Adventures of Mitey Miss

Stories of the world, a girl, and her bicycle

  • Ulrike Rodrigues

    Mitey Miss (Ulrike Rodrigues)

Burning love and loss and paper

Posted by UR on May 13, 2007

It’s strange, how long it can take for paper to burn.

About two years ago, my housemate Annie found a shoebox down in the basement when she was packing up to move out. She gingerly  passed it to me, knowing I would know what to do with it. It said “Shimano” on the outside, and a quick peek at the French writing inside confirmed my nauseous suspicions: it belonged to P.H.

Long after he meticuously made his bed, emptied his desk, and killed himself with a laundry hose and the tailpipe of a running car, I discovered that my boyfriend had uncharacteristically left something undone.  He’d forgotten a shoebox of love letters.

I successfully ignored and even forgot about that box until today. I stepped into the basement to put some camping gear away. I turned around and the Shimano box caught my eye. I stared back at it and finally took it into my hands. It was heavy – packed full of lined paper letters written girlishly. I opened a letter dated 1998.
Nicole, writing from Quebec. Nicole and P.H. were together for two years, and had been separated for two years when P.H. and I became involved. I knew he was still in love with her, but it was clear that beyond being “just friends” Nicole was no longer in love with him.

She could speak French and on the RCMP’s insistance, she was the one to call Pierre-Henri’s parents in France to tell them the bad news.
They asked her to look after “the arrangements” and she interpreted that to mean that she could move all his possessions into her apartment. Over that time, I learned how much pain one human can obliviously inflict on another.

” I met P.H. for lunch not too long before he died,” Nicole told me one time. “We got to chatting about him and you and you know what he said? ‘I don’t see this relationship lasting.'”

I carried the shoebox upstairs to the fireplace. At 2pm on this Sunday afternoon, I decided to build a fire. I pulled a few sheets of yellow foolscap out of the box and rolled them into paper balls. I lined the grate with the paper balls, then laid some wispy twigs over top. I carefully turned the box upside down over the twigs, and left the bottom of the box on top, to hold it all together.

I imagined that once I lit the balls and once the twigs had caught, the box of letters would burn like a log. At first, flames nibbled at the box’s edges, and thick grey smoke reached up the flue. But the flames diminished as the outer pages became charred. A poke revealed that every letter underneath ~ and the words and heart drawings that they contained ~ remained intact.

It must have taken me forty-five minutes to continuously turn the pile of papers so every letter was illegibly burned. It gave me time to think.

P.H. loved Nicole, and I was in love with P.H. Four years later, I’m finally learning that loving someone ~ and being in love with them ~ are very different things. Being “in love” actually has very little to do with love. It’s more about one-sided dreams and expectations.
And “love” ~ it’s either there or it’s not… you can’t force it.

Four years later I think I can finally say my grieving is done. I can accept that though the person I was in love with decided to end his life, he was not in love with me. I can say that I know how it feels to be in love under the ugliest of circumstances. And I can feel compassion for those who fall in love naiively, wishfully, one- sidedly ~ including myself.

It’s not the stuff of greeting cards ~ but that’s just paper, isn’t it?

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One Response to “Burning love and loss and paper”

  1. Sue said

    Ouch ❤

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