WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…
It was in the summer of 1996 when a young boy first received a letter from overseas. It was for a school project. They were told in class that they would receive letters from fourth grade students abroad as part of their language and culture exchange program. As he carefully tore the envelope open, the young boy marveled at the picture enclosed with the letter. It was a picture of a beautiful lake with a small island in the middle. He unfolded the letter and admired the clean handwriting of the person who wrote to him. He read the letter and learned who the person who wrote to him; it was a girl and her name is Amara. Like him, she was in her fourth grade in a country in the Southeast of Asia. She wrote in her letter that she loved reading and drawing. The young boy marveled at the letter and its contents. From the living room, the young boy ran towards the kitchen to look for her mother and show her the letter he received.
“Mom look!” he excitedly said as he handed the letter to his mom.
“Oh you got your letter!” The woman with ash blond hair and warm blue eyes said as she bent down and took the letter from his son.
“Yes I did! It came from a girl named Amara mom. She even sent me this postcard!” The boy answered as he handed to his mom the postcard enclosed with the picture.
“Well, will you be writing back to her Teddy?” His mother inquired.
“Oh I most certainly will mom! Could you help me purchase a postcard that I can send back to her too?” The boy inquired.
“Of course son!” His mother answered as she patted him. Teddy’s mother then took his hand and led him to the study room. He quickly took a seat on the floor, elbows propped on the coffee table while his mother took some paper and pen from one of the drawers.
August of 1996. Amara came home crying. As always, she was mercilessly teased by her classmates while the teacher was giving a lesson. She retaliated but got caught by her teacher. In the end, it was her who was reprimanded for being noisy and was asked to stand at the back of the class while facing the wall. She felt embarrassed and humiliated but she couldn’t do anything. Her teacher had already punished her for something she didn’t want to do in the first place. She thought how unfair her teacher was.
There was no one in their house except for her aunt who immediately consoled her when she saw Amara crying. She cried harder as she recalled to her aunt what had happened in class that day.
When the tears had all dried up and she stopped crying, her aunt gave her some tasty snacks and handed her an envelope. Amara examined the envelope and soon, her tear stricken face had a huge smile plastered across it. She jumped on her chair and began pacing around the small house excitedly as she told her aunt that her “pen pal” had just sent her a letter in return. She opened the envelope, careful not to tear it. Her aunt gave her a pair of scissors instead and she cut the upper portion of the envelope. She took out the letter and the enclosed postcard and began reading.
The letter she received was a response from the one she sent to Theodore Michael Willows for their language and culture project in school. Last June, during the second week of their classes, their English teacher called them one by one in front and gave them a small paper containing a name and an address. They were told to write to the person whose name appears in that slip of paper because those children were their assigned language partners. They were only told to send a letter but she included a postcard of her most favorite scenery. Her aunt helped her to mail the letter to Theodore.
The boy who had replied to her letter told her to just call her “Teddy”. He said that the letter she sent brought joy to him and his parents who read the letter together as soon as his father returned from work. He further added that he looked forward exchanging more letters with him.
Those were the first letter Amara and Teddy received from each other.
By the fourth letter they both wrote and received, each of them enclosed a solo picture and family picture. No, it was not part of the project but they both felt to share something more personal with each other. By the fifth letter, compliments about how each other looked like were given. Soon, from language partners, a friendship grew which would continue for many more years.
Both children learned through the simple act of exchanging letters that friendships can be found just about anywhere in the world.
A TOUCH OF MODERNISM IN A CLASSIC TRADITION
When both children learned about the “e-mail”, Amara and Teddy exchanged e-mail addresses. They first learned about each other’s “e-add” through the “snail mail” they usually sent to each other. It’s been three years since they started as language partners and now they considered themselves as “pen pals”.
Amara was in her first year high school when she sent her first e-mail to Teddy. Teddy was in seventh grade when he received his first e-mail from Amara.
When social media and chatting came in the picture, both teenagers added each other as friends in their own accounts. Now, their communication was not just limited in e-mails and exchanging snail mails. Amara and Teddy could quickly see each other’s pictures through social media and could have free flowing conversations through chatting. Sometimes, Teddy and Amara would do a video call. As always, Teddy was accompanied by his sweet mom while Amara was alone. She had to go out of her house and rent in a computer shop. She did not have a computer neither nor an internet at home yet.
Of course, snail mails were still exchanged. No, both teenagers refused to let go of the traditional way of writing letters. After all, they met each other through this means of communication. However, from letters, packages were soon exchanged.
The first package she got from Teddy was a gift for her 13th birthday. She was overly joyed while her parents were very surprised. Their daughter received a gift all the way from USA. The gift she got was a simple summer dress that was personally chosen by Teddy’s mother. It was the shade of sky blue, Amara’s favorite color which Teddy particularly written in his birthday card for her “I remembered your wrote blue is your favorite color so my mom and I chose this dress hoping you’d liked it.” Amara’s mom took a picture of her wearing the dress and she sent it over e-mail to show Teddy and her mom how grateful she was.
