Yesterday, I grabbed the small plastic bag that contained all the letters my son wrote to me and found among them four letters written to me by his father, Klaus. I was shocked at what I found in them and felt as though I were reading them for the first time.
Klaus had been a writer and teacher of creative writing at several colleges. He had written a book in graduate school, but the book was far too esoteric and made no sense to me. I don't know if it was successful or not. But the letters were personal, lyrical and heartfelt.
I had to blink away the tears as I read them. When he sent them to me, I didn't have the same reaction. I found the letters to be silly and overly dramatic. Our marriage ended in 1972. It was time he get on with his life. But he continued writing and telling me how much he loved me and longed to see me again. Yesterday, I felt his words viscerally and couldn't get over the feeling of sadness that we didn't make it as a couple.
The war years had taken their toll on him as a child. Later, an abusive stepfather and a mother who liked her wine a little too much were the last stroke of the brush. He became addicted to various substances himself and very nearly died until he got sober.
I include the letters in the book to complete the story since Klaus died in September 2004. His creativity and sensitivities were never appreciated by me. His son, however, understood him and encouraged him. It surprised me that yesterday, after forty five years, I would read and hear his voice for the first time. It felt as though he had just written the words down and walked in the room to hand deliver them.
The following is the first letter written inside a greeting card shortly after Christmas, 1984.
Thank you for your Christmas card: thank you, indeed. It was certainly one of the reasons why this Christmas was the most joyous one in years.
When I read that you joined ALMA, just in case our son might be looking for you, I was deeply moved. If there is one wish granted me on this earth, it is for you to find your child.
It's good to hear that life is kinder to you now, and more peace is with you.
Till some other day, perhaps, when I write again, I say "Servus, Spotzl!" Love, Klaus.
The next one was mailed August 5, 1992:
After you left, I tried to bury my love for you as deep as I could. Every now and then, of course, fragments come to the surface. - I live, you know.
But at the moment of my death - if I have the time - I will blank out every part of my life except seeing you for the first time at Hoflinger, at the table one step down, diagonally to the left,* the moment that shaped my life and consumed it. If I'm lucky, I'll die a happy man.
*Obviously, I'm not sure. But it's the moment itself that is with me.
The last letter, written on November 21, 1998, was sent via email:
If I could a write a symphony, I would write you a symphony. But I only have words, the most unreliable and treacherous signs of them all, and I'm not a good composer.
I just watched Bird on a Wire; Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson. Yes, I am a romantic. I smiled, I chuckled, I felt sad. There is a sadness in me that goes way back, but I don't know how far. And to live dangerously has always been my motto. I've risked all and I've lost all. I hurt and I cried; but the risk was worth the price. Cliches. Perhaps. Life needs to be lived; all our passions need to be expended. I knew that when I met you, and I still know it now.
Last weekend I walked next to a young man of thirty-two who is the result of the most passionate moments of my life, moments with you. His wife is pregnant. There is then, a third generation that goes back to a moment of passion. Passion. What else is there? I still would like to kiss you all day long. And I still hope to hear you say into my ear, "I love you." And I still want to tell you that things worked out for the best in a weird way, after all. When I look at the trajectory of my life, how can I not be a romantic? After all, I was talking to you on the telephone just the other day, thirty-four years after I first saw you in Hoflinger. You were twenty then. I was twenty-four. Now I'm fifty-eight.
I would love to see you. I'm not well-to-do (what else is new?), but I could charge a round trip ticket to Tucson. When could you come? Any time would be fine by me, except Dec 4/5 when I'm planning to check out Seattle.
Of course, I should work on my dissertation. Alex suggested that I, for starters, clean up my table/desk. Well, I still haven't cleaned it up. Tomorrow. Tonight I am dreaming up another ending to the story of my life...
I'm sorry that much of my letter consists of "I," "I," "I," What is your life really like? Do you still have dreams? What are they? Talk to me.
P.S. The last girlfriend I had was in June. I'm totally unattached.