Hello Bianca,

I thought of you today…and remembered. We met in grade 5. My mom switched me to Mountain Road School after learning that we would study French and not English for a second language, as it had been promised before. On the first day of classes in grade 5, I went home from my old school with the French coursebook in my backpack. I slapped flies with it all afternoon, distressed and furious. I wanted to study English, not French. English was cool. French was boring. English was the future. French was the tradition, as it was similar to Romanian, the state language in Romania. When Mom heard the news, she pressed her lips into a tight line, stubbed her cigarette in the blue glass ashtray, and made some phone calls. I went to Mountain Road the following day.

I remember standing in the corner in the hallway during the breaks, while the boys, my new classmates, formed a circle around me and stared at me curiously, as if examining a strange, wild animal, pressed to the green oil-painted wall, my sweaty palms pressed against it, trying to find something, a hook, a nook, a stud to hold on to. But there was nothing, just the slick, grimy surface I scratched with my nails until the bell rang and we had to go into the classroom. I heard the girls’ chit chat behind the boys, and I took a careful look at each one; you, too, when I thought no one would notice. Your group consisted of tall and slender and long-haired girls, five of you, a tight bond, an unbreakable chique pack of young wolves, hungry for news, gossip, and any kind of entertainment worthy of your attention. None of you took notice of the few other girls who paired up or grouped in threes. They did not count. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be part of the slender group, even though I was short and stubby. Well, at least I had long hair. As the weeks passed by, I learnt your names: Zoya, the tall black haired one; Bella, the queen bee; Hermina, her loyal lady-in-waiting; Maria, the curly-haired suspicious one; and you, Bianca, short-haired and brown-eyed, and with the most intriguing behavior of all. I couldn’t decide if you were mysterious or just acting up.

I decided to make up for my short stature with brains and wittiness. I wrote funny stories in the writing class, I bought the same food that your group did: rolls and Coke at the little “bodega,” the wooden stand in the schoolyard, and won all the “logical task competitions” posted on the wall by Mr. Jonas, our math teacher. One day I found myself in your group, and all of you behaved as if I had belonged there all the time. I knew then that I made it. I wedged myself a place into the elite clique in the class.

You and I were soon inseparable. We made mischievous comments about everyone, mocked the teachers at their back, and dared each other to do dangerous things. I remember that in grade 6, you enticed me to check out Mr. Korontaly’s bag under the teacher’s desk when he left the classroom. He always left for 10 to 20 minutes during class, only to return and continue the lesson as if nothing had happened. Everyone suspected that he had been drinking, but we wanted proof. Why? I can’t recall. We opened the bag, and there it was: an unopened bottle of red wine. Bingo! But as I scrambled to put it back into its place, the bag slipped from my hand, and as I watched with a stifled scream, eyes round, it gave a loud knock on the concrete floor. Mr. Korontaly was teaching again when I noticed the thin red line crawl out from under the desk. I sucked in my breath, our eyes met, and you put one finger on your mouth. Apparently, Mr. Korontaly never reported the incident to anyone, as we were not called to the principal’s office, and our homeroom teacher did not mention it during those usual discussions about misbehavior in class.

After this, the girls turned their back on us. We were not cool any more. You wiggled yourself back into the group of tall and slender girls; after all, you were one of them. I should have known then, I should have read the signs, but I didn’t. I stayed an outcast. Whenever I tried to participate in your groups, the circle would squeeze itself and bodies would tighten so much that there was no space for me to enter. Eventually, I made friends with the boys, who did not seem to care about my newly acquired uncoolness. I rode the bike with them after class, I learned how to whistle, and they showed me secret, hidden places in town, like the old mill beyond the tracks at the end of the dirt road, or the dead, rotting fox in the field near the stream, or the abandoned railway bridge outside the town, where the rails would rattle as if they wanted to fall off from under our bikes when we pedaled across the planks to the other side. Did you know about that?

