Love, Twice Met
Just Before I Met My Husband, I Met Him.
It always sounded like the perfect love story, especially if I told the full version.
And it’s a story I only tell when people ask, “So how did you meet?”
“Oh, we met online. Before all these dating apps. We did it the old-fashioned way – we wrote letters. Well, emails.”
It was in fact, the appeal of letter-writing that had first seduced me.
I had just devoured The Lake House on cable TV, drowning in the letters Sandra and Keanu exchanged, wishing I too could live in a glass house by the lake so I could write romantic letters all day and meet a soul friend.
Desperately needing a tangible, concrete task so I would not fly away entirely and be hopelessly lost, with hopes of colliding with a like-hearted soul too, I did what a girlfriend had been pushing me to do for months: I got on Match.com, a dating site that connects members via email and makes you write your heart out instead of one-liner check-ins.
“Was it love at first sight?”
“I… it’s hard to explain.”
Sometimes, I would even tell them about the other guy, the stranger on the balcony whom I had met just the night before. The missing piece that completes the story, if I tell it properly.
Interested to Meet:
My mum and dad at 18, when they fell in love,
All the cats I had once fed, loved, and lost,
Jesus when He walked on this earth,
Myself, before I was born,
Jane Eyre, just to say to her, “You’re not alone.”
Doctor Who, and Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”, to say, “Take me with you.”
The somebody that Depeche Mode sang about.
“Your bio’s interesting.
I’m curious about you.
Name three reasons why you think we should write on. ~ A.”
I had an eye out for someone older to indulge my silliness (he was a year younger than me), a person of faith (he was an Atheist while I’m Catholic) and one who writes beautiful letters (he almost wrote in bulletpoint form).
Maybe I was looking more for a pen-pal than a lover, someone who could lift my soul with words than to melt my heart with love.
A. most definitely did not match either.
And still, I hit ‘Reply’: I had to stop counting the reasons at №12 because I didn’t find your bio interesting enough to pursue this task. So write if you want. Can’t promise I’ll reply.”
That was that.
I sent the email the night before I left with my girlfriends to Phuket for a five-day break from work, this dating business and everything else in the world we wanted to leave behind in Singapore.
Which was probably why it annoyed me so much that I had spent the next five days thinking about his email, wondering if he replied, refusing to check my email, but hoping that he did.
And yes, he did.
I had come home from Phuket to find a four-day old email sitting in my inbox that started:
“You’re quite the character, aren’t you. Forgive me, I was weary from putting in time for what was turning out to be consistently meaningless conversations. This clearly isn’t going to be one of those.”
There are whirlwind romances and also courtships that slowly burn to life. This was a little bit of both, eloquent in its method and evolution.
Our emails flew by many times a day, each byte carrying larger bits and pieces of ourselves.
I learnt that he was a self-professed Atheist who came from a devout Catholic family. I could live with that.
But he was still a year younger than me.
Did that matter when our chemistry was solid?
Then I met the stranger on the balcony.
At the same place, same time, one night before I was to meet A. Yes, that was still all I knew of his name. It was just an added element of mystery that we both indulged in.
There I was on the balcony at the neighbourhood drinking hole, aptly named Liquid Kitchen, attempting to smoke the anxiety away.
“Can I have a light, please?” An extremely deep solemn voice asked.
“Oh, here,” I replied distractedly as I lit his cigarette for him.
“Don’t mind me asking, but are you alright?”
I turned to the stranger beside me and nodded awkwardly. “Oh, I’m good, actually. I think.”
He raised an eyebrow and a smile. “You think?”
“Yes, well,” I began to explain, “Um, I’m nervous cos I’m going on a blind date tomorrow and…” and I laughed, feeling more awkward than ever. “Never mind that.”
How would I even begin to describe the last two magical months of electronic chemistry?
It had started out so badly but evolved so perfectly — but how far will this spell last?
“Well, I’ve never gone on one myself but I imagine it can be nerve-wrecking,” the stranger said empathetically.
I snuck a glance at him.
He looked older; definitely sounded like he knew more about the world than me, probably the kind of man who would indulge my silliness. He had a mischief in his smile and a dance in his eyes that somehow made something inside begin to flutter.
He moved closer. So close his arm brushed mine, but just ever so casually. I refused to budge because I didn’t want him to know I was at all aware of his nearness.