The first package Teddy got from Amara was a Christmas present. The present was a hand-made lampshade. The panels were painted with a simple design. Amara had written in the Christmas card that she personally made the lampshade for a project in school and she got an A for it. Of course, she did ask for help from her dad who did the basic electrical wiring. Teddy treasured the gift and up to this day, keeps the lampshade in his working table in his office.
It was the first of many more packages and gifts that Teddy and Amara would receive from each other. And there is always a first for everything.
TEAR STAINED LETTERS
Amara first received the very first sad letter from her overseas friend in February of 2007. Amara and Teddy were both 18 years old in that year. The paper was tear-stained, a sign of how much pain her friend was undergoing.
Teddy experienced his first heartache.
Teddy wrote to her that her that she caught her first girlfriend cheating on him. It would have been less painful if it was with any other guy but she had to cheat on him with one of his closest buddies in school. Teddy felt like there was no one to whom he can confide except to her. He had written her that he knew he could just write him an e-mail but he was not clearly thinking clearly but he had just to let it off his head.
Amara wrote him an e-mail to immediately respond to his snail mail but she still had written him a snail mail and enclosed a small gift to comfort his friend. It was a bookmark with an inspirational poem. She hoped that it would make her friend smile.
In the winter of 2007, Teddy opened his e-mail and was happy to receive an e-mail from Amara. He knew she received his snail mail. He was a bit embarrassed that it was tear stained but he could not care less. The e-mail brought him a wave of warmth and comfort as if he felt her embrace through that e-mail. He could not put his finger into it but he felt relieved and comforted.
And that was the first of the many letters of heartaches that they exchanged. There were more letters about each other’s heartaches were exchanged and letters of consoling each other via e-mail or messenger application; however, such heartaches would be replaced with heartbeats of joy and love unspoken.
At 26, Amara has become an accomplished and beautiful young woman. She had begun working as an editor for a teen magazine. At 26, Ted (his new nickname) has grown into a fine young man, handsome and charming. He had begun working for his family’s business and had been training to eventually succeed his father. It has been 12 years since they first received each other’s letters and up to this date, they were still exchanging letters, e-mails and occasional packages. Sometimes, there are the occasional video messages or random calls to surprise each other
It’s been 16 years since their friendship began from a simple school project. As Ted looked at the hand-crafted lampshade on his working table and smiled. He imagined how it would be like to meet his long time overseas friend. They’ve known long enough that they’d known about each other’s lives. They would even exchange friendly banters in Facebook over a picture or a status.
He opened one of the drawers on his working table and pulled up a box that contained all the letters he had received from Amara. He particularly took the very first letter he received from her and re-read it with a fond smile.
“Amara Linsangan.” Her name was called by the consul. She promptly stood from her seat and approached the window of the consul who had called. Today is her interview in the Embassy for the approval of her US Visa. Her company would be sending her for a conference in New York. She could feel her heart drumming in her chest but she managed to give the consul a warm smile as she submitted her requirements to him. In less than 15 minutes, her interview was done and her application was approved. She was granted a Tourist Visa with 10 years validity. She couldn’t be happier with the results. She excitedly went home after her interview, itching to hold her smartphone and share the good news to a friend whom she might be able to see after 16 long years.
Ted had just reached his apartment unit. It was past 10 o’clock in the evening and he felt that his body was being called to lay on the bed. He had a long day in the office and having a deadlock argument with the company’s stockholders was more than enough to ruin a perfectly fine spring day. Re-reading the letters he got from Amara was his way of relieving stress. It was then that he thought of sending her a message over a messenger app and just strike a random conversation with her. Talking with Amara had become very normal for Ted (but Amara calls her “Teddy” and to him, she’ll only be the other person aside from his mom who can call him that). He sat down on his couch and took out his smartphone. Before he could even type his message, his smartphone began vibrating and the picture of Amara in the caller ID appeared. He didn’t think twice answering the call.
“Teddy!” Amara excitedly say in the other line.
“Hey, what’s up Amara?” Teddy cheerfully answered.
“I got approved!” Amara answered. He could feel the joy and excitement in her voice.
“Approved of what?” Ted inquired.
“US Visa! I’ll be in the US this coming April to attend a conference. I am sorry if I didn’t mention it to you but I was planning to surprise you for your birthday.” Amara answered.
Ted shot up from his sitting position and was overly joyed with the news. “Really? That’s a great news Amara!” He said matching her enthusiasm.
“I know it isn’t a surprise anymore but hey we’ll finally meet for the first time in person!” Amara commented.
