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Monday, 20 April 2009

A Red Frayed Ribbon

By Johna Ferguson

It was one of those dismal, dreary days of constant drizzle, not the least inviting for a stroll outside. Instead I just wanted to curl up under my quilt and sit and read in my comfortable rocking chair. I have a library of books to choose from, but I felt the need to again look at the letters.

I have stashed them away at the back of one of my desk drawers not because I think someone else might come across them and read them, but more to keep them out of my sight so they don’t become like a necessary crutch.

They are all tied together with a red but much frayed ribbon due to all my handling of them over the years. Sometimes I just hold them close to my heart but most times I can’t resist untying the bundle and at least glancing through one or more of the contents. And today is one of those days; I resolved I’d open and read some of them all the way through even if it hurt. Well that is all except the last one for I don’t think my heart is strong enough today to cope with it.

The letters are the ones I wrote him, not letters written by him. In fact these are not even the actual letters. My husband insisted on getting them back when he married me. He asked for the originals from my friend, but he would not part with them. Instead, he had copies made of them for my husband.

It was a doomed romance, if that’s what you want to call it, from the very start - first of all because he was 15 years younger than I and second, because he was married and had three children. I like to think of that short period as a hiatus in our lifetimes, me between marriages and he reaching 50, often turbulent years in males.

I was an English teacher and he was my translator. I was an American and he was Chinese. Our lives were thrown together just by chance - my taking a job for UNESCO in Qingdao teaching English to teachers and he being a fairly well-spoken English teacher was appointed to help me out with any problems I met. When that six-week job ended, I took a teaching job at the medical college in Qingdao, I think partly so I could continue our friendship.

He had the most engaging smile and sparkling eyes, not like the usual Chinese men I’d met in my last 10 years of teaching. His laugh was infectious and his manners impeccable. How could one not take an instant liking to the man?

He wanted to improve his English so I told him I’d write him a short letter each day about my life in America. After he read one we discussed any difficulties he had after my next class. We’d occasionally meet for lunch or take a stroll on the sandy beach in the late afternoon. We’d compare our two life styles, his English improving greatly through all this conversation.

He’d take my arm when crossing the street or going down stairs, but that was all; there never was any romance in the affair, just lots of joy in being together. No kisses, but once on my returning from a month’s vacation, he hugged me closely, something hardly any Chinese ever does, even now in the new relaxed atmosphere.

These letters take me back to those idyllic days, over 10 years ago. I don’t think, even though I’m now married, that I can ever forget the man.

I wrote him my final letter not long before I married. At that time our relationship had lasted over a year but I couldn’t look into his sparkling eyes to tell him I was ending it. I wrote and explained our paths were headed in different directions so best we part as friends, yet friends that wouldn’t see each other ever again.

I told him I was going to marry a man two years older than I, not 15 years younger. Also he was a widower and I a divorcee, so it seemed a very good match. My husband to be was also Chinese, but his children, like mine, had all married and were leading their own separate lives.

I have neither seen nor heard from him, yet we both live in this same city and in nearby neighborhoods. But when I am lonely or sad, I often open the packet and read parts of of them. He only wrote me one letter, the time I was away on vacation, but somehow that has been lost in the many moves I’ve made, but I still carry its essence in my heart. He wrote how our friendship seemed deeper than any other he had ever experienced, one which he hoped might last a lifetime.

That friendship still affects my life in a small way, and hopefully I can continue to carry that friendship through the years in memories and by re-reading old tattered letters kept tied with a red, frayed ribbon in the back of my desk drawer.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Loved reading your story of the red frayed ribbon. Unrequited love is often the best for you never see the warts that may be hidden under the skin. But you always wonder how it might have been, and that makes it poignant indeed.

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