Letter to an Unknown Man (2014)

Letter to an Unknown Man“Are you happy?”

I think this is how it all started.

He called me about four years ago and asked me over the phone:
“Are you happy?”

Now, that’s a heavy question. Especially if the one who asks it is your first love: we were both younger than six. I still remember his face: big eyes and a charming smile; beautiful lips and rotten baby teeth. He was swimming in a kindergarten uniform all wrinkled and many sizes bigger.

We attended the same elementary school, and then middle school. Our paths separated in high school and we just occasionally met at someone’s birthday party or at my 18th birthday party where he finally asked me if I would consider doing it there standing leaning against the kitchen door with mom preparing our snack in the kitchen. I guess that was the test for

“How happy do you want your birthday to be, Dana?”

I answered politely, “No, thanks,”

and next time we talked was a year later.

He was coming to Bucharest weekly to meet with tutors to prepare for another attempt to pass a college admission test. I was a rather famous law school student – coming from a small town, with no connections to any leading factions in the Faculty of Law, and having passed the admission test from the first try with the highest grade and continuing to get only the highest grades. But tired of my goody-goody reputation I was trying very hard to advance my Baudelairian belief: few things are worse than virginity.

However, when my turn came to ask my man if he wanted to do it in my rented room in Cotroceni, to my surprise, he refused, only to ask that question months later once my eventual loss of virginity became public knowledge in our little town. But then, unbeknownst to me, he had become a lovely person of my past. He ceased to be a living person. He remained frozen within the 6 to 18 -year old range. A dear relic of my past, which I would never harm or hurt in any way.

So when in 2010 he asked:

“Are you happy?”

I did not know what to say. I fumbled because I did not know whether the conversation took place between us that day, or us in the past?

We established a funny relationship of sorts, because we never had one when we shared some interest in each other’s feelings or just bodies. I would take his phone calls. I would read the books he authored and mailed me. Eventually, we met again at my mom’s funeral and I was very happy to see he was doing okay. That day I even visited his parents because I wanted them to know that they should be proud of their son – a bit presumptuous of me, I know, but I did it.

Not long after that he started his own love affair with New York City. And as expected he returned to the City. We saw each other twice. The first time he wanted to meet my family and he came over for dinner.

Last time we talked was a few days ago. The three of us, his live-in companion, he, and I, took a walk in Central Park. It was getting cold and I was not dressed for walking outside for more than 10 minutes.

My mind took leave from my body and looked down at us and did not get the meaning of all this. We were three strangers walking in Central Park and I was cold but still trying to sound friendly.

“Would you take a picture of me with Dana, please, because I have no picture with her.”

He asked his companion and she did it.  It felt weird at that moment, and later I suspected that he wanted that picture on his phone so he could tell himself that “Dana still loves me” was not imagined.

I did hear that all his past wives and current companion believe I’m the soulful maiden whose love, though never returned, has only gone stronger in time. It is a story he tells and then other retell it again and sometimes someone mentions, as an compassionate aside:

“and you’re not even that bad.”

So, my dear, instead of adieu, I wish you make good use of that picture so your story can be told and retold for the years to come.

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