I remember the day I entered her life clearly: I pushed my key into the mailbox on the wall a little too forcefully and pulled open the door to grab the stack of letters inside. I shut it and as I turned the key in the lock, I saw her walking into the foyer.
My heart quickened and sweat formed on my palms as my brain executed something akin to fight-or-flight: do I stay and talk to the girl I’ve had a crush on for months, or do I turn and run as though I haven’t seen her?
Too late, I think. She made the decision for me. She smiled politely and pulled out her own mailbox key.
“Hi,” I replied smiling back shyly. I smoothed my skirt with one hand out of nervousness.
“Did you get anything interesting?” she asked, pointing to the stack in my hand.
I glanced down. “Nope, same old bills and junk,” I replied awkwardly. She chuckled and flipped through her own mail.
“Same for me,” she said. She paused for a minute, and I remember thinking I saw her brow furrow into a frown. But then she slid whatever she saw back into the pile and smiled back up at me.
“Well, have a good evening!” she said waving and brushing past me politely.
Maybe it was that moment of vulnerability, or the fact that this was something we did once a week: run into each other at the mailbox. Maybe it was that I had had a long day and I didn’t want to eat alone that night. But that was the day I finally asked her:
“Hey,” I said suddenly. “Hey, wait up.”
She stopped and spun around on the first step. “Yeah?”
“Would you, uhm,” I pushed my hair behind my ear nervously. “Would you like to have dinner, with-with me, I mean?”
“Dinner?” she took a step down. “With you? What…like tonight?”
“Well, I mean, I-I know it’s short notice, but yeah tonight,” I said looking up, directly into her face.
I was faking my confidence then, there was absolute turmoil inside: my stomach was turning over like the inside of a washing machine and up north, my heart pounded hard against my chest.
She took another step towards me, slowly nodding her head. “Yeah okay…sure,” she replied, giving me a glorious smile. “I’d love to have dinner.”
I almost gasped in surprise, but instead I said “cool” awkwardly. We decided to order some take out at her place.
That was our first date, I suppose. We spent the night talking, laughing, and getting to know one another. I found out that we had some things in common: a shared love of Harry Potter, the theatre and a morbid interest in crime and investigation documentaries. We both hated asparagus and drip coffee.
It was wonderful and sweet, like freshly mown grass or the smell of soil on a rainy day. I left her apartment high on the promise of new romance – a perfect story about the first night we shared together.
It was also the night she got that first postcard.
We started dating two months later. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to shift gears from friendship to relationship, to turn our dates into sleepovers, our dinners into breakfasts.
Around our fourth month together, I got home from work one night, and texted her as I walked up the stairs to my place.
Hey! You home?
Inside my apartment, I threw my mail on the table and took off my work clothes. I thought about having a quick shower before ordering something to eat.
Was thinking of curry for dinner tonight, that place on the corner. Let me know if you have any special requests, I texted.
I paused before I threw my phone on my bed. Both texts remained unread. I shrugged it off and headed to the bathroom.
You see, I’m the type of person who replies to texts, emails and calls as soon as I can. But she was the type of person who’d let those sit in her notifications until she was ready to answer them. It was something I’d sort of gotten used to, so when I hopped out the shower and saw no text back, I didn’t necessarily think anything was wrong.
Instead, I simply went ahead and ordered dinner for both of us, and then went up to her apartment when it arrived.
I knocked on the door and called out her name. No response. I checked my phone, the messages were still unread. I knocked again and dialled her number simultaneously. After a few seconds, I heard the faint sound of a vibration inside. I stared at the door, and then back at my phone.
Suddenly I heard footsteps and the door opened slowly.
“Hey,” she said warily. She was still wearing her work clothes, looking dishevelled and upset.
“Hey,” I replied moving closer. “Are you okay? I tried texting about dinner-”
“Yeah I know,” she said cutting me off, still holding the door half-open. “I’m sorry I didn’t reply. Look, I’m not feeling that great tonight-”
“What’s the matter?” I asked, putting the food down. “Is it a cold or something? I have some meds you could take-”
“It’s not a cold, it’s just- I’m just-just not feeling great okay?” she was agitated now.
In the bad fluorescent light of the hallway, I looked at her face, noticing the puffiness of her eyes. I also realised that her apartment was completely dark inside.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” I asked concerned, stepping closer and reaching out to touch her. She pulled back suddenly, fear flashing across her face. I pulled back startled by this reaction.
“I’m-I’m sorry,” she stammered, paling. “I’m-I’m so sorry, I-I didn’t mean to-”
She took a deep breath, finally letting go of the door. She stepped forward and put her arms around me, burying her face in my neck.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured.