In higher grades, I took up karate with the local Shotokan Fudokan Karate Club in town. That, plus the downhill skiing competitions in winter, kept me out of touch with the gossips in school. I made new friends; I had new crushes from the club and parties to attend on weekends. Classmates fell out of focus.

All that changed in grade 12. I left sports, as I liked to say out loud, to concentrate on my studies for the graduation exam, and in secret, because I fell head over heels into Hunter, the director of the amateur theatre—the only theatre—in Niklasmarkt, my hometown of 22,000 people. Hunter was ten years older than I, a staggering 27-year-old stud, which made him the official adult among the 16- and 18-year-old members of the theatre.

Miss Pillish, our homeroom teacher, organized literary circles where she invited semi-famous poets and writers from town, and you and I were core members on those meetings.  As a senior at school, I became editor in chief of Impish Ink, the school newspaper. And I found myself hanging out with you again. You wrote poetry. I wrote prose. You read my stories. I published your poems in Impish Ink. It got sold out.

Do you remember the outrageous clothes we wore? I channeled Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, ransacked my dad’s closet for his bell bottom jeans, took his big buckle belts and hunted worn out, vintage men’s shirts from second hand stores that I tied above my belly button: just because. You had this bright red skirt that you paired with Doc Martens boots. Once I even showed up in a blue maternity dress at school; people were whispering about me at my back, so we thought to give them something to talk about. Rumour had it that Bella and you were not friends any more. Some classmates said that you had hit on Bella’s wealthy boyfriend from the ice hockey league. It hadn’t worked; who would leave Bella, the beauty queen of the school? When she found out, she cut off every contact with you. I didn’t give it much thought. You were my bestie. The world sprawled at our feet, or so I thought. I should have known better.

You introduced me to the music of Pink Floyd, and I read aloud to you pieces by Luigi Pirandello, the Italian playwright.

“Absurd!” I would mock dramatize. “How can I possibly be expected after THAT,” and I would enunciate that, “to be a modest young miss, a fit person to go with his confounded aspirations for a ‘solid moral sanity?’” I rolled my eyes at the end of the sentence, and we would laugh together. I was educating myself in plays to measure up to Hunter. He always gave speeches about actors and plays and scenes he dreamed up to twist old plays into something shocking that would throw the audience right into the middle of his art. That’s what he said: his art. “That’s art, baby,” he used to say, gesticulating with a cigarette between his fingers. I sighed and daydreamed and pined after him and prattled about his handsome features, his black beard, his stubbornness, and how I loved to run my fingers in his curly hair, tear off his crispy shirts, and dig my nails into flesh of his back during sex. You listened. Your own boyfriend—what was his name?—faded away. He was not a big loss. He hadn’t even read books, you said. You watched as I lost 30 pounds in eight months. I was so nervous whenever I had a date with Hunter that I could barely eat an orange all day. You looked on and complimented my new lean body. Life was good.

After graduation, you and I decided that we needed a rest. Fuck the world with all the studying and people in it. We needed to get away. Somewhere to relax and recharge, we said. One of my father’s friends had a cottage a few kilometers from town, in a wooded area close to Brown Bear Lake. They let us stay there for five days with the condition that we wouldn’t throw parties. It was perfect! We slept till 11am, shared readings with each other—it was Marquez for me and Julio Cortazar for you—you made fancy green and purple and yellow salads from your new diet, and we sunbathed naked in the tall grass near the chatty little stream behind the house. I marveled at your small breasts when you turned onto your back, and you said you would prefer my size instead, and we gave names to each other’s breasts. Lemon, I said, cantaloupe, you pointed to my chest, and we giggled and laughed and rolled onto the grass from the yellow blanket and I longed to run my fingers on your white skin with golden hairs around your belly button.

