Dear Caroline

Dear Caroline,

Hi, how are you?  I haven’t spoken to you in a long time, I guess it’s been years.  I heard you got married to Dean and had a kid – congratulations!  And you’re a doctor now, that’s great.

I’m still single, I never did have much luck with dating.  But it made me concentrate on my studies and I ended up getting a pretty good degree and a job in space!  Which is why I’m writing this letter actually – there was some kind of collision and I think we’re in trouble.  I’m sure it’s fine, but the comm system is down and I can’t hear anyone outside my door.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you something that I should have done years ago.  I don’t know if you remember the first time we met – you were the new kid in class and you just stood there in the doorway on the first day of school.  The teacher was introducing you and you just stood there in this white dress with the sun behind you, and you just sort of glowed.  The sun lit up your hair like… well, the word “angel” gets overused so I won’t use it, but it was like you were on fire.

I tried to get to know you but I was always so shy and you were always so popular.  The other kids picked on me because my parents weren’t rich and I wore clothes from the second-hand store, and I was so embarrassed.  I tried to talk to you a few times but I always seemed to pick the wrong moment and ended up making a fool of myself and the other kids would laugh, but you were always nice.

Then in high school you started dating, and those guys were assholes but they were tall and strong and I was short and fat and I stammered whenever I tried to talk to you.  I didn’t understand what you saw in them – they were so casually cruel and you were always so kind.

I always thought we’d get together at some point, but it never happened.  I guess I spent too much time fantasizing about how our lives could go – I bet you never had any idea that I liked you.  And after school we all drifted apart and now it’s been decades since I’ve seen you, although we have some friends in common so I’ve seen pictures from special occasions.  Now you’re married and have a kid and I’m locked in a metal box floating in space.

I was sleeping when the collision happened.  I guess the hull must have breached and the computer locked the door to my room.  It’s hard to tell because the power’s off – I only have the emergency lights.  There was a knocking on the wall a while ago.  Thurston’s room is on that side, I thought it was him so I knocked back and shouted, but the noise stopped.  It’s been really quiet for a long time.

So who would have thought when we were kids that you’d grow up to be a doctor?  Is that something that you always wanted to be?  It strikes me as a very caring profession which says a lot about you.  I ended up doing a lot of math for a living, so I guess that says something about me.

Right now the math is telling me that I need to get out of this room.  But if there is a vacuum on the other side of the door then I’m stuck.  I had hoped for someone to come rescue me – I’ve been banging on the wall every hour for a long time but I’m starting to lose hope.

I realize that your life has moved on – you’re married with a child and I still haven’t moved on.  I’m still stuck on you, or the idea of you or the fantasy that I’ve been playing in my mind all these years.  I guess if I’d ever had a proper relationship with someone else it would have cured me of this, but I think part of the problem is that I always compared everyone to you, or to my idealized version of you.

And you never knew – that’s the crazy part.  I imagined a million ways I could tell you and a million reactions you could have.  I’m not delusional – I knew there was a big chance you’d reject me, but it was so much nicer to imagine the futures we could have together.  I even imagined that maybe you knew, that somehow the pure force of my feelings for you would be obvious even though we hadn’t seen each other in years.

And then you moved away to go to university.  And then you married Dean.  I kind of want to hate him for taking you away from me, but I know that’s crazy because you don’t even know how I feel so he can’t be taking you away.  And as much as I don’t want to admit it, he’s a nice guy.  Can you imagine how inadequate it makes me feel that you’re with him?  He’s good at absolutely everything – sports, science, he looks like a movie star.  And worst of all he’s a genuinely nice person – I can’t even hate him.

At my age I shouldn’t be stuck like this – this is an adolescent problem, not an adult’s problem.  I feel like a fool but I can’t stop repeating my mistakes.  I feel like hope should be a positive emotion, not one that stalls your life and keeps you stunted.  Do I have too much love and hope or am I fooling myself by casting myself in a good light?

I probably shouldn’t send this letter.  I’ve written it in my head a lot of times but I always knew that actually sending it to you wouldn’t go well.  A fantasy is a fantasy and reality is reality, and reality sucks.  I guess it’s cowardly – Dean wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that he loves you and that’s why he’s the one who’s married to you.

In any case I’d only be able to send the letter if I get out of this room.  I’m hungry and thirsty – I had some snacks in my suitcase but they didn’t last long.  In any case I’ll probably suffocate or freeze to death first.  The math tells me that the air in here should be fine as long as the emergency scrubber keeps working, but it’s making a worrying noise.

I realize that the story of how obsessed I’ve been sounds a bit stalker-ish.  I try to be uncompromising in my view of myself – unforgiving, unflinching.  So to be honest with myself, this obsession is not an attractive quality, but I can’t help it – I can’t think clearly because I can’t get you out of my head.  I owe it to myself to let you know how I feel, even if that’s the wrong thing to do.

It’s difficult for me to separate the sadness of unrequited love from feeling sorry for myself.  I definitely should have rolled the dice and told you how I feel – that would have been the brave thing to do.  Everything would have been resolved and I could have dealt with life as it was, instead of living in this imagined reality with you.

It’s starting to get really cold.  I’ve put on most of the clothes in my room – I look like an overweight textile snowman.  I want to get this letter finished while my fingers still work.  Looking back at my life it’s not the things I’ve done that I regret, but the things I haven’t done.  I guess that makes sense, since I’ve done hardly anything.

But even if you never noticed me, or if you noticed me and hated me – even if it horrifies you that someone like me would dare to even think about you, I wanted you to know.  I want this to be something I might regret doing rather than something I regret not doing.

Even if you don’t reciprocate the feelings, it’s nice to be told that you’re admired, right?

Maybe you’ll even feel a little sad at the things that could have been.  Maybe you’ll wish that you’d spent a bit more time with me, so that this wouldn’t be such a tragedy.  That’s another self-indulgence I have – thinking that I can affect your life in any way, or that your sadness would bring me happiness.  Another unattractive quality.

The air scrubber’s stopped working.  I’ve spent half an hour taking it apart but I’m not an engineer – I don’t know how it works.  I don’t think I can get it back together.  Oh my god I’m going to die…

While I still can, I just want to say that I love you.  I guess telling you won’t cause you any problems with your husband, since it’s not like you’ll have to make a choice of who to be with.  I just wanted to tell you.  I can imagine that you returned my feelings, one last time.  Of all the millions of possible ways you could react, that’s the one I want to keep.

I have a lot of images of you in my head – running, laughing.  But the best one, my favorite one is the first one – standing in the doorway with the sun behind you.  It was like you were on fire, and it’s keeping me warm.