If you could see inside my brain, if you could see the images of you that reside there, coming into sharp focus several times a day, you might know. You might understand how much you still mean to me, even after all these years, if you saw the pictures I see—your smile, your laughter, the way your eyes sparkled when we were happy together. The depths of my depression from your forgetting me, having expunged me from your life like words wiped clean from a dry erase board, could be real to you if you experienced what I do. But you don’t see inside my brain. You don’t understand how thirteen years of intensely happy memories compete with these sixteen subsequent years of aching pain, pain that still gnaws inside me today and every day since you withdrew from my life. We never were meant to be together. I know that. You had been married nearly half your life when I met you and I had been married eight years. You had a ten year old child. Now, you’ve been widowed eight months and you have grandchildren. You didn’t know I knew about your husband’s death, did you? Well, I stayed abreast of your life, even though you extinguished me from yours. Remember, I told you I’d love you forever? Those were not desperate words thrown at you in a futile attempt to keep you from ending our relationship; I meant them. I still do. And that is why I am writing you now at what is the beginning of the end of my life. I suppose it’s selfish of me to want to leave you with an imprint of my love. I’ve always been selfish that way. You know that.
I’ve not spoken to you in ten years. Those few times we spoke after you ended our relationship were uncomfortable for you, I know. For me, they were embarrassments; me stooping so low as to beg you not to let me disappear into history. But you were strong then, too. You knew I would keep crawling back if you buckled. And so you didn’t. But I did, my sweet love. I buckled and cracked and turned into the sniveling bastard I was always afraid I was at my core. I became the man you needed to run away from, the man you knew resided inside me, beneath that dual persona of strength and vulnerability. There, at the core, I was a pitiful wretch. You did not need that in your life. You were right to pull the plug on our illicit love affair. But your decision ruined my life. I know, I would have ruined it all on my own, but you accelerated my demise. And, now, my real demise is at hand.
I’m sure I should not be writing this letter. It is the epitome of cowardice. But I think it would be equally cruel were I to let you learn of my death after the fact and leave you wondering whether the words I spoke so long ago were true. They were. They are.
I only wish I knew more about your life since we were one. I wish I knew whether you thought of me from time to time. I wish I knew that your decision really made you happy. You deserved happiness. You still do. There’s so much I don’t know about your life now. But, then, there’s so much of mine you don’t know, either. It’s a pity that neither of us will know the sweetness again that we once experienced when we shared everything with one another.
And so Stegner’s last letter rambled on as Stegner always did. He mailed his letter more than three months before his death. He never learned whether she opened it. I wish I could have told him she did. I wish I could have told him she wept when she read it. I wish so many things that, now, can never come to pass.