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The First Letter

Photo Credit: Karen - Permilion44.

You can listen to this story here:

My hometown is older than anything you know. Before being the beauty that it is now, it was part of the Roman empire, and before that, it was a spiritual place for the gods of Gaul during the Bronze age. Timeless, for a town which interestingly has the nickname of The City of Time. When I was a teenager, time stopped when my body was trapped in a jail of metal rods and pink plastic walls to keep my spine from moving too far away.

I wonder where it would have gone...

After a few years in jail, I lived in an apartment with my divorced mother and sister. An apartment. I wish there were another word to name that place because I know what you are picturing is far from reality. The building was 280 years old, with large rectangular blocks of bluish stone and a slate Empire-style roof. After entering through the massive wooden carved door, you arrive in the first courtyard and find, on your right, the stairs. Large, old, with a wrought-iron railing topped by an oak handrail, the wood smoothed by centuries of hands. A delicious, inviting patina.

We lived on the second floor, under high ceilings, with wooden floors and 17th-century fireplaces. But my favourite place was in the attic. I always had a thing for secret places, secret messages, secret origins, anything secret really - too many planets in Scorpio. I found an opening in the wall of our attic room, and I stored my diaries there. They contained everything I could not keep in my body. Maybe because I was so skinny, there was no room. Maybe because, after years in a brace from hips to chin, I did not know how to know my body. My spine did not go anywhere after all, but a void was in its place, a profound disconnection from my human form that was mostly voiceless. So I wrote - a lot. My diaries were bursting with hopes and love stories and tales of a father coming back from adventures far away. And dreams. Not the ones I had while sleeping, the other ones. Like the dream of being an artist - or a writer. Dreams so, so far away from my reality at sixteen. Mainly because - as my mother used to say:" who do you think you are?". I had no idea, so I believed other people's views of me.

My diaries were also filled with tears. So many tears. Sometimes, halfway upstairs, I would find teary water dripping through the ancient hardwood floor, leaving tiny creeks flowing along the neighbours' apartments. I had not replaced the stones correctly in the wall, and my diaries flooded the entire building.

Then he came - the man from Paris. I had no warning. He appeared in his robin-egg blue American car from the 1970s on a hot Summer evening as I was sitting on the tiny balcony of my cousin's small apartment.

Everything was small until I saw him.

He drove slowly, coming out of the parking lot across the street. Our eyes locked for a second, which lasted an eternity. He was tall and handsome, and I smiled. Weeks later, he would tell me about my smile. He would say that on that first evening when he drove in front of the tiny balcony where I was sitting, my smile was like a bright promise. That's why he knocked at the door a few days later and asked my cousin if we would go out for a drink with him and his friend.

He smelled of the broad fields of future and freedom. His skin was like amber honey, his hands delicate, his smile a moonflower opening in the middle of my dark years.

I was living a life I even did not know could be mine. He came, and I fell in love.

I think he fell too. For big green eyes, my young beauty; for my longing, which mirrored his own. He saw with his ancient eyes what I could not see with mine: all the angels and ancestors walking behind us.

"I will wait until you are ready," he said - and he did. But my teenager's readiness was like my spine: unpredictable. It did not grow in a straight line, and over time our story unravelled in disjointed threads.

But before that, he wrote to me. The first time my mother announced, "you have a letter", I thought my heart would stop right there. My hands shook when I saw the postal stamp from Paris on the envelope. And my name. No one had ever written a love letter to me before, and this piece of paper became my most precious treasure for years and years. It was the most beautiful words I had ever read: elegant handwriting, poetic phrases and metaphors - tenderness embodied in ink. It implied patience, waiting, and some gentle warning about being young and desirable.

I placed it in my secret wall, and added the following letters, behind the 280-year-old stones in the attic. If I had not put them back the right way, the letters would burn the entire building with their radiant teenager-in-love light.

If you visit my hometown and walk on my old street, stop at number 23. Open the wide wooden door and enter. Climb the steps in the first courtyard, to your right, at the green wall, they are large and smell of time passed. Caress the wooden handrail and feel the hands that have smoothed its grain over the centuries. Go all the way up until you face the attic's door. You might see some puddles, still not completely dry thirty years later. Come in and find the second chamber on your left. It is dusty and obscure, but if you let the skylight windows welcome you, your eyes will remember how to see in the dark. You'll have to look in the wall, to your right, at sternum height, for the few stones that can move. Tell them my name, and they'll respond. There you will find a treasure, waiting for twenty-nine years, or maybe two hundred. Don't read it, for you have already arrived and there is nothing else you need to discover. But if you have written dreams of your own, maybe in a journal, in a letter, or on the back of a grocery store receipt, please add them to mine.

Let's all reach into the stonewalls and share our words, dreams, and hopes.

Let's come together in our heartbreaks and our beautiful love for others.

Let's read the praise and the words of tenderness we received throughout the years.

Let us not be alone.

Let us not be alone.

Wooden door and stairs in my hometown, Besançon, France.


The week after I wrote this essay, I learned that the man from Paris had just passed away.

Rest In Peace and In Love, M.


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