It has made me forget how I used to see her.
And to know your husband sees her that way, well, it has not been easy.
Just the mere mention of how many times they’ve slept together in one night has made me feel about as big as a thumbtack.
Sometimes I think the insecurity this brings up is the hardest part. Do you ever feel that way?
March 14, 1977
Do I ever feel insecure? Oh boy. How much time do you have?
I am afraid that my husband is going to leave me for your wife and that I will be left with nothing. Thirty and single and childless without even so much as a secretary position on my résumé. I’ll be a joke.
I don’t have anything of my own, anything to show for my time. All I’ve ever done is marry a doctor.
Often, I feel overwhelmed by this sinking feeling in my heart that I will never be enough. That I am damaged and any man in his right mind would leave me. What man wants a woman who cannot bear him a child?
No matter how hard Ken and I try, I don’t get pregnant. I’ve disappointed us both so many times at this point that it is hard for me to remember feeling like a complete person. The doctor can’t say for sure why I am not yet pregnant, but it seems clear that something is wrong with me. He even said it was likely pointless to test Ken. He said it most often lies with the woman. What more evidence do I need that I’m deficient?
When I think about what your wife must be like, I picture her as everything that I am not. Four children, twins by accident! She must be so womanly, so beautiful, so perfect.
I imagine that my husband looks at your wife and sees a real woman. And I am afraid that I will lose the life I have built to a woman who can give him what he wants.
I’ve said it. Or written it, as it were.
The ugliest, most pathetic parts of my heart.
All my best,
March 18, 1977
I promise you there is no ugly part of your heart. And I am so sorry to hear of what you have been through and how it has weighed on you.
I find myself wanting to reassure you about all these things. Is it crazy to suggest we meet for lunch? Perhaps somewhere halfway between us? I could leave work after second period if there’s a day you can easily get away.
It would be nice to finally put a face to the name, if nothing else.
All this being said, I realize there is a thin line between a good idea and a god-awful one, so if I’ve crossed a line even suggesting it, I understand.
March 23, 1977
I’m actually glad you asked. I think lunch would be nice.
How about next Wednesday the thirtieth at twelve thirty at the Victor Hugo Inn in Laguna? I will make a reservation under my name, but just in case: I’m 5’9” with long brown hair and brown eyes and wire-rimmed glasses.
If you’re truly at a loss, just look for the lanky woman with sharp elbows, nervously drinking an Arnold Palmer.
See you soon,
April 4, 1977
Thank you so much for our lunch last week.
It’s funny, but the moment you walked into the dining room I knew it was you. I think it was your hair. You told me it was gray, but you are selling yourself short. It still has a salt-and-pepper look to it, especially the way it darkens on the sides. It’s very becoming. To be frank, that was my first thought: He doesn’t give himself enough credit.
When you sat down, I think I was staring at you for a bit. The whole thing was a bit disorienting, to be honest. I felt like I knew you so well, and yet I had only just laid eyes on you.
I had enjoyed how easy it was to share things with you when you were just a faceless person a few hours away. Right before meeting you, I started to worry that after our lunch I might not feel as comfortable writing to you anymore. But it’s the exact opposite. I find it perhaps even more comforting to know that it is you I have been confiding in all along.
I suppose this has all been a very long way of saying one very small thing, which is this: thank you, David, for being such a wonderful friend.
All my best,
April 7, 1977
The pleasure was all mine.
I have been in such a miserable fog lately. But I’m pretty sure talking to a beautiful woman about the various merits of the Dodgers and the Padres could lift even the most suffocating of clouds off any man’s head. Add to that that you are a sympathetic ear as I talk about my wife, and well, I’m pretty sure that it is I who am getting the better end of the deal.
Before I go on too long here, I did want to tell you something. I know the original reason we took up a correspondence was due to you seeking out the letters from your husband.
Well, on Sunday, I found four.
They were in a cookbook of Janet’s in the kitchen, folded up and placed in between chocolate pudding and chocolate mousse.
Janet was fighting a cold and had gone to bed early, so I made the children dinner. It was steak on the grill and french fries from a bag. A father-made delicacy, I assure you.
But when Andy asked for dessert, I went rummaging through the books to see if we had enough ingredients for any dessert in particular. I ended up making him whipped cream with strawberries. Did you know that if you cut up strawberries and put sugar on them, you can refer to them as “macerated”? I felt very accomplished serving “macerated strawberries.”
Anyway, I’ve read these letters, and since you requested them in the first place, I made copies in the Xerox room at school. But first I must ask: Are you sure you want to read them?
Reading the letters from Janet was excruciating. I cannot help but want to warn you.
But I will respect whatever you decide.
April 12, 1977
Please send them as soon as possible.
All my best,
P.S. Whipped cream and berries—macerated or not—is my very favorite dessert. It sounds like a lovely dinner you made your sons.
April 15, 1977
Copies are enclosed. I think our spouses have known each other for longer than we initially thought. I just wanted to prepare you for that.
September 10, 1976
Los Angeles, California
Janet, Janet, Janet,
You must know we could never be a one-time thing. We are once-in-a-lifetime paramours.
Tell me that you have not thought of me, since that day we met? And tell me you did not wonder what it would be like in my arms? As for me, I have imagined the feel of you so many times since I first laid eyes on you.
That night three years ago, when I saw you from across the restaurant, I was struck with the feeling that I had never seen a woman so alive. Your eyes were so bright and your smile so wide. One word appeared in my head: vivacious.
When we bumped into each other by the bathroom, I could not take my eyes off you. You held my hand just a bit too long as we introduced ourselves, and you touched my chest briefly. I saw you had a ring on your finger, that another man had claimed you.
And I know that you remember what I said. I said to you, “May we meet in another life.”
And then I kissed your hand. And I left.
I drove back to Los Angeles, to my life and my practice here. And I thought of you. I thought of you so often. You seemed like a dream, an aberration.
But you are real. So very real.
And you can’t possibly try to tell me it is a coincidence that the next time I was in San Diego I saw you again.
There, in the lobby of my hotel, I heard this laugh, this vibrant and beautiful laugh, and I looked up and there you were. My woman from another life.
It had to have been fate.
That is why I surrendered to you. And I suspect it is why you surrendered to me.
We are meant to be in the same place at the same time. And I believe that you know that, and that is why you wrote to me.
We should plan to do it again. Soon.
Tell me, does your husband make you feel the way I can? Does he touch you the way I do? Does he make you scream so loud the people in the next room complain? Because I do. I know how to do that to you.