“Where’s your convention?” Ted inquired.
“In New York this coming April 27-30 but I’ll be staying in the US for two weeks though.” Amara answered. “I’ll do some sightseeing since I’d be there anyway and I was planning to meet up with you as well since I know you’re in New York too.”
“Alright, I’ll pick you up in the airport. Don’t book any accommodations already. I have spare room here in my apartment. You can use it so you can just save your per diem.” Ted volunteered.
“Eh?! But I don’t want to impose.” Amara countered.
“Nonsense! Amara, we have known each other for 16 years and now is not the time to get embarrassed about it. Geez, we tease each other in Facebook as if we’ve really been hanging out together.” Ted argued.
“Ah well you have a point there.”
That evening’s conversation lasted for hours. Ted didn’t even notice it was 2AM since he was already telling Amara the places he had in mind to show to her. Amara was just excited and was thinking of what souvenir from her country she would bring her friend overseas. Ted mentioned that she’d introduce him in person to his parents as well who also read the letters she sent to him when he was young. He told her how excited his mother would be to finally meet the “sweet girl” whom Ted writes to.
ONE FINE APRIL DAY
True to his word, Ted was eagerly waiting for Amara in the airport on the day of her arrival. He was not alone though, he was holding the hand of his new girlfriend, Sarah, whom he had met around February. She was excited to meet this “overseas friend” that Ted has kept talking about.
Soon enough, Ted immediately recognized Amara walking out of the arrival area. As he expected, she was relatively shorter than him (reaching around his chest area) but what he didn’t expect was that she’d be lovelier in person than in her pictures. He can see the natural glow of her rosy cheeks and her smile was just something that brings warmth and joy. He had let go of the hand of Sarah as he hurriedly walked towards her and calling her out. Amara heard him and as soon as she saw him, her smile widened. Upon reaching each other, they immediately embraced each other as if it was the most natural thing to do. It was absolute joy to finally see each other in person for the first time in their 16 years of friendship.
None of them would admit it now but both of them felt so right in each other’s arms.
Sarah soon reached them. Ted apologized to her for suddenly leaving her like that and introduced her to Amara. Sarah shook her hand amiably and even offered to take their picture together. Amara was embarrassed but Sarah insisted since it’s for a remembrance.
As soon as the picture was taken, Sarah took Ted’s hand and kissed his cheek. She smiled at Amara who just smiled awkwardly. Ted offered to take her bag since she’d be staying in his apartment. Amara told him she can carry it but Ted took it from her. He and Sarah led him to his car.
As soon as Ted turned his back on Amara, the smile on her face faded as she felt something inside her break.
ON THE EDGE
The next few days of staying in New York were filled with learning, fun and unexplainable heartaches. The conference provided Amara new technical competencies that she’d surely bring home for her work. After her conference, Ted and Sarah would pick her up and would treat her to a fancy dinner. Embarrassed as she may be, she felt like she was a third wheel especially when Sarah would shower Ted affection. Amara calls her friend “Ted” instead of “Teddy” because her gut told her there’d be a war if she called him that (she’s not necessarily involved but she might receive the wrath from it). Sometimes she wished she just booked herself a hotel and never told Ted that she’d be in New York. She could not explain it but somehow, Sarah had her way of making her “unwelcome” no matter how much Ted makes her feel like she’s at home.
As Ted promised, he toured her around New York and even brought her to New Jersey. Since Sarah was not able to file for her leave, they were left alone together. These moments, Amara and Ted absolutely had fun as friends who had not seen each other in years (which is in fact true). Their conversations were free flowing and they would often jump from one topic to another. Sometimes, they’d just laugh their heads off and tease each other mercilessly. Somehow, even though they have been exchanging letters and messages for 16 years, they had still so many things to share to each other.
On the night of Ted’s birthday, Amara and Sarah were both invited in the Willows household for dinner. Mrs. Willows was extremely delighted to finally see her son’s overseas friend. She showered Amara with attentions as If she was someone who had been in the house for several times already. Sarah in a way envied the attention Amara was getting but would not rather show it.
She needed to make a good impression to Ted’s family. Mr. Willows on the other hand showed Amara his model train collection and was as delighted as Mrs. Willows to have finally met her in person. Mr. Willows took a particular interest in Amara’s hobby of building plastic models. Again, Sarah left out and stayed particularly quiet throughout the evening.
During dinner, Mrs. Willows inquired about the sky blue dress they sent her for birthday. Amara said she would often wear it when she was a child. She still has the dress in her closet as a remembrance. Ted explained to Sarah that they sent Amara a birthday gift during her birthday. Since then, it wasn’t just letters that were exchanged but also gifts during special occasions.
Finally, there was a moment when Amara and Sarah were both left alone. Sarah took this opportunity to lash out at Amara in a particularly civil way.
