Learning to love through a lost art
by Chelsea Boes
Posted on Thursday, October 2, 2014, at 4:49 pm
I extracted two brown gloves from my purse and applied them to my icy hands. This was December in New York, and I had just perched myself in a waiting room chair at the dentist’s office.
Now, I was born with an unusual love for dental appointments, as well as a horrible sense of direction. For those reasons I greatly anticipate my six-month checkups, but always get lost on the way. So on this fine winter morning I was late to the dentist. Again.
Embarrassed of my tardiness and not eager to explain how I had gotten lost in such a small town, I pulled a few sheets of paper from my purse, and without looking around, I began to read.
A man eyed me from the opposite row of chairs and asked, “Cramming?”
“No,” I said, pleased to announce that I had abandoned my textbooks for Christmas break. “I’m reading a love letter.”
I had waited a long time to read a love letter. Reading one in front of a curious stranger only added to my gratification. The man adjacent, who later introduced himself as Bill, had white hair and an oblong physique like a pill bottle. I congratulated myself with the thought that Bill the Pill Bottle had probably never experienced an encounter exactly like this before. After all, we no longer live in the romantic days of pen and quill. I felt, I admit, like a rare diamond shining in a snowbank. A boy loved me enough to write me letters.
“Aren’t you lucky?” Bill cried.
Then the hygienist called me back to the examination room. Though I would have liked to tell Bill the whole story, I crowded my copious agreement into one small “yes.”
As the door swung shut, Bill addressed the hygienist: “Ask her about her reading material!”
Over that winter and the next one, I received and sent many more precious letters. But they were not all shining ooey-gooey epistles of romantic praise. Many of them wrangled with our doubts. We knew we stood on the brink of a cataclysm—a collision in which two people become one and two histories meld into one another. We had many questions to answer. For us, the “dying to self” aspect of marriage did not come as a rude, post-wedding awakening. Instead, the healthy friction attended us from the beginning as we learned to share our stories and words. Neither one of us could pose as the star of the relationship. Neither of our beloved homes or histories got precedence over the other’s. The letters showed our struggle.
When I was a little girl I asked my mother how I would know whom I should marry. She told me I would just know. But when it came down to it, I encountered many doubts and questions on the rocky pathway to certainty.
Now I look back and marvel at that season of writing. I consider what a fool I would have been not to marry Jonathan. I came through the rocks, it seems, to a sweet and smooth space of security. My early joy over the first love letters proved the right reaction.
As I left the dentist’s office that day and replaced my gloves, I passed Bill’s examination room. He yelled goodbye to me.
“Goodbye, Bill,” I replied.
I wish I could go back and tell him how it worked out.