The Letter

The knock at my door was staccato and insistent, shattering the pre coffee haze of early Sunday morning. I groped for my robe behind the bathroom door and crossed the cold floor in my bare feet. He stood there, cold winter air rushing in around his frame. He was tired, or weary. Instinctively I reached out and placed my hand gently on the sleeve of his coat.

“Here,” he said “read this,” thrusting something into my hand. I looked down to see two hastily folded sheets of paper ripped from a steno pad, the torn edges raw and twisted. By the time I looked up he was already to his car.

I had first seen him in the fall at a company grade officers’ meeting, having recently arrived in Michigan from my first duty station in Southern California. The sight of his face made me do a double take — there was something in it I found both compelling and comforting. He seemed diffident on that first meeting; I didn’t know why at the time. Only later did I learn that he was reacting to someone’s uncouth comment on the new female arrival. Although we had glimpsed each other several times since, it had not been until Christmas that our separate orbits finally aligned, but by now he had noticed me. It was a frigid, brilliant, clear day. I was picking up my roommate, who had been visiting a friend at the alert facility, pulling my car behind their waiting truck, its running engine causing it to shiver and billow condensed exhaust. My roommate and her companions got out, bundled against the extreme cold. Unexpectedly he was at my window. Despite the cold I rolled it down and looked at him expectantly. “Hi, I’m Dave Murdoch, he announced, sincere and eager. “I know who you are,” I replied with a half smile, thinking of the first time I had seen him.

I worked in personnel. He would come and see me on occasion, never staying for more than a few minutes, always with another reason for being in the area. After a couple of missed opportunities, we went on our first date in late January; I was sick and miserable, running a temperature of 101, but wanted no more delays. A week later, I kissed him after a walk by the shores of Lake Huron. I had suggested it, not realizing we would be breaking through crusty thigh deep snow. He accompanied me without a word of complaint. After, he made us hot cocoa and shared some of his life. I glimpsed his heart and impulsively pressed my lips to his.

On Valentine’s Day, he appeared at my door with six perfect red roses. I felt the promise of something lasting, and the first tentacles of fear started to entwine my heart. Love had never worked out for me, and I knew it most likely never would. I had learned to sabotage relationships before they could hurt me, and so far I had succeeded.

Last night we had gone to an art auction, a fundraiser. I had seen a mixed media piece, “The Violinist”. It was too much. David had quickly offered to buy it for me; I demurred, finally agreeing to let him purchase it if it was a loan. Without even fully realizing it, I began to push him away, using the owed money as a lever. I had come home in turmoil, telling myself that in any case he probably wouldn’t have been able to love me once he saw me fully.

I had not moved from my spot in front of the now closed door. I unfolded the steno sheets and saw he had written 12:40 am, 24 Feb 85 in the upper corner. No wonder he had looked so tired. His writing slanted, hurried and raw, across the lined paper.

“Dear Suzanne,

I’m doing something that in general is not a smart thing to do. I’m writing a letter in the heat of the moment without taking the night’s sleep and consider it, or chicken out.

I’m sorry we went to the art auction tonight. Not because I’m dissatisfied with what I bought, but I think you know I wish this business with your piece hadn’t come up. You bought it, it is yours, I hope that in a few years you will be satisfied that it is worth every penny of the money you paid for it. The thing that upsets me (enough to write this letter anyway) is that maybe our relationship isn’t mature enough to withstand this financial, I’ll say pressure for lack of a better word. My motivation was for you to get something you wanted so you wouldn’t regret not splurging. You said you hate owing money, I do too. Please, please Suzanne, if this becomes an issue or opens some chasm I will be upset, sorry, angry, but left with the feeling that I had blown something very remarkable, very special, on a trivial thing like money. Right now, if I were never to see you again by some horrible twist of fate, I would still thank God for having met you. We don’t know one another all that well, and my last comment is probably a little heavy, but it’s true regardless of how things turn out. The gist of this letter is supposed to be that if this violinist comes between us, we will both be sorry and we will have paid too much.


“Love.” The word leapt off the page. I looked over at the still wrapped frame I had hastily dropped by the door the night before. He had already seen me, and he wasn’t leaving. “Don’t screw this up,” I whispered to myself as my fingers traced the regular strong strokes of his handwriting. I would hang the picture today. 

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