by Richard R. Barron
I stood in the same spot in the wind for what seemed like 30 minutes.
It was very cold.
Maybe it was the wind and the cold that kept me from moving. That was my excuse, anyway.
I had those six letters in my hand, six identical white envelopes, all with my name in her handwriting. They were held together by two old, cracked rubber bands. I thought they’d break any time. I pulled the first letter out and stuck the others under my arm.
Her picture was inside. I looked at it as it whipped in that wind. She looked great. It was like she was looking at me again with those eyes that seemed to see right through me.
I opened up the letter, written on pink lined notepaper. It was the first one she had sent me since she went away. She thanked me for the flowers.
“My letter may not be cheery,” she apologized. “The first day I got here I spent wondering how I got here and why I’m here.”
I folded it up carefully. How absurd. I put it back in the envelope.
The next letter, which she’d sent the next day, was on white filler paper, torn out of her notebook. I scanned down the paragraphs and felt an odd mixture of anger and disinterest. I shook my head. “What a bunch of crap,” I thought.
“I am trapped and I cannot escape,” she told me.
“Thank you again for the flowers, your love, your support,” she added. It seemed so hollow and pointless reading it in the wind, in the desert, on that bridge.
The Rio Grande flowed silently by 800 feet below.
“I look at sunsets here and I think, ‘Richard could make a good picture of that.’ ” she said. She couldn’t have known that I would return, summer and winter, to where she was, long after she was gone. She couldn’t have known I would be there now, on the Rio Grande gorge bridge at sunset in the cold wind reading her letters.
“I just re-read this and I know it makes no sense,” she explained at the end. It made sense then. And in some way it made sense when I stood there.
I folded it up carefully too. How ridiculous.
Her third letter was just business, urging me to book my hotel as soon as I could when I come to visit. But I kept it, and I folded it up and put it back in its envelope.
Letter number four read like a confession. “Confusion is giving way to intense pain,” she told me. Later she admitted, “I miss you and think of you often.”
I know it was pointless, but I was as careful to fold it and put it away as I was with the others.
Letter number five was newsy. She told me all about what was going on, and all about how she felt about it. She thanked me for the letters and cards.
I wondered as I folded this one up if she ever really thought of me as her lover. Were these even love letters?
Letter number five got to the meat of her feelings. She explained to me that, “anger and sorrow frighten me because I fear losing control and becoming a raging maniac.”
I had to take a deep breath to read that fifth letter. It was the last civil conversation between us in writing. It was last time she showed any real affection for me.
“Richard, you mean a great deal to me. I need you in my life and love you.”
I felt shaken after I read that. I felt that way every time I read it, from the day I got it in my mailbox, to the day I read it in the wind on that bridge. Maybe in the moment she wrote that, she really did love me. Maybe.
I took out that sixth letter and read the first few lines, and remembered how judgmental it was, and how angry I felt every time I read it. If she loved me in the fifth letter, it was all erased by the sixth. I couldn’t read any further. I couldn’t read it at all.
I bundled it up into its white envelope and slipped it under the rubber bands that held them all together. It was time. The sun was down. The cold was making me shake. I looked at the bundle of letters in my shaking hand against the darkening backdrop of that 800-foot gorge, leaned forward, and let them go.