Today, I still cannot be sure if it was the two pints of Erdinger I had drunk or just the music of the night that unravelled me but his presence weaved its way into the in-between spaces of my heart and ever so casually lodged a certain claim on it.
“Well, what are you nervous about, really?”
I gave in and said, “We’re getting on really well. Just don’t know if the chemistry online can happen in real life, I guess.”
“Hmm, I can understand that,” he said distractedly, his fingers caressing the fairy lights strung along the balcony’s railings while I finished stubbing out my cigarette.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave the balcony.
“Are you here alone?” I asked.
“Oh, with a non-smoking buddy. Boring. You?”
“With my girlfriends.”
“Anyone else cute?” he asked.
“Plenty,” I managed to say.
“Hmmm,” he said again.
We lit a second cigarette. I convinced myself I was lingering only to smoke my fill so I wouldn’t have to come to this balcony again.
He was probably more forward. “I’m going to ditch my buddy to stay with you for a little bit more.” He smiled like a rogue and added, “If you’ll have me.”
Right there, his stake in my heart.
I had spent a good part of the last month consumed by thoughts of A., overthinking every way our meeting would unfold.
All because I had watched The Lake House and started writing letters.
How did I get there?
And now, there I was, on a balcony with a stranger I knew even less about and all I could think about was to prolong this night, with him.
How did I get here?
I forced a laugh. “Do you always ditch your buddy like this?”
“No, of course not. This is the first time, actually.”
It was my turn to play with the fairylights to avoid looking at him.
“Where are you guys meeting tomorrow anyway?” he asked.
“Um, right here, actually.”
Then, he laughed. A carefree, generous laugh. “Well, I hope he smokes too.”
“Can’t have a partner who can’t join me.”
“Alright then, I wish you all the best tomorrow night,” he had said when we finally extinguished our third cigarette. “I’m sure it’s going to go great.”
His voice was so deep, I could get washed away in that timbre. He had lines etched into his face with origin stories I needed to know, especially since he looked as if he wanted to share them with me.
But then he nodded at me, winked and left.
I would never forget that mischief in his smile and the dance in his eyes.
First Date Night. The night I would finally meet A. I lit my cigarette on the same balcony that I was on the night before.
The butterflies that had been in my stomach since we arranged this date had somehow quietened and fallen asleep but in its place, there was a fluttering in my heart.
The familiar, primal attraction that had been awakened just two months ago by A. was now directed at a complete stranger whose name I didn’t even get.
“Hey, I’m here.” My phone text message alerted.
“Hi, I’m upstairs on the balcony.” I hit ‘Send’. Showtime.
I sucked hard on my cigarette, looking out at the balcony. I could already hear A. coming up the wooden steps.
Will Cupid favour me with his arrows twice in two nights? At the same place? Or is that ‘never’ only reserved for lightnings?
“Hey, you,” said a beautiful voice, as deep and dark as the night itself.
He was here. The man who had won me over with his letters.
I had told myself this night would be wonderful. If nothing else, we would still have a couple of drinks, laugh together, likely hold hands, kiss a little, fall in love maybe, and I would finally know his name.
Only now I knew, I would be yearning for the stranger on the balcony last night, the one whose arm had brushed mine, the one with the smile and the eyes that had captivated me, and I would be lost until he wanted to claim his hold on me.
“Hi,” I said as I turned around.
Had we been cheated of this first date?
I supposed it would’ve all been the same.
In the reflection of the fairy lights strung along the balcony that lit up both the sky and my soul, I saw that he wasn’t smiling.
In the background, I heard Peter Frampton sing:
Shadows grow so long before my eyes
And they’re moving across the page
Suddenly the day turns into night
Far away from the city…
Somehow I managed to breathe. “Are you going to finally tell me your name?”
“Do you still want to know?” he asked carefully, a man altogether different from what I had imagined but so much closer to what I had not even dared to hope for.
“Yes, of course,” I nearly cried. “Especially since last night.”
Then, and only then, did he give me what I had already missed.
And I finally allowed myself to fall in love.
With that mischief in his smile and that dance in his eyes.
Based on a true story. A. and I were in fact present together, on the smoking balcony at Liquid Kitchen that once stood at a lonely corner of Serangoon Gardens in Singapore, one night before we met. He had suspected I was the girl he had been writing to. But little did he know that he would be the man she would marry.
This story was first published on P.S. I Love You.