I have just finished reading your letter. I read it out loud - loud enough so that I could hear your voice. That rejoiced me so much. I have been waiting to hear from you ever since you left here and had almost given up my hope for hearing from you. I wondered if I had been trapped into one of those "cheap" friendly gestures where the boy tells the girl he would like to see her again and she says she is going away for the summer and will write but never does. And I am a Chinese man in America and you are a beautiful Caucasian woman. Is not the world your oyster?
My hope was flickering hope and then your letter came two days ago and the pain in my heart went to another place - maybe Pittsburgh - I want to visit that city some day. And for two days I read your words again and again and tasted - do I mean savor? Sometimes the right word in your language does not come easy to my Oriental tongue. I tasted your words and swallowed them again and again. I do not know you well yet I feel I have known you from other ages and dynasties and I miss your appearance in my life. There was joy when you were near.
I find in you something very uncommon among my American friends. The first thing I noticed was your smile when we met and we met only because I was not looking and drove my car into yours when I left that parking lot. You did not yell or act Shakespeare's shrew - her name was Kate but you probably know that. You asked me if I was all right even though it was my car that hit yours. You shook my hand and waited for me to convince you that I was in one piece and that none of my parts hurt from our minor collision. I was humbled by your kind thoughts and immediately ashamed I had not asked you first how you fared.
I offered my card of assurance to trade with yours and you laughed. I thought it was a noble gesture but you said the damage was not worth a lot of fuss. I offered to pay for it whatever the cost and you said I could buy you lunch and we would call it even. I was sure you were going to lead me to a very expensive place but you did not. You winked at me - I was surprised that you did that - so very like Bogey and Bacall. And where did you take me to eat? The best hamburgers on the planet you said and they put many pickles on them. I laughed when you ate two - you are too slender to eat like that every day. They were very good hamburgers - but no ham! They were made from beef - a scarcity in my country. And I will tell you that I also did like the root of beer. It was good to my tongue.
You could have said goodbye after lunch but you agreed to meet me for breakfast at the college cafeteria the next morning. You eat a lot. We spent the day together - you and I - the sun and the birds and the flowers and a light breeze - my heart went somersaulting over to yours and you filled me with gladness and with joy. I told you some of my dreams. You told me one of yours. You will be a fine writer some day. I know it. And I will buy all your books and say I knew her when she ate hamburgers with many pickles and drank two whole glasses of the root of beer.
I mail this now and hope it was not my pipes dreaming that you wrote to me and that you will write to me again. I touch you with the joy in my heart for meeting you, Emma.
I have not heard from you and the pain in my heart has returned. It did not like Pittsburgh as much as it likes to dwell in my chest. If you do not want to write to me I will live with that but please send a short note that says you are well so I will not worry that an ill wind has swept you away. You are very slender - it would not take a very big wind. If you are well and I hope that you are well then I will content my mind that you opened a window in my life and gave me a day of joy. That is more than most people ever have.
I humble myself which is a very hard thing for this Chinese man to do.
I could not wait for you to get the note I put into the big blue mailbox yesterday. The box stands on the corner of my block and when I walked back to my apartment building I was filled with a flash of memory that comes of the future. I was worried - a natural state for me - that you were very ill. Emma, forgive my forwardness for calling the camp where you are working this summer. I am glad I did call. They said you were in the clinic with a nasty flu bug and a fever. I think they also said you had a nose that ran away. I sincerely hope not. I remember your pretty face and I would like for you to keep your nose - they jest of course. Your nose would have nowhere else to go.
I bowed today to the Gods of my country - we have several I bow to when it is necessary. I asked them to look after you even though you are not Chinese and do not like chop suey. I do not like it either. It is an American taste - not a Chinese one. My Gods will look closely at you Emma and I know they will like what they see - a woman sweeter than the jasmine I put in my morning tea with eyes of mischief that wink and a smile that lights up the western sky. Heal sweet Emma. I miss reading your words.
Your letter came yesterday. I held it in my hands and against my heart for several long moments. I wanted to taste your words and I wanted to hug them to me but I had a sweet stab of pain that your words might say what I did not want to read. I admit with full voice that I put your letter on my table and made traditional tea. I bowed and said a quick prayer that your words would sweeten my day and I sipped it hot and it made my mouth glow like the mid day sun. I did that so that if your words burned a hole inside of me it would not hurt so much because my mouth and my throat were already afire.
