There's one left. Out of the hundreds, one survives. But I can't find it. I know I have it. I would never, ever throw it away. It's tucked away for safe-keeping in a book on a shelf somewhere here. A precious relic. If I could find it, I'd share it with you.
She was such a beautiful writer. The most brilliant I've ever known.
It's funny. She never went to college. Never took creative writing courses with a mentor who might have recognized her talent. Who might have encouraged her at the age when she needed encouragement. Instead, after high school, she went to work in a bank. But, oh, could she write.
She loved poetry. She didn't need to work to understand it. She'd read it and it would directly enter her soul. This isn't true of many people. Her favorite poet was Sara Teasdale, an early 20th-century poet—mostly forgotten now—who in 1917 won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, "Love Songs."
One time, when we were first dating, I came home from waiting tables to find her in my apartment, sobbing. Crying over some sentimental verse my granddaddy had written to my grandmother in an anniversary card from decades earlier that I had somehow inherited and kept on my shelf. She recognized and understood and was moved by honest words expressed from one man ever in love with a woman, despite the simple language. I'd never given it a second thought until then.
We worked in the same building in Chicago. That's how we met. I was 35. She was only 26. I waited tables in a restaurant on the first floor. She worked in an office on 17. She was the most beautiful woman in the building: petite (4'11"), black hair, light skin and a smile showing brilliant white teeth.
She'd come into the restaurant for lunch sometimes, or after work for a drink. A fellow waiter, David, now long-gone from AIDS, encouraged me to ask her out. I thought she was way out of my league.
"No," he told me. "She's attracted to you. She told me."
It took me forever to work up the courage. Finally, I decided to pull the trigger. "The next time she comes in I'll ask her out," I told myself. A few nights later, she did come into the restaurant ... with her whole office, some 20 people. Still, I was going to do it. Until, out of nervousness, I spilled an entire tray of drinks on someone's cashmere coat at the next table. I was sure she saw it and I slunk away, mission not accomplished.
But, back then, I was resilient. So, a few days later, I got her number from David and called her up.
"Hi, this is Champ from the restaurant downstairs. Um … would you like to go out with me?" She didn't know who I was. It seems that David had been playing matchmaker without either of our knowledge.
Still, once she placed me, she said, "sure."
We did go out. And quickly fell in love. I'd never had anyone aside from family love me. It astounded me. And I loved her. So very much.
We lived on opposite sides of town, a good hour's train and bus ride to get to see each other. At work, I'd be crazy busy tending to tables at the restaurant and she'd be upstairs working. But, here's the thing: She wrote me letters. Love letters. Beautiful love letters. Poetry.
There were hundreds of them—one, sometimes two—arriving in my mailbox every day. A page, two pages, three pages, all written in perfect cursive. Intimate. Giving. Sharing. Though I'm a writer by profession, I am no poet. My letters to her were infrequent and inadequate expressions of my feelings.
We got married. Had a child. Were happy for a while. Then it all fell apart. She grew to hate me.
I'd saved every letter. Kept them tied together in a bag. One day, when things were at their worst and I was in a fit of anger and hurt, I took her letters and scattered them on the floor of her bedroom. We no longer slept together. "Fuck these," I shouted.
At the time of our divorce, I asked if I could have the letters back as part of our settlement. This, in front of the divorce mediator. She told us she'd thrown them away.
They're gone. Her beautiful expressions of love. Her writing. Writing much greater than she and I. Timeless.