Laleen Sukhera pens a love letter to the one that got away

DEAR R___,

I don’t expect you to remember me, but I certainly remember you. Or at least, some of your words. It’s not because I’m a diehard romantic, because I’m far too cynical now to be one. But, I admit, I can get as easily swayed as the next woman with well-expressed words that bear a hint of sincerity.

I suppose books have a great deal to do with that. Have you happened to have read Captain Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion? It’s one of the most swoon-worthy moments in fiction: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you…”

Yes, I know it’s fiction. It’s been written by a woman. I know it’s not real life. Real life is more about sweet nothings and lazy emojis.

To inspire an actual love letter is a heady feeling. I remember my wonderment as a child when my mother once revealed a sack containing love letters she’d received from my father during their courtship period. “That’ll happen to me one day,” I’d tell myself. It never did.

I’ve received very few letters from guys in my lifetime, none that I can really count as love letters. There were creepy teenaged stalker ones (which were instantly torn to shreds). There were some sweet messages written on birthday cards. Some emails from crushes that were otherwise uninspiring. And a couple of heartbroken letters from nice guys whom I unintentionally hurt (not proud of it). But then there was our correspondence. Particularly that one special email you’d sent me, your very first. You’d started emailing me out of the blue about 20 years ago, to a Hotmail address that I had at the time.

Some of the details are a little hazy now, but I remember the gist of your words. You wrote about how I reminded you of a portrait of an aristocratic lady in France beginning with M—was it Marguerite? Marie?—who had captured the fancy of King Louis— XIV, XV or XVI; I cannot remember which. The king had shockingly been rejected.

You had seen the painting through your work, and it had reminded you of me, a girl you saw at a party—or did the girl at the party remind you of the painting? I can’t remember that either. But I do remember being a little dazzled by the comparison. You’d told me about your career at a major auction house, how you’d travel from London to New York in search of beautiful works of art.

You’d seen me at a Halloween party at my university, you’d said, where you’d been a guest. I was dressed as a Wild West barmaid that night. It was pre-9/11 USA, a world away from Versailles, but I can get why you may have drawn parallels to a lady of that period.

I had an updo with ringlets, wore my friend’s black bustier and concealed my décolletage with a feathery boa. Fishnet stockings and red stilettoes peeped from my asymmetrical skirt. My lashes were heavy with mascara, and I’d applied a faux mole over the corner of my scarlet lips and rouged cheeks. The party was one of the nicer ones among our international crowd. The host was Turkish. So were you, you’d written. Perhaps you had spoken to me, perhaps you hadn’t, I wasn’t quite sure. I was surrounded by my friends and I didn’t recall meeting anyone new that night. We emailed back and forth a few times. I was a little surprised, but didn’t think too much of it—I’d assumed it was a prank. Turned out it wasn’t. Then out of the blue, a year later, you wrote saying you were coming to Massachusetts and would like to attend my graduation.

Suddenly, fiction turned to reality, and I panicked. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I’d written. I felt my cheeks burning with embarrassment. I wish I could have told my 20-year-old self not to be so cautious all the time, not to instantly reject possibilities.

And so, we never met. Our paths never crossed again. However, if you’re still in this world and you were to somehow read my belated letter to you, my 40-year-old self would still reel from immense embarrassment, though at least now I can laugh about it. I remember my girlfriends ooh- ing and aah-ing over your emails. ‘Ask him to send you a photo,’ they’d said (it was years before Facebook). So I did. And you’d sent me a passport sized one. I was expecting the worst and was taken aback at how cute you were. Short hair, nice smile, dressed in a blue or grey suit. And that was all I ever saw of you.

I’ve never had my Captain Wentworth letter moment. But you did add a little magic and mystery to my life with your words. And so I’d like to thank you for that.

Hope you’re surrounded by beautiful art wherever you may be, R.

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