I opened the envelope with steam and when I drew out the pages of your letter my heart swelled. So many pages. My feet left the floor I think and I floated for a while. Soon I grabbed my heart so it would not go to Pittsburgh and my eyes devoured your words. You make my heart sing, Emma. It is a glorious song and I will sing it loud and tempt the Gods to be jealous and suffer what they may give me so I can sing again.
You trap my breath with your words. You paint pictures when you describe the children at the camp and I can see you help them learn to enjoy life. I did not know they had places like that for children who had suffered through bad things in life. I am filled with pride for knowing you. I hear your voice now as I read your words. It is a beautiful sound in my ears. I am working hard on my research dissertation. It is slow gathering the information I need to finish it but I am hopeful. When it becomes an ache that makes my head pound I go to that little hamburger place and remember your smile when we shared a time there in each other's company. I raise my glass of root of the beer and whisper your name into the breeze. Do you hear me, Emma? I count you now among my friends. I hope you count me among yours now.
I await your next letter with much joy. I think no matter the words my heart will not return to Pittsburgh. I hear that Topeka is a nice place. That is where Alice and Toto live, in Kansas.
Come into my life again please.
I awaited word from you and even invited the postal service man in for tea hoping to lighten his big bag and take a letter that came from you. I did get mail today. The phone bill and the electric power that I use and a note from an old friend. He says he has visited Pittsburgh and thinks it is a grand city but crowded with too many people in a hurry to get to the next place and then hurry from there to some other. I confess that sounds like New York and Chicago too - both cities I visited when I first put my feet on the North American continent. It always saddens my heart when people look down as they walk the streets and not up into the glorious skies. My friend says it was very gray when he visited Pittsburgh but it is possible that gray was the pain my heart sent. I did not get mail from you today and the birds are not singing either.
Joy! That is what you give me. I bowed to my Gods today and thanked them for you. I understand it was your own God that caused you to be but no matter. Heaven on this earth is a place that is big enough for an Eastern man and a Western woman.
I had missed your words but what hurt my heart the most was the desire - may I say need? To see you again. I washed the steps to my apartment building so they would be clean if you visited. I washed them every day for several days because we Chinese believe that a clean walkway leads to a warm hearth and lightens the weary traveler and I made fresh tea. I do not know if you like jasmine but I sweetened it for you if you do.
Your letter arrived only hours before your smile and I sat on the front steps and waited. Your words were filled with sweetness and I made a promise to my Gods that I would remember that we are proper people and I would restrain my arms from holding you and my heart would stay in my chest and my feet upon the ground. It would not do for a proper Chinese man to float while you are here.
I broke my promises too swiftly.
You bounced like a puppy out of your car and into my arms. Your hug was very sweet and filled with joy and I apologized to my Gods as I held you in my hungry embrace. My heart forgot its place and rushed to meet yours. It was my good fortune that my feet stayed on the ground.
Your smile and your sweet voice linger now in my head and in my heart and I am undone by the words you said to me. You are blue skies in the midst of thunder and rain and again I thanked my Gods for you. I wanted you to rest while I made lunch for us and when I could not wait any longer, I looked around the corner of my dinette and there you were, eyes closed and in the arms of quiet sleep. You are precious like Hong Kong orchids and my mother's silent love and I treasure knowing you as surely as I treasure the breath that gives me life.
I sat on the floor and watched you in your home of sleep and I confess a swift stab of jealousy filled me for a moment. If you were dreaming, I wanted to be that dream. Your skin is very pale, Emma and your mouth like petals. I dared to place my finger on your lips and found them soft. You are beauty, sweet and intoxicating. When I look at you I think I am drunk with too much of a good thing.
And when you opened your eyes and saw my eyes drinking in the sight of you, you smiled at me. My heart went soaring at your smile. I tucked my feet under me so they would not lift me up and float and I swallowed my breath when you said "Hold me."
I did hold you and was surprised I remembered to breathe.
I am mere man - please do not toy with me.