by Katie Wu
Grandma said to never trust men who couldn't write a love letter.
"If they can't put their feelings into words, do they even have feelings at all?" She said every time I brought a guy–friend or friend–to a family thing.
"Guys don't' write love letters anymore, grandma."
It was true. While grandma was proud of showing us her collection of love letters, I don't think she'd be impressed if I presented her with all of my "you up?" texts. But she just shook her head with a knowing smile, refusing to believe that times have changed; that men were not the same.
On the day I least expected, love swiveled past my sundress, grazing the back of my heels, taking the form of a paper plane. Inside, I found a doodle of a guy with bushy eyebrows, smiling at me.
It was a terrible drawing, but it made me smile back.
When I looked up, the doodle had been brought to life.
"I'm Jim," he said, stretching out his hand to get the drawing back, but I forced it into my pocket, not ready to give it up yet. "Hey! I drew it." He chuckled, surprised by my intentions to keep it.
"I'm Katie." I shook his hand instead. "And I liked it."
Our interaction was short-lived, but it lasted enough for Jim to get the courage to invite me to dinner. We met at our university's cafeteria later that day where Jim ate eight slices of pizza, and stared at me wide-eyed when I ate nine. Dinner stretched into a midnight snack, which then saw us walking back to my dorm in the late hours of the night. Even then, we didn't run out of things to talk about.
Our first Valentine's Day, Jim bought me chocolate and let me pick the restaurant for dinner, but still no letter. I waited throughout the night, hoping he would spring one out of his backpack. But the only letter I got had numbers, a customer survey, and the waiter took it before I could fold it into my pocket. Dinner was good, but one detail would have made it better. Jim drew me on a napkin. In his cartoon, I was eating the ninth slice of pizza; I had sauce all over my face; and the only words that he had written were, "Pizza-Eating Contest World Champion."
We laughed but for different reasons.
"Can you write me something?" I dared to ask when we laid in the shadows of my room later that night, waiting for the sun to join us.
"Write you something?" He asked, confused. "Like what?"
I could tell he knew I wanted a love letter. I mean, it wasn't the first time that I hinted about this. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to try to get away. Any guy who's not a love-letter writer would do the same thing. Yet, as most girls, I thought my guy was different.
Jim laughed, his voice groggy and itching to be silenced by invisible forces much greater than me and my curiosity. "I don't do that. I can't write you a love letter. It's not my thing."
Nothing else was said that night, even though I had so much to tell him.
I made the mistake of letting this conversation bother me. It was just that–a conversation.
Don't be that person, Katie. Please.
Things were said long after the love letter fiasco; things we both regret. Well, Jim was more on the receiving end, playing defense against my accusations. I, or whoever possessed me that night, was ruthless to him. All because of something my grandma had said.
We didn't speak for a week.
I did the most damage, so I reached out first. Jim accepted my apology, even though he barely understood the reason why this all started. Slowly, things found stable ground again but only momentarily. He became invested in this "love letter" thing, as he called it, and why it affected me so much.
I told him what my grandma had said, and the story behind it.
Mistake. Big mistake.
Jim was livid. "So this was all because of something your grandma said at a barbeque?"
I didn't realize how crazy it sounded until he said it out loud. I couldn't lie; not to him.
He left that night with no promise of returning. Another week went by and there was no trace of him. His friends swore he was swamped with assignments and his job, but I was smart enough to know when someone was ghosting me. Days went by, and not one moment did I wish for a love letter–just Jim.
One day before I accepted Jim was never coming back, he texted me.
Can we talk?
Those words never meant anything good, but if Jim was willing to talk to me, I would take it.
When Jim came to my house that night, I was convinced we were going to break up. On days like today when everything seems to be falling apart, I needed him to say that he loved me, and that his feelings were never going to change. Call me immature or crazy, but I still clung to the idea of love the way grandma saw it.
Could I even trust he had feelings for me? Because on days like that day, I sure as hell convinced myself he didn't.
Jim walked into my room as though everything was labeled "fragile." He hesitated to sit on the bed, but when I nodded, he moved towards me and sat. The mattress sank under his weight just like my hopes that our relationship would survive this. It's such a strange feeling to be next to somebody you love, yet not know how to love them anymore.
Tears fell down my face long before he started speaking. When he pulled me closer, I didn't resist. That could be the last time we would be this close.
He grabbed my hand. Once soft and warm, it became calloused, taking in the texture of a crumpled piece of paper.
I don't know why I tried to hide my tears; Jim had seen my cry so many times before it was impossible he forgot in the span of a week. Still, he was gentle and patient as I wiped my tears before opening the piece of paper.
Piece by piece, I unfolded it, letting the material scratch my fingers. My biggest fear, which was also my biggest hope was that Jim had written me a letter. If he did, it meant he loved me more than he hated writing letters. But did it also mean that he was just doing this to stop me from bringing it up again?
He didn't write me a letter. Well, not exactly.
I opened the piece of paper, revealing a doodle similar to the one I found on the day we met. The same guy with the same bushy eyebrows stared back at me with a toothy green. And next to him, there I was: holding his hand and smiling as though I had found everything that made me happy in our the hold of our hands.
"They might not be words, but this is how I feel about us."
I had refused to believe that men still wrote love letters. Grandma knew, in the curves of her smile, that men still wrote them, just in different ways.
I've kept every single drawing that Jim has made because strung together, they're a testament that love is not a work of fiction.
That love letters don't come in the same shape and size, but they still exist, and they still translate to the same phrase: I love you.