I found your letters the other day.
Well, six of them.
It surprised me to see my mom's address in your handwriting, on those once-white envelopes, at the bottom of a Sketchers shoe box. I thought I had thrown out every word you'd written years ago.
"It's weird to feel safe about my feelings for you," you wrote.
A million thoughts and questions swarmed my mind. The word "safe" made my stomach flip, knowing all that'd transpired since.
Can you ever feel safe in love? Even if your love is boundless, eternal and undying, you aren't. You will die, and so will your beloved. One will be left alone. Where's the safety there?
It's an odd feeling, being in love with someone now and recalling the turmoil of loving you. It was so long ago, so long before I knew him. Is it a betrayal, thinking of you like this?
What is love anyway? How do you measure it, quantify or count? Is it in the quiet moments, when your beloved is up first and makes the coffee? Or the sweet gestures, when he meets you at the train station in a downpour, umbrella in hand to keep you dry? Is it hiking up a mountain together, in the dark, watching the sun rise over the valley? Or saving the last slice of pizza? And what about the bad times? The sullen silences, the outbursts, the tears --aren't those moments part of love?
Can you love more than one person? Not in your lifetime, of course you can do that. Can you love more than one soul at a time? If parents can love more than one child, why can't we love more than one person? When the relationship ends, where does love go? I think it stays in you, somewhere. Whether or not we are under that stairwell in high school, skipping 12 Bio and spooning, that specific love doesn't devolve. Your feelings change of course, the every-day intensity towards a person you're no longer with lessens over time, you might even forget. But finding your letters brought me right back. Not just to you, but to all of my great loves, like a montage. Greatest Hits Collection. Running through the sprinklers, hand in hand, on a stranger's lawn one summer afternoon. Canoodling on that comfy couch, watching Master Chef on Thursday nights. Making love in the dead of winter on a lifeguard tower, no other souls in sight. Love comes crashing down, reminding me of all the lives I have lived, all the people I have been.
You can lose your beloved before death, too. Love may be undying, but it's my experience that commitment is not. “You never give away your heart; you lend it from time to time. If it were not so how could we take it back without asking?” *
Do you ever think of me? Ever wonder where I am or what I'm doing? Do you have my letters?
I didn't read all of yours, when I found them. I'm not that person anymore and neither are you. What we call love is not the same thing. Maybe that's why it didn't work. We couldn't love each other in the way the other needed. I hope you have found that kind of love now.
I threw them all out this time, your letters. I'm trying not to be so sentimental. But when I heard the clanking refuse truck turn onto the street, I lost my nerve and rescued one. "Safe," you said. Even if it wasn't true, we wanted it to be. So to us it was. In all the time we had known each other, in that moment, we felt safe.
The universe goes on forever. Some theories say that there are infinite realms, with infinite possibilities of our very own lives. There are versions of me who never left Toronto, versions who chose France over Japan, and there must be at least a few versions of me who are somewhere in the world with you. What are they up to now, the science fiction us? Do they travel? Are they happy? Do they feel safe in their love?
There's another theory about time, how our experience of it is a construct, and reality exists outside of what we know. It claims that everything that has happened and will ever happen has already occurred, rather is occurring. Now. So past, present, and future are all the same, there's no difference. The experience of time is entirely in our minds.
In that version of time, right now, a boy and a girl sit under the stairs while they skip class. Full of naive conceptions and misguided angst, they talk about the world and what it should be as they unwittingly fall in love. No one need warn them of all that is to come, because there is nothing else. They get to live in that moment, safe.
* Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson