Dear Martha

I thought about writing to you once before. Well, my therapist suggested it. I didn’t really see the point. She said letters don’t always need to be sent, sometimes they’re more for the writer than the recipient, and it might help me to process what happened. Might help me get over it, she said.

I didn’t want to get over it. Still don’t know if I do. It would be easier. I could get on with my life. I could feel light again. But, I don’t know if I want to let it go. Maybe the way it hurts is part of me now. And maybe it’s better than not feeling anything, which is what I think the alternative might be. 

This isn’t how I wanted to begin the letter. When I started writing, I kind of rehearsed what I’d say, like you rehearse a difficult conversation or confrontation. Then when it actually happens, it doesn’t come out the way you had it in your mind. I didn’t plan to start off telling you about my pain and wanting to hang on to it. I definitely didn’t plan on writing sentences that make me cringe when I read them back. You know me, or you did, and you didn’t know me as someone who speaks about her “pain”. I suppose it’s changed me, in some small ways.

Anyway, I’ve gotten used to carrying it. It was much more fragile before. I used to run into bathroom cubicles at shopping malls just to have a little breakdown in private. But now, most people wouldn’t know how I was feeling. Occasionally I bump into people I haven’t seen for years, and they ask how I am, and I say I’m okay, like anyone would, no big deal, you know. And then they tentatively ask about you. They’re tentative because they don’t know if we’re still together. And they obviously don’t know what happened. Then I say that you died. Just like that. I feel like I should be more considerate. More, I don’t know, gentle, like I should protect them, but I don’t know how to say it subtly so they won’t be shocked. I just can’t say “she passed on”. That isn’t how I talk. They’re not words I use. So I say, “she died.” And then there’s that moment, their reaction when they take it in and they don’t know what to say, and to save them from it I say, “in 2020”. And they mostly assume it was the virus, and sometimes they look surprised and say “but she was so healthy.” Maybe I should tell them more, but I don’t feel like correcting them and going into details. They’re not close friends, they’re acquaintances and I don’t want to burden them with what actually happened and how I really feel. I don’t know if they really want to be burdened. I mean, everyone has their own stuff to deal with. So I don’t really say anything else. They give me their sympathy and support and love, and I say I’m doing okay. I can be dispassionate, and act as if I’ve dealt with it. That’s how I’ve gotten used to carrying it. 

It’s not like I don’t talk to anyone. I mean, my therapist, obviously. Mom sometimes. Jeff and Gina. God, did I talk to Jeff and Gina. I was there practically every night after it happened. They probably liked it because I read Meg her bedtime stories. Maybe they’d have preferred me to wash the dishes, I don’t know. But I would read to Meg and then talk to Jeff and Gina. I took up their evenings for months and months, until I felt like it was too much, and wasn’t fair on them, although they never said anything. They are good friends. The best. I don’t know if I would have got through it without them. So, I do talk. And it’s helped. Though nobody knows I’m writing to you. Not even my therapist.

So. Why I decided to write:

It’s for you, really. I don’t know. To tell you what happened. I thought it might help you get some closure, or something. I mean, I know you aren’t going to read this, but I feel like you’re owed it. The guy was coming up for parole. I started getting all anxious. The whole time he was in jail, I thought about what happened. I obsessed about it, really. How unfair it was. That you died and he ended up getting not even three years, because of some legal technicality or something that I don’t understand and doesn’t make sense. I just wanted that explained to me. Like if it could be explained, I would finally understand, a penny would drop and I would go “oh, okay then”, and be fine and get on with things. Obviously, that’s irrational. But Martha, I still feel that way. I wish it could just be explained to me. Lawyers tried, but I just couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t understand. I feel like a kid. Explain to me why the tooth fairy isn’t real. Explain why boys can’t wear skirts. Explain to me why the man who rings our doorbell doesn’t have a home. When you’re a child the explanations never really make sense. You just come to accept that that’s how things are, eventually, as you get older. You just get used to things being that way. Except I haven’t got used to things being this way.

Anyway, then I heard he was coming up for parole. My therapist said I have to think about the possibility that he’ll be out of jail soon. For a few days I was all over the place. Anxious. Moody. Weepy. And then I thought, maybe he can explain, if no one else can.

Maybe I would be more accepting if I could stop imagining what things would have been like if it didn’t happen. Sometimes I make up little fantasies. Like, I imagine that it’s been forty years or more. That you didn’t die. That things just ended, the way relationships do. That you found someone and that I got married too. And after those forty years, we’re living in different cities but I haven’t ever really gotten over you. I’ve always thought of you, and then I find your number and call you up. And we feel the same excitement we did when we first met. You come to town and meet me out for coffee where we talk about it all. Everything that happened. Why it didn’t work out for us. How our lives turned out. We show each other pictures of our children and grandchildren. We reminisce about how things were, and wonder about how things might have been. And then, I don’t know, I like to imagine that instead of going our separate ways, we stay in touch, and then end up together after all. Like that is how it was meant to be.

Did I ever tell you about Sonny and Joy? Just their names are uplifting, aren’t they? They were friends of my grandparents. They met when one was already married and one was too young to marry, but they fell instantly in love. They lived in the same suburb and they’d bump into each other sometimes, but divorce wasn’t something people did back then, you know, in the 1940s. But they both outlived their spouses, and when Joy was nearly 80 and Sonny was nearly 90 they finally got married, and had a few beautiful years together. Circumstances got in the way, but in the end they got to do what they always wanted to. That’s my fantasy. That you didn’t die, you just went away for a long time, and that in the end we’ll be together.

It’s not fair that we won’t. But this guy still has his whole life ahead of him, and he’ll probably still meet someone and fall in love. Maybe with his true love. I know that “true love” sounds like a Disney movie but I believe in it, because you’re mine. And he took you away from me. 

And then his hearing happened and he got parole. And I started thinking, I want to meet him. No, that sounds wrong. I didn’t want to meet him, I wanted him to meet me. I wanted him to face me. I wanted him to see my pain. And I wanted him to explain. How it is that he’ll still get to make memories with someone when ours were cut short. 

Do you remember our special evenings, Martha? We only did them three or four times. We’d pretend that we’d never met, or that we were on our first date. We’d plan to go somewhere, to a bar or a restaurant, but separately. Then the one time you bought that dress specially. You looked so beautiful. I mean you were absolutely gorgeous. Then the next time, you bought something new again. A blouse. You knew how to pick them, those special evening items. I thought, I’m going to buy something next time. I wanted to be the one to surprise you for a change, to see your reaction for a change. So I did. A dress. I hid it in the cupboard, at the back under a pile of other clothes, so you wouldn’t see it. I was keeping it for our next special evening. But then the virus came, and the bars and restaurants were shut, so we couldn’t have the evening we’d planned. We had to put it off. But that evening never came. So it’s still in the back of the cupboard. I can’t bear to wear it, and I can’t bear to throw it away. 

I don’t know why I never considered seeing him while he was in jail. Maybe I was just content knowing he was there, locked away behind a wall. Like there was a part of the whole thing I could also lock away and not have to think about. But then he was getting out, earlier than I expected, and I did have to think about it. 

Anyway, I asked the lawyers if it would be possible to arrange for me to meet him. Who knows what they thought, but they’re lawyers, not therapists, so they got in touch with his lawyers, and we waited, and we waited some more. It was awful, that waiting, that having to prepare for if he said yes and if he said no. And then they came back and said yes, he’d agreed. 

And then I sort of freaked out, and I started stalling. They wanted to make a date, and I kept putting it off. I think I was realising that he wasn’t going to be able to give me any explanation that would make it better. He probably wouldn’t give me any explanation at all. So what did I want from the meeting? And then I got angrier and angrier. With the world, for not being able to explain and make it okay. With him, for what he’d done. With myself, for suggesting the meeting in the first place, for putting myself in this position.

In the end I decided to do it for you. I mean, obviously it was for me, even if I didn’t know what I wanted or expected. But I felt, I told myself, that I was going to do it for you. That maybe it would put something to rest, or give you some kind of bizarre peace. Or that, at the very least, I could tell you what happened. That I would meet him, and then write to you and tell you what he said.

And Martha, what he said was sorry. That’s all he said. Over and over again. I even got angry with him for that. I wanted him to be, I don’t know, arrogant, delinquent, psychopathic. So I could finally vent my anger where it most needed venting. At the source. But he wasn’t any of those things. He couldn’t look me in the eye. He could hardly speak loudly enough for me to hear him. It wasn’t what I’d imagined. It was disappointing. I wanted to curse him, hate him, make him feel what I feel. But he took that away from me with his remorse. And then I could hardly say anything either. All the things I’d imagined saying, everything I planned on saying – all about us and what we had, what he took away from us, how I’d been since it happened – it all just felt, I don’t know, pointless. Like he already knew. So we just sort of sat there. And he just kept saying sorry. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

In the end, I realised, he was just a stupid kid. Doing a stupid thing. After two months of lockdown and no liquor, he just couldn’t wait to go out and get smashed. And the very first day he could buy booze, he did get smashed, and then he got into his car. He wasn’t the only one. He was just the one who drove into the back of you and killed you. It was random. It could have been someone else in both cars. But it was also the consequence of a series of actions. His actions. And he has to deal with that, too, for the rest of his life. Just a stupid kid who did a stupid thing. 

I’m not excusing or forgiving it. I am still angry. I still want it explained to me so it can all be better. But I also think, it’s not that different from people who didn’t wear masks. Is that any less stupid? Is it less selfish? Going around in public places without a mask, probably thinking, “I won’t get it and if I do I’ll be fine”. Not thinking, “I might have it and be giving it to others.” Except they did give it to others. To old people and people who were already sick, and who got sicker, and died. Those maskless people are also culpable, and they’re still walking around, getting on with their lives, going to the movies, laughing, making plans, totally ignorant that their actions killed someone else. The guy who killed you, he has to live with what he did.

So. That’s what happened. Just what happened. I wish it felt like an ending, I wish it resolved something, but it didn’t. So I don’t know if it helps you. I just wanted to tell you. 

Me, I feel better and I also feel worse. I don’t know what good that does. But like I said, maybe it’s better than not feeling anything. 

Maybe in time I’ll look back and realise that it did change something. Not an epiphany, not a turning point, just a small something. And maybe it’ll be different in ten years. Or forty years. Maybe I will have met someone else and had children and grandchildren. And maybe I will have packed away my sorrow. 

But for now, there’s no tomorrow. There’s only yesterday, and what we had. And all I had was you, and all you had was me.


I miss you.


With love