You invited me into your bed at night. As soon as I climbed under the sheets, your limbs entwined with mine, and I swear I could see the contour of your smile in the darkness of the room. I moved my head closer. Your breath smelled of fresh mint, and tickled the hairs under my nose, and when we kissed, your lips tasted soft, like velvet cherries in July. My hands slid under your pajamas and found the small of your back and your buttocks and your long, long legs. You threw off your clothes with a chuckle and I did the same. I knelt beside you and caressed you with both hands. Goose bumps rose on your skin and you arched your back as I drew one finger real slow from your neck to your belly and circled your breast with my other hand. You opened like a flower, dewy and freshly blossomed and full of nectar. The moon stared at us through a cobweb in the corner of the window.

Something changed after that. Did you feel it, too? We never talked about that night. Summer passed by; we didn’t see each other much anymore. My relationship with Hunter fell apart. It seemed that he wanted to focus on theatre more than a serious relationship. My chosen university turned me away. I lost some more weight, to the point where I always felt cold, and had to wear a sweater even on the few sunny September days. I was heartbroken. Days dragged by. Everything looked gray and cloudy and lifeless.

I met you again when Erica, a common acquaintance asked both of us to help her with the Amateur Theatre Symposium which she organized in town. I snapped out of my sloppiness; maybe I could see what Hunter was up to, and we got to work. Your role was to greet the groups from different cities in the gallery room at the community centre; I presented the different plays to the audience on stage and made interviews with the artists. We seek out each other in the gallery whenever we could. Or was that only me who looked for you? I can’t recall. I told you about Hunter. You consoled me. Hunter also visited us at the gallery room a few times. He knew all the groups and played the big guy with the visitors. I tried to make a good face, the three of us goofed around, but my heart sank every time he left. I was not sure how to behave in his presence any more. Everything felt out of sync.

I did not see you after this event. It seemed that you just faded, evaporated in the fog that descended into town and seemed to stay forever. One day, I went out with some old friends to the Bulldog Café, a literary café that was the trendiest place in town. I noticed you at the next table, but I didn’t recognize any of the people you sat with. You did not see me; you were sitting with your back towards me. I was planning to go over and say hi, and maybe sit with you and catch up with all the things we missed. Then Jonas, Hunter’s friend showed up and strode right to you, and I overheard his words.

“Hunter is terribly sorry that he couldn’t see you, but he had to go back to Bacau. He’s sending you this letter,” and he handed a folded envelope to you. I stood up carefully so that you would not turn around and staggered to the washroom. I locked the door, plunked down on the toilet, and cried and cried. He didn’t even write me letters! I sobbed. When I could gather myself, I sneaked out of the café without a word to anyone and ambled home as if I had lost the address. I stopped several times, scratched my head, sank my shoulders, and fished my pockets for more tissue paper to wipe my tears. Didn’t you know that I was still in love and my life shattered on the black-and-white dirty washroom floor? Didn’t you know that I thought you were a friend? Didn’t you know that I lost both of you that evening?


Twenty years rolled by. I know few things about your life these days. That you have a beauty spa in Bucharest, and a husband, who you love, and two children, a seven-year-old boy and a baby girl. What about writing? I want to ask, but we don’t message each other. You posted some pictures of the baby on Facebook, something about Montessori-style child rearing. Is it true that you call her Ivanka? That would be such an outrageous name in Canada these days! Maybe you wanted to turn some heads to give her a name like that.

And last week, yes, only last week, I also heard that your husband died. Was it and accident? Or a disease? Does it even matter? Life lectures us in mysterious ways. If that letter felt like a slap in the face 20 years ago, how can this death feel to you? How are you, really? How can you handle this?

As the feelings wash over me, I tap on my keyboard, and my fingers hover over the letters. Which one to touch? Which is the best? As minutes and hours pass by, my hurt changes into schadenfreude, then into guilt, then into nostalgia. Those years seem to wave to me from far far away, and I am sailing away from them on a small boat on a sad, grey ocean with its surface a mirror of my own changing, wrinkling face. But I am not alone. My husband nods at me as we row.

Bianca, I am not angry any more. I am sorry for your loss. “Whatever is a reality today, whatever you touch and believe in and that seems real today is going to be—like the reality of yesterday—an illusion tomorrow.” Do you remember Pirandello’s words?

Thinking of you,