Thursday, January 7, 2010

Falling in Love at Seventeen

When we lived in Puerto Rico, Leif was in his sophomore and junior years of high school. We arrived there in August 1990 when he was fifteen years old and he left in July 1992 when he was seventeen. Initially he had some problems, being harassed as the new "gringo" but he got through that and had a great group of friends. It was the first time he had blossomed out and had a lot of friends, both boys and girls, and even had them over for parties. He found several girls very attractive but his interest wasn't reciprocated, or, if it was, the girl wasn't yet allowed to date. There were a couple of girls who had quite a case on Leif, and he had fun with them, but wasn't infatuated.

I don't know the date any more, or even whether it was during our first or second year in Puerto Rico, though I think it was the second one, that he met K. at a party we went to. It was given by one of the men who worked with Peter W. in the JAC Office, and Leif wasn't keen on going because he felt he wouldn't know anyone there. However, he decided to go and it became a fateful and pivotal event in his life.

K. was a very beautiful and intelligent young woman and Leif fell for her. It wasn't "puppy love." (After all, I can hardly dismiss falling in love at seventeen. I did, and I'm still married to Peter W., whom I married as soon as I turned eighteen.) Leif never stopped loving her, though after several years he did manage to stop yearning for her and look for others. They had a few dates but like so many of Leif's loves, his feelings were not reciprocated. It's a sad fact and I've always wondered about it, that it seemed that Leif often fell for women who didn't love him back, and with those that did, the relationship didn't last.

Leif usually had little interest in writing anything, let alone long messages or letters, except when it came to expressing his feelings to women or getting to know them. Then he wrote copious letters or email messages. When we lived in Puerto Rico, email wasn't yet something most people used. He wrote his school papers on our old Atari 1040ST computer, which had no hard drive, so he had his own 3.5 inch floppy disks for his files. When I sold that computer prior to moving to Florida, I saved all of the text files any of us had created in case they might be wanted or useful someday. After Leif died, I looked at his files to see whether there was something I could post on the blog, and in the past, I have posted some of the papers or opinion pieces he wrote.

One very personal letter I found was his declaration of love to K. I don't know whether he sent it, or what the reaction or reply was. I do know that the relationship did not develop further, and that even when we moved back to Kansas, he tried to find out where she was going to college in the hopes he might be able to go there, too, and see her. That didn't happen.

One of the things I found interesting about this letter is that he talks about having been in love before, but I never knew about him being in love with anyone else when he was younger, or even having a girlfriend or any dates. If he was "in love" before he was sixteen or seventeen, it must have been a crush on someone he kept to himself. I wonder who it was.

He ends this letter with permission for K. to share the letter with her family and friends but not to make it public for all the world to see, as these are his innermost thoughts. That gave me pause about publishing it here, but he is no longer alive and it is such an integral part of the man he became, such an important part of his story, that I am going to print it. It allows a lot of insight into the depth of feelings he had for the women he loved, how important it was for him to have the connection, and how terrible the loss of it made him feel.

Dear K,

This letter may come as a surprise to you but it has been all too long in waiting for me. I am writing this letter not to ask you for anything but only to inform you of the feelings that I have keep secret for far too long. I think I shall never forget the night I met you at Mr. C's house. I had gone to that party reluctantly, thinking that it would be boring and uneventful. In retrospect I realize that my decision to go anyway was either one of the best or worst decisions I have ever made. Meeting you changed my life significantly. I had been introduced to a woman, to which I was unaccustomed. Not a superficial, gossiping little girl like most of my fellow students but a woman, secure and confident but yet vulnerable and attractive, impressive but not intimidating, assertive but not aggressive, demure but not submissive, an almost perfect balance of Beauty, intelligence, and personality. I had always known women who were: beautiful, smart, entertaining, fun to be with, sweet, mature, but never had I encountered one that possessed all of these qualities. Until that night.

They say ignorance is bliss and they are quite right. I was happy, content to flirt with the attractive but insubstantial girls of Antilles, having fun and a few laughs but no relationships. Naturally I was happy. After all I didn't know what I was missing. Forced to live a lifestyle that uproots you every three years or so, I had trained myself rather well not to allow myself to get attached to any particular place or person. But I have arrived at a point in my life that I need to attach myself to somebody. I have been alone for so long now that I'm not sure I know what it is like to be in love anymore. And so I was unprepared, unprepared to fall in love again. The more time I spend with you the more I realize how unusual and special you are. Unfortunately I also became more clumsy in my dealings with you. I have always been comfortable talking to members of the opposite sex and have often laughed at others inability to express themselves in the presence of a woman. But now I understand all too well the feeling of wanting something so badly that you are afraid to do anything that might risk it.

