Forgotten Love Letters

27 Dec

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Back in the 90s Ben and I lived in a small brick apartment building in Grandview, right behind the St. Christopher Church and Trinity School playground. It was our first off-campus home as newlyweds. We moved there after I graduated from OSU in 1991.

The building was the smallish variety, with just four units, so that we knew everyone around us–mostly because we could all hear each other through the walls. Below us was an older gentleman from Bulgaria who made exotic dishes requiring mysterious herbs in small baggies, which my cat would retrieve from his apartment and bring back to us on occasion. And next to us was an older couple in their 60s or 70s, named Agnes and Steve.

All of us shared a basement. Around the time we moved in, we were putting a bunch of our boxes down in the basement and were cleaning out the area that was “our” storage space, just beyond the laundry chutes. We found a dusty old box of letters that we’d been told were the remnants of previous tenants. I opened the box and took a look.

These were intense love letters, from WWII, written by a soldier to his girlfriend. The guy was a prolific writer and the passion of a 20-year-old who’s away from the one he loves. He missed her terribly and went through a lot of paper saying so.

There wasn’t anything sublime in the letters–mostly what you’d expect. In one letter, he mentioned resisting the temptation of a solders’ night out in the city, all for her. (The guy was earnest but not a good liar, by the way.) In another letter, he clearly described which parts of her he most missed, in graphic detail. I couldn’t help noticing that he signed his name “Steve,” and the letters were addressed to “Agnes.”

Well, this could not be a coincidence. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have rifled through my neighbors’ love letters, I closed the box back up and went upstairs to tell my husband. Sheepishly, we took the box to our neighbors, not mentioning that it “had been opened.” Interestingly, they said that the letters did not belong to them and told us to put the box in the trash.

We lived in the apartment for about two years, and since the love letter incident, we discovered more about Agnes and Steve, thanks to our thin walls. They argued a lot–loudly. Steve snored–loudly. And every few nights Steve wanted to do things that Agnes didn’t. They argued, things got quiet, and then Steve snored.

The repetition of their argument–the same one every time–was both sad and comical. It was sad because they were oblivious to how ridiculous it had become. I wondered how long they had been caught in this loop.

As a naive and newly married 23-year-old, the state of Steve and Agnes’ relationship baffled me. How could they write letters so full of life and love, then deny ever writing the letters and sink into the opposite of domestic bliss? Maybe the letters were a bittersweet reminder of things past–a life so long ago that it didn’t really belong to them anymore.

I could never find any resolution to this mystery, and after a few years we moved into another Grandview apartment where we could no longer hear Steve and Agnes. That was 20 years ago, and I’m sure that they have moved on as well–perhaps even passed on.

Steve and Agnes taught me a lesson about love. When the spark and joy of relationship fade so far into the past that you don’t care about throwing memories away, when you repeat yourself over and over again and fall deeper into the rut of the same argument, when the status quo becomes good enough, having past tense love doesn’t make a difference. I’m thankful to have learned that lesson.

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