I was troubled. I put my arms around her, hugging her tightly. “It’s okay. Just tell me what’s going on? You’re scaring me.”
I felt her inhaling again as she pulled away from me gently. “It’s just some family stuff, that’s all. It’s nothing to worry about,” she said attempting a smile. “You don’t have to worry about it.”
“Babe,” I said, slowly reaching out to stroke her hair. “You know you can talk to me about anything. Whatever it is, I’ll be here for you.”
“I know,” she said nodding, that sad smile still on her face.
“Thank you,” she continued reaching down to squeeze my hands. “But I just - I think I just need to be alone tonight okay? I just,” she sighed. “I just need some space. I’ll feel a lot better tomorrow, I promise.”
It bothered me, but I nodded. “It’s alright, I-I guess I understand.” I took her hands and kissed them. “You should have some dinner,” I said bending down to retrieve the now-cold food.
“And please, promise me that you’ll text or call if you need me alright? I mean it.” I handed her the parcel.
She took it and smiled. “Thank you for understanding,” she said. She leaned forward and gave me a small kiss. I turned away slowly, as she retreated back into her darkness.
When I look back on that night now, I think about how I should’ve pressed her to tell me what had upset her. I think about how, the day after, she was back to her old self and how I waited for her to bring up what happened. But she never did.
She never told me that she received the second postcard that day.
“You don’t think we’re moving too fast, do you?” she asked, head titled back, eyes gazing up at the ceiling. Her voice echoed off the empty walls, rippling into the empty space.
I turned away from the kitchen cabinets to look at her. Sunlight poured over her from the windows behind, making her look angelic.
I walked out from behind the kitchen island, infatuated from our 10-month-old romance. I saw only what I wanted to see.
“This place is great,” I said. I stepped towards her slowly. “But remember what I said: we don’t have to do anything if you’re not ready, okay?”
She looked at me, inhaling and exhaling nosily. She bit her lip. “I know,” she stepped towards me and held out her hand. I took it gently, brought it up to my lips and kissed it.
She looked around. “It is a great place. And I mean we’d never be able to afford it on our own,” she said nodding.
“Oh well, if that’s the only reason you want to move in together,” I said pretending to be hurt.
She laughed. “You know that sharing an apartment does make a lot more sense financially.”
I pouted. “Yeah I know, but could you at least put some romance behind it?” I said pulling her closer.
She chuckled and put both her arms around my neck. “Well, if you hadn’t joked about checking out this place for fun then we wouldn’t be here checking it out for real,” she said smiling.
I moved my face closer to hers, pressing my nose to hers. “And? What do you think? Should we move in for real?”
She closed her eyes and inhaled, pressing her lips against mine. “Yes,” she said pulling back gently and smiling. I let out a whoop of happiness.
Our friends helped us move in and we had a housewarming party not long afterwards. She was happy that night, laughing and joking about domestic bliss.
I liked to remember those things instead of dwelling on other things – like how often she changed her laptop and phone passwords, reluctantly telling me what they were or forgetting them entirely.
My sister came to visit us in December– it was just over 11 months now that we’d been dating.
“Oh! Let me find that book for you, you’re going to love it!” she said when we were having dinner at home one night, leaving the table and heading to our bedroom.
“Oh thank you!” my sister called after her politely. She turned her eyes to me.
“Well?” I asked quietly, raising my eyebrows.
“Well what?” she shot back, raising her eyebrows. It was like looking in a mirror.
I made a pssh sound. “I know you have a million things to say, you might as well spit it out,” I said, stabbing my food with a fork and bringing it to my mouth.
My sister smiled smugly and leaned back. She picked up the wine glass in front of her slowly.
“I mean, she’s a little- you know-” she said waving her other hand in circles.
“What?” I asked, leaning forward, ready to fight.
“She’s just well – too good to be true. She’s just too perfect I guess?” my sister said shrugging.
“Too perfect!” I spluttered at her. My girlfriend re-entered, interrupting my indignation.
“Here we go! Found the book!” she said airily, handing over the novel to my sister.
“Thank you! I’m excited to get started. You know there’s this book club online..” she went on talking, but I stopped listening. I must have been glaring at her pretty hard because I had to explain it afterwards.
“Did she say something to upset you?”
“Not exactly,” I said, drying my hands on a dishcloth. She looked at me, troubled. I sighed and walked over to her.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s just sister stuff, you know?” I said reaching out and stroking her face.
“Actually, I don’t know,” she said, pausing and continuing awkwardly. “Only child, remember?”
