It was actually his second draft. Knowing him now, this must have taken him some time and is quite possibly the longest letter he has ever written, but at the time I couldn’t have appreciated that. My letter was longer.
We switched to email.
For my birthday a few years ago, Achim complied all those emails and bound them together as a book, titled Dear Elena. It’s 77 pages of tiny, black, sans serif print, and it’s a tense read. Well, at least for me. For his part, Achim is at his delightfully awkward best. Consistently, almost naively warm, cerebral and introspective, and I have moments where I match him; the wildly daydreaming, excitable yin to his yang. Those exchanges are sparkly and sweet – often hilarious premonitions of our relationship to come. We played a game for a while, taking turns posing each other five questions. These are especially fun to reread – some were clearly cloaked future partner job interview questions – the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Or, for example, this nuanced gem from Achim: “In many European and North American countries divorce rates have tremendously increased during the 20th century. In the US approximately every second marriage ends in divorce. Explain the reasons for this development from your perspective! Do you think that this is a temporary phenomenon?” So stealthy.
Other times, the questions were a little more heady – on capitalism and communism, or thought experiments like the trolley problem, but for the most part, they were simply playful, curious and sweet…
What is the best place on earth? Why?
Which one of your five senses do you rely on most?
Can you remember a time when something happened to make you feel really special as a kid? Describe.
What’s the best thing about your mom?
What was the nicest thing that happened yesterday?
And so on. We answered each other honestly and in detail… long paragraphs blooming with fresh, 20-something dreams, hopes, thoughts and memories.
But here and there, my emails space further apart… my responses get shorter and cooler, the salutations and closings less silly and intimate. These letters almost uniformly start with, “My life is crazy right now!” which I know to read as a creeping disconnect, or even a mild irritation as my personal chaos precariously eclipses this thing. And probably, it also meant some other guy was lurking.
As summer rolled around and my last year of undergrad dragged to a close, I began excitedly making plans to visit Europe. I was going to dodge thoughts of my student debt for a little, burying my head in the sandy shores of Spain. I was going backpacking. This was the height of criminally cheap airfare, and I’d managed to find a ticket to Frankfurt for $149. I would arrive on September 12th. Achim would pick me up, we’d spend a week together in Germany, and then drive to meet my friend Shannon in Barcelona. It was all very thrilling.
So of course, I freaked out. It was the beginning of August – only a month to go. At this point in Dear Elena, our emails dry up and become riddled with misunderstandings, apologies for misunderstandings, and futile attempts to straighten things out. It’s on me. I was trying to pretend I wasn’t freaking out, and was doing a shitty job of it.
And then, there was that charismatic, 21 year old rock climber.
“I don’t want to pass this up, because you just never know, but also I still want to (and still will be) spending time with you very soon.” I wrote hastily, confusingly, painfully, from a kiosk at the air conditioned University of Toronto library.
Inexplicably, his response never reached me. Only his kind, tempered follow-up apology email. Thank goodness. I was so skittish at this point, I may have just cancelled the whole deal.
But it didn’t, and I didn’t, so on September 12, with my rush job of a renewed passport in hand, loose ends sloppily tied up, and all my belongings stashed in parents’ basements and undergrads’ closets across Toronto – many never to be seen again – I boarded a plane and took off for Germany. Everything was up in the air, even me.
Page 14/TBA. Hooray! After a brief(ish) hiatus, I am back with the love story! Hoping to wrap it up by the end of November. Stay with me, we’re almost there. 🙂
p.s. Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Page 9, Page 10, Page 11, Page 12 and Page 13, if you’ve just started reading!