“Is it wrong if I like and love you?” he asks; simple and straightforward, yes. I’ve to admit, though, the sentence doesn’t need two verbs. I can accept either “like” or “love”. With one verb, it would be more forceful, in this sense, likable. That’s my opinion as the woman who would soon provide the answer.
But overall, his letter is already short enough. Only four lines he put there: apart from one line for the sentence above, one line is for the place and date the letter was written, 22 May 1991, and two other lines for my name and his name, at the bottom of the letter. No signature precedes the line contains his name, as letters are normally ended.
He gave the letter by himself. When I saw it, I assumed it was some kind of invitation, but what exactly? “Can I open it here?”
I sensed his uncertainty, “Well, guess what? You’d better read it at home, and let me know the answer at your most convenient time.” His body language told me that I had made a wrong guess.
This is not the first love letter men sent, or gave me, of course; but what makes his letter different is in its brevity and the medium he wrote it on.
The love letters that I’ve received so far are at least two-page long, written on scented papers, which you can find easily in the card shops. Don’t ask about the contents: they are full of moons, suns, stars and those kinds of cliché hyperboles used to express one’s intention for love. Which doesn’t help because they sound like jokes.
Marcus, I forget to tell you his name, wrote the letter on a handmade card either by himself or he asked someone else to do it for him (thus, to be precise, it’s a love card instead). Either way, the art he decorated the letter impressed me.
The card is about 12×17 cm in size. The way the card is folded intrigues me that it requires no envelope, self sufficient. On the outer folding, that acts as the cover, written my name: Sarah, with “To:” comes before it. He put fine flowery sketches alongside the card verge, both on the cover and inside the card. Inside the card, though, I find a more prominent sketch, which I recognise at once: myself smiling. I like his only choice of black and white; seemingly to produce an effect: colour contrasting, which tries to appeal the reader. Sketches and letter are imprinted using black ink on white background of the card. He didn’t even bother to spray it with perfume.
I read again the letter on my hand:
May 22, 1991
Is it wrong if I like and love you?
I don’t want to psychoanalyse his sentence; my opinion on his grammar is enough. But I wonder why he bothered to write the card to me at all? After all, we are classmates, meet every day, and he sits just two rows behind me!
Who expects that he hides romantic feeling toward me? Every time we have chance to talk, which is rare, he seems to look everywhere but me; I can’t remember ever catch him looking at my eyes while we’re talking. If he does, then the look must be flying away faster than sparrows.
I find this perplexing because he’s a different man, or boy, rather, because we’re only 10th graders, when we’re having formal class debates, which normally two of us always end up being leaders of two separate groups of the most heated ones. You see, when we debate he proves himself a convincing and confident debater.
These few facts about him, at the end, give me the ground to understand the insecurity and doubtful voice he spoke through his letter.
If you ask me, do I like this boy? Short respond, yes, I’m attracted to him; but love? That I guess would need more minutes to answer, after all, we’re just 16 year-old teenagers. My parents always ask me to concentrate on studying, saying that education takes more priority than romance, at least for now.
“To be accepted in those prestigious universities in Java, you must prepare yourself,” my parents never fail to remind me. “The competition is tight, you’ll have to outsmart everybody. Study hard, get focused to your goal! Because you can only hit the target, the goal, right by concentration alone.”
I don’t know whether they’re right and have to suppress my own feeling, but I suppose you have to be obedient to your parents. Besides, I share my parents’ expectation: I’m eager to experience and explore Java, to see worlds other than mine; study and adventure, I’ll accept and treat them as one package.
So, I don’t reply his card. Four days after I read it, I accost him when the class is over and ask him to stay until every student has left. Oh, I enjoy catching him off-guard like that! I feel in control. He doesn’t expect, of course, I’d have the gut to talk to him, and in such an empty class at that. The logic goes like this: When somebody sends you a letter, they expect you to reply in letter as well.
“Look at my eyes while I’m talking, would you?” I lock his eyes into mine, but, if I could, unlock his soul. I torture him until he does what I ask. “I’ve read your letter; I like the art, the efforts, you put into it. Thank you, and I’m flattered to the fact that you like me. But what I want for us is just friendship. No more than that. I hope you understand.”
“We’re going to be great friends.” I know his words betray him because I can see his blood moves down fast from his head and run even faster from his heart up, all end up on his face. But, look! He still has the nerve to touch my hand? I let him do it, only so that we can shake hands at the end.
I still keep his letter right until now. So today, May 22, 2009, it thus would’ve been 6575 full days (18 years) under my safe keeping.
I’ve got married eight years ago, two years after I finished college. My eldest daughter is six years old and now is learning how to read. The youngest son is two years old, and is learning how to walk and now can say “Ma-ma” or “Pa-pa”.
I don’t know whether my keeping the letter is a right thing to do for a married woman, although I know my husband wouldn’t object should he find out. The burden of keeping the letter starts to weigh me down.
I’ve got a plan, which becomes the reason I still keep the letter. True, letters or other stuffs of distant past would be the guardian of your memories. But the particular letter that I keep is not an ordinary letter. It’s more nostalgic beyond other memorabilia, the treasure of my memories.
I’m looking forward to showing it to my children when they are mature enough to understand the true meaning of love and devotion; that genuine love sometimes waits, that true love will finally find each other however long it will take or how complicated their ways operate because these two human beings have been destined to complete each other.
This is the best part of my plan: I want my husband to read the letter for my children. Yes, I want my husband, Marcus, to read his own letter of long time ago, the letter he wrote for me. And when he finishes reading the letter, I want to answer his Is it wrong if I like and love you?, my children as the witnesses, with a simple, one word “No!”; because a “Yes” would mean a denial to my luck of being chosen, and loved by this wonderful human being: their father, and the pearl of my life.
(Jakarta, May 22, 2009)