“Yeah, lucky you,” I replied rolling my eyes.
When I took my sister to the airport the next day, I paused before saying goodbye.
“Hey, listen,” I said looking at her seriously. “Can you – can you maybe just tell me what you meant by too good to be true?”
She frowned and sighed. “I thought we were letting this go?”
“I know, I know. I’m not angry sis, I swear. I just – I just want to know what you meant. Please?” I said looking at her earnestly.
My sister looked at me quietly for a minute, then she sighed. “Okay. I’m only telling you because you asked. I’m just going to say what I think and then get on the plane okay?”
“Okay, well, here’s the thing,” she paused, her forehead creased and she spoke as though she were thinking out loud. “I think that she’s great and you guys are good together.”
“But?” I asked, frowning.
“But I also think it’s too good you know? Like she’s super sweet and sincere and she’s got this great personality, but at the same time it kinda feels like…” she paused and looked at me from the corner of her eyes.
“Like she might be hiding something? I don’t know!” she exclaimed.
“Hiding something? Like what?” I asked a little forcefully.
My sister stepped back. “Hey, this is just me saying what I think and then getting on the plane, remember?”
“Okay, okay,” I said submitting hastily. “Thank you for being honest, sis.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied awkwardly. “I’ve got to get going.” She stepped forward and hugged me tightly.
She pulled back gently and smiled. The expression on her face that day may as well have been a red flag: a mixture of concern, sympathy and hesitation that was so unlike her usual jovial sarcastic self. I went home feeling troubled, because I knew that what my sister had said was true.
Shortly after New Year’s Day, the third postcard came in the mail.
This time, I was the one who collected it, from our shared mailbox. I was the one who gave it a cursory glance. I was the one who saw the small, squashed handwriting, the rest of the words compressed so tightly making it difficult to scan.
I left it on the table like it was a special delivery.
But her reaction was far from special: she gasped in horror as though she had seen a ghost, her hands shook as she touched it. She turned on me angrily demanding to know whether I’d read it, accusing me of invading her privacy and crying from a host of other emotions I couldn’t understand.
That was the first time I’d seen her breakdown. Everything came out of her in a wave of hysteria.
Her parents had a child when her mother and father were teenagers, a boy. Five years later she was born, but her home was far from happy. Her parents were addicts, whose lifestyle eventually drew in her brother. Shortly after they died, her brother was sent to prison, and she was put into foster care. She was adopted and determined to erase her past, ashamed of it all.
Later on, her brother had reached out to her. He promised that he was in recovery, and she decided to support him – emotionally and financially. Their reunion was over before it began: two months in he fell back into old habits.
She tried to maintain her distance, but he begged her for money and when she wouldn’t give it, would break into her apartments to take what he could, using violence that sent her to the ER multiple times.
She never reported it – he was still her brother after all. She moved several times, changed zip-codes, mailboxes, and names. But he always found her. And it was always the same story.
“A year ago,” she sobbed, holding her head in her hands. “A year ago, I got a postcard from him. The return address was a prison outside of town. I promised myself that I was done, that I’d forget it, but then he sent another one,” she stood up suddenly, and ran to our bedroom. She returned, tossing 2 postcards on the table in front of me.
“The first one said he was in prison, he could’ve gotten out if he got parole,” she said thickly.
“The second one said he would be out in time for Christmas. I was terrified!" she cried. “You don’t understand how afraid I was! I was so so scared that he would find me – find us!” she sobbed.
Something clicked. “Is that why you agreed to move?” I asked quietly.
She nodded and hiccoughed. “I thought it would be safer. But look-” she pointed fearfully at the third postcard. “He’s found me again,” she whispered frightened. “What am I going to do?”
I inhaled and stared at the postcards. The latest one had pushed her over the edge: turns out he wasn’t getting out early after all, but he was begging her for a visit. He wanted to make amends, and he needed her help – a testimony from her to help lighten his sentence.
“I’ll support whatever decision you make,” I said quietly. I reached out to touch her hand, but she pulled it away quickly in fear. I started crying now, I couldn't help it.
She shook her head at me. “I can’t – I can’t,” she cried. She rocked back and forth, holding her knees to her chest like a child. We were never the same after that, too much had happened and too much was unresolved.
But she called me today, to tell me that she went to see him.
We haven’t had contact in months, but she asked me if she could call me afterwards to talk about it. She has no one else to confide in. I hesitated, but I agreed.
Now I’m sitting on the sofa, staring at my phone, waiting for her call. Waiting to hear how this story with the three postcards ends.