If you think back to when we had just met and I barely knew you, you will remember that I was much more aggressive and sure of myself. I was playfully affectionate and concerned only by what felt right at the moment. Later, as my feelings transformed from a casual attraction to serious romantic interest I began to become cautious, too cautious. I was afraid to touch you, to tell you how I felt, afraid of anything that would be interpreted wrong, that would make me seem to be pushing you. So afraid that I did nothing, just waited and hoped that it things would just work out somehow. But I also knew that there was no hope of that.

In addition, adding to my fears were the mistakes that I had made in the first few weeks of knowing you. The time I criticized your driving and the time I dumped you off my shoulders at the beach. You may have long since forgiven me for these things, which most would consider trivial, but I have never forgiven myself. They may sound insignificant but I knew afterward that I had hurt you and there is no greater guilt than that of knowing you have hurt someone you love. There was also the time at Pizza Hut that me and Will pried from you your reason for hating water skiing. Although I am truly honored that you would trust me with such a personal piece of information, we had no right to pry into your personal affairs and bring back painful memories of things that are none of our business.

All these things and my fear of rejection by a person who I respected so much kept me from telling you how I feel. But now things have changed. I know who I am and what is important to me. I know that It is better to live with no than maybe. I must know where I stand so that I may either take the next step or get on with my life.

I had managed to get along for several months with out seeing you and was doing just fine. Out of sight is out of mind as they say. But seeing you at your brothers' party brought back every feeling every desire tenfold. Even as I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with L. I could not help but glance over to see what you were doing. I saw you interacting with all your friends. I watched you as you lived this life that I am not a part of and felt hurt as you so innocently ignored me. So I immersed myself in the conversation with L. I doubt she ever suspected just how close to tears I was at that night. When I got home I let down my guard. There was no one there to see my pain and so I let it all lose. I had already been depressed that week (and most of this year for that matter) and that in addition to seeing you was more than I could bear. I went to the playground at the elementary school and climbed one of the Jungle-gyms. There I sat, staring at the lights of San Juan crying silent tears as I resolved my feelings for you. It was then I decided that I could no longer float between friend and lover. I had to become one or the other.

I had intended to tell you this on Friday night but that would have been impossible with seven other people around and I could never have remembered everything I wanted to say. That is why I have chosen to write you a letter instead of telling you in person. I have waited so long to tell you this that I wanted to make sure I got it right, all of it. I needed a way to tell you how I feel without sounding corny or overly dramatic, (which i'm afraid this letter may be) but if you like I will be happy to tell you anything in this letter in person at any time. I wanted to tell you how every time I see you I long to touch you, to hold you, to kiss you, to take you in my arms and never let go. And if I had less respect for you and your wishes, I might not have been able to resist doing just that.

You once told me that you were tired of looking for somebody and that you would like someone to look for you, for a change. Well Karen, somebody has been looking and he has found what he was looking for. The only question is, can he reach it? If I am reaching you, if something in this letter touches you, then you will know where to find me. If not please do not cause your self any pain over what will happen to me. I can't have that on my conscience. They say that it is easier to love than to be loved. Having received a few of these letters myself I must say that it is true, it is always easier to be hurt than to hurt another.

I have been prepared for a long time now to deal with your answer, whatever it may be. I offer my love and ask only this: that you be as honest with me as I have been with you. Because to have you because you felt some obligation or guilt would be meaningless.

If ever you need a friend or a shoulder to cry on or just want to talk, I want you to know that I will always be there for you. There is an old saying that says "old lovers make the best friends." Well, that is also true of would-be lovers and you shall always have a friend in me.

All my love,

P.S. Whether or not you share this letter with your friends and families is up to you. I would not object to you sharing it with your close friends but given the fact that these are my inner most thoughts and emotions I would prefer that they were not distributed openly for everyone to hear. Share what you must but keep the rest between us. I am including a picture and hope that you will either give me one of you or allow me to take some. Also, if you feel bad about dinner then I'm sorry but I'm a little old fashioned and perhaps too generous. If you like you can take me out next time.


These two photos of Leif were actually taken of him with K. on two of their dates. I believe they were taken in April 1992. I think he looks kind of like some debonair Spanish caballero. You can see how happy he looks. The chain mail he is wearing around his neck he made himself. I think there were few high school juniors who were already able to grow a beard and mustache.

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