Setting the large box down on the dinning room table she remembered the collection of S. B. Pearlbaum books she'd ordered online recently and assumed it to be them. Gathering her scissors from the other room she tore into the box excitedly. What she found, however, could not have been more opposite from what she expected. Inside the box lay, surrounded by packing peanuts, a smaller black, velvet box. Ring size. She pulled it out, peanuts falling to the floor which the kitties happily pounced upon. She opened the smaller box with baited breath. Inside, a ring. Silver, with a huge diamond. With one hand she covered her mouth, while her head subconsciously shook from side to side, brows furrowing in confusion. She set the ring back in the box, the box back on the table. She dove back into the peanuts searching for an explanation. At the bottom of the packing peanuts, a letter in an envelope. She tore it open and unfolded it.
As I write you this letter it is also present in my mind that the last time we spoke was 15 years ago. Even as I write this sentence it doesn't seem true, but my diary tells me it is so. I keep a diary, Michelle. You can make fun of me for that later. My sister always did. Speaking of Trudy, I assume you heard the news. I hope you heard the news. I don't want to be the one to break her death to you, but if I just have, I'm sorry. I guess there's no real great way to find out, though. Cancer's a horrible way to die, but at least we all got to say our goodbyes. Well, except you, but then, from what I gather, you both had your own version of closure some time ago.
This is a hard letter to write. It's probably not easy to read either, huh? I'm not the best writer. I always envied them. Writers. Like you. I'm better in person, I think. If I could have come in person, I would have. You are probably grateful that I haven't, though. Imagine if it had been me instead of the postal worker at your door! Surprise! haha-
Michelle sank into her chair, "Oh, God-"
Truth be told I almost didn't write you at all. Truth be told I still hold onto some hurt and anger in regards to you and how it all ended. But... well, a promise is a promise is a promise to oneself. Fifteen years ago you broke my heart. I was standing up alone at that alter long after everyone else had already gone just hoping you would change your mind. It was Trudy who finally dragged me down and away. It was Trudy who eventually explained your reasons- many of which, truth be told, I still can't rap my head around. If we could have had a conversation about it... you know, I'm much better in person. But I know you hate the face to face confrontations. I would have tried not to make it a confrontation, though, I would have tried to understand, do what I could.... you know?
Alright. I didn't want to go down that path, but here I've written in pen, so no going back. Also, I'm getting to an age where I don't want to apologize or go back on what I feel or say any more. I feel how I feel. So...
Trudy said you loved me, but that you couldn't allow me to love you at that time. She said you needed time. She said you needed approximately, exactly fifteen years time. She said a lot of things which now seem vague because she stopped elaborating and repeating them after about a week of my pleading with her to rehash the whole event. She mentioned the CIA, which she said she wasn't supposed to and probably now you have to burn this letter or something. I'm terribly naive about all that government stuff, but I've watched enough TV to understand that if you were involved in the CIA, or whatever, that it could maybe be difficult to be in a relationship with someone or something. I don't know how much of that played into your decision, I don't really know anything at all or if it's true or if Trudy made it up to spare my feelings, but the way she emphasized the 15 years business makes me think maybe it's true. And, truth be told, it's the tiny strand, the only explanation I've been able to hold onto to keep going all these years.
God, that sounds pathetic. Can I take that back? No, I guess not.
Trudy said you loved me. Trudy said give it time. Trudy said 15 years. So, I've waited. I mean, I've had a life. I've dated and all that. I haven't just waited, but mostly... I've waited.
God, I hate myself. Do you see what you've done to me? I'm trying to be cool here, but that's not me, I guess.
I've been waiting for you for 15 years. After you left me at the alter. Because my schizophrenic sister told me you loved me and wanted to marry me in 15 years after you were out of the CIA. Did you know Trudy was schizophrenic? She was only just becoming symptomatic the year you left, but the doctors said all the signs were already there. Maybe you could have forgiven her more easily for all those fights you two got into that year if you had known that. She wasn't trying to be difficult or mean... her brain was just making everything difficult and it made her mean. You know?
Michelle set the letter down. Tears were welling in her eyes and breath was catching and stopping in her throat. She stood for a glass of water, but had to brace herself to keep from tripping over one of the cats. The room spinned like she was drunk and she had to close her eyes and count to ten to keep from toppling over. Once she'd had the water, she sat back down and picked the letter back up.
So, now it's 15 years later. I got your address from your brother Mike, who I found on Facebook. I hope you don't mind. I hope you're not angry. I don't know why you would be angry, but if you are, I hope you can find a way to understand why I had to get back in touch with you. Every year I wonder if it will be the year we reconnect. Every time I'm in an airport I wonder if it will be the day we magically run into each other. Every time I see a green Subaru forester I look for that little cat bumper-sticker in the back window. And I've come to the point in my life where it's 15 years later and I feel how I feel and if I don't take a chance, if I don't say it all then that "time" is never going to come so... it's all or nothing. You know?
If you love me, if you ever loved me, if you NEVER loved me.... I need to talk to you. I deserve at least that. If you were in the CIA or whatever (I can't even write that without laughing at myself- how crazy I sound.... but... I don't know, maybe it's true. It's kind of fun imagining you as this sexy, spy girl out protecting our country from terrorists and such... Alias style) Anyway.... If you were CIA, if you loved me but you needed 15 years to serve the country.... if you love me still, or think you might, or think you could... well, the ring is yours. Either way. The ring is yours.
If you don't love me, if you just wanted to bow out gracefully and didn't have the heart to face me and explain that I just wasn't what you wanted or needed or whatever... well, truth be told, as much as it would hurt, I need you to say that to me. I really do need to hear that. Because otherwise, I'm such a goddamn optimistic romantic that I'll go on waiting another 15 years believing my dead schizophrenic sister that you love me but can't be with me because you're Jennifer Garner in a red wig on a secret mission living in some J.J. Abrams script. I really will.
If I could have come in person with a dozen roses in a fresh haircut and that blue suit you always said you loved, I would have, but as luck (or fate) would have it, I got into a car accident pulling out of my driveway to pick up that suit from the cleaners and broke both my legs. My mother (yes, Greta's still alive and well and sends her well, if begrudging, wishes) was kind enough to mail this package for me while I'm recovering in traction. I didn't want to wait any longer. 15 years is long enough, don't you think?
Well... I guess that's just about everything. I hope you are safe and healthy and happy out there in California. I was surprised to learn that's where you've ended up, what with your aversion to the sun, but I guess that's life for you... full of surprises. I'm still here in Vermont, as the return address will tell you. I put the hospital as the return address, 'cause I'll be in this room for the rest of the month they say, so I figured if you wanted to write or call or, hell, stop on by... well, this is where you can find me. After that I'll be at Mother's, and you know that address-- Christ, listen to me. "Mother's." There really is no hope for me to be "cool" is there? Well... oh, well.
I love you, Michelle. In all my life I've never met anyone with whom I've connected with like I did with you, with whom I felt like how I felt when I was with you, with whom I would trade the world in just to see smile, with whom, through all the hurt, I could hold out forever just to hear the excuse that I may forgive and forget.
So.... I guess that's it.
Jeremiah F. Remsky
Michelle set the letter down, then picked it quickly back up and brought it to her nose. She closed her eyes to more fully appreciate the scent and then set it back down and looked at her cats. Then at her computer, still whirring. Then at the door. Michelle lifted her body up and walked to the phone, she dialed.
"Burkowitz? I know, it's been a few months.... Oh, I'm adjusting quite well. I've started writing again.... A novel.... Yes, well.... Listen, I was wondering if you could take care of my cats for a while... Yes, I'm going away.... to visit a friend... Oh, that'd be great. I'll stop by tonight. Thanks so much." She hung up and went back to the table and picked up the ring. She set the ring back down, safely in its box, and disappeared into the bathroom where she applied cream to her zit and to her wrinkles and another kind of cream to ease her frizzy hair. She thought of her S.B. Pearlbaum collection and remembered suddenly that it was Trudy who had introduced her to the writer's work when they were in grade school. Then, it read far above her head, but in recent years had been reintroduced to her by someone else and had suddenly clicked- inspired her to write again, which had been, previously, her life's ambition, before the CIA.
Poor Trudy, she thought. She'd heard about the cancer from her brother, but not the schizophrenia. They must have tried to keep that secret. In retrospect it made sense, and she could only hope to offer the same kind of sense to Jeremiah. Poor Jeremiah, she thought. He hadn't deserved all that, but at the time she felt she didn't have a choice. She couldn't tell him and she was to leave on an undercover mission in the next few days after the wedding. She tried up to the last hour before the wedding to figure out a way to keep her promise to the CIA and her promise to marry Jeremiah, but in the end it seemed there just wasn't a way to make it work. So, she chose and she hoped it was the right choice. In the years that followed, though she questioned it, she often found the work rewarding and felt the decision was just. When she left the agency, she thought about contacting Jeremiah, but thought for certain he'd moved on or would be too angry. Afterall, Trudy was. Trudy cut all ties, told her she hated her for leaving her brother like that, would never forgive her, hoped she'd burn in hell and all that, but perhaps that was in part the disease beginning to take hold. Or perhaps not. She hadn't told Trudy about the CIA and wondered how she had found out.
The fact that Jeremiah still was holding this candle for her all these years later did make him seem a little pathetic, but he surprised her with his honesty and the way he was able to self-deprecate and self-appreciate almost simultaneously. Rare traits, indeed. He was right, at least, in that she owed him. She owed him the face to face. And, truth be told, his was a face she couldn't wait to hold again.