“I don’t like you at all. I hope you can just leave and be gone. You’re stealing my light. You’re just a friend and I am the girlfriend. I couldn’t care less if your travelled half across the globe just to meet my Ted.”
Amara didn’t say anything. She quietly stood from her chair and left without saying goodbye. She knew she was unwelcomed and she was not daft not to feel the seething jealousy from Sarah the whole evening. She’s a big girl. Ted gave her a spare key for her apartment so she can enter it. She planned to pack her things and just book a hotel room. After all, she only had one more day before her scheduled return to her country. She didn’t spend much since everything was covered by the conference or paid by Ted.
And as soon as she reached Ted’s apartment, she packed her bags, left a card, a gift and the key of the apartment on the coffee table. She felt bad for not saying goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Willows who showed her absolute kindness but in a way, she wanted to make herself look bad so they could notice Sarah who was perpetually ignored throughout the evening. That’s the least she can do for Ted’s girlfriend who had tolerated her presence for the past few days.
She could not quite understand it she felt something inside her break even more.
DISAPPOINTMENT AND LONGING
Mr. and Mrs. Willows were deeply distressed when Amara left so suddenly. Sarah made the excuse that she had something urgent to attend to and that it could not be postponed. Ted on the other hand did not buy the excuse but didn’t voice it out. He knew, something must have happened during their absence. He knew Sarah was already seething with jealousy from all the attention Amara received from his parents. The first time he brought Sarah to meet his parents; she didn’t receive the treatment Amara got.
Yes, they were warm but were not overly close with her. He ignored that jealousy because his logic told him that Amara would only be in New York for a short time while Sarah would have plenty of time to befriend his parents.
That night, when he and Sarah returned to his apartment, he wasn’t able to check on Amara who was supposed to be staying in his spare room. He and Sarah got busy on the bed. It was only after Sarah fell asleep that Ted got the opportunity to check on the room where Amara was supposed to be staying. The room was immaculately clean, Amara’s things were nowhere to be found. Ted felt a surge of panic overcame him. He was hurrying back to his room to grab his smartphone when he noticed the card, the gift and his spare key on the coffee table.
It was a birthday card and Ted read it eagerly (as always). Amara thanked him for his hospitality and had written how she had fun staying in New York. She apologized for leaving suddenly and had asked him to thank Sarah for her kindness as well. There was something eerie in the card though which he had tried to ignore. She assured him that she’ll be fine and that she’d book herself in a hotel for her last day in New York. After reading the card, he opened her gift. It was a model of the Jeepney which he told her before that he wanted to have to display on his working table. Ted suddenly felt like his zest for life was sucked out of him. He was overly joyed the days Amara was staying with him. He had long to see her after 16 years of being overseas friends. She was the person he thought she would be, fun-loving, cheerful, intelligent and charming. Her personality was as consistent as the letters she had written him. She had always been away from him and not once did he long for her company until this very evening.
The next day, the last day of Amara in New York, Ted had sent her message and invited her to meet up with him. He had one last place to show her, the Riverside Park where the last scene of You’ve Got Mail was filmed. He knew Amara loved that movie (she was a hopeless romantic) and he had planned to take her there on her last day in New York. She did not return his message and did not answer his calls.
Ted made the trip to Riverside Park and as he watched the flowers in full bloom, he could not help but feel that he was losing someone very important to him. Somehow, the eerie feeling that he had while reading her card returned and this time, he could not ignore it anymore.
She had said goodbye in the card and his gut was telling him, it was goodbye for good.
Deadlines, deadlines and deadlines. Amara’s desk calendar was literally filled with deadlines to beat and it wasn’t helping that she had come down with flu in such a crucial time. “Great!” she exclaimed to no one as she tossed a tissue in her trash bin. As she grabbed her organizer, something fell from it. She shrugged and bent down to take the envelope that had fallen from her organizer. Her eyes softened when she saw that it was the last letter she received from Teddy before she applied for her US Visa and went to New York last April. That was over seven months already.
She couldn’t bring herself to send him a message over messenger or even return the messages he had sent her. Was she embarrassed? Definitely. She left without saying goodbye. Was she avoiding him? Certainly. She didn’t want to cause more jealousy for Sarah. But she would always argue with herself that if her relationship with Teddy was purely friendship, there was no reason for her to worry that she’d cause more jealousy on Sarah’s part. “Because along the way, that friendship grew into something else” Her mind would answer which she nonchalantly ignores. It was impossible for her to love Teddy. They only knew each other through those letters and messages via e-mail and messenger. Her two-week stay in New York was the first and last time he would be meeting him in person.
“Ms. A…” Her editorial assistant called (Miss A is her nickname in the office and her pen name as well). She looked up, her nose still red from sneezing.
“Hey Jellie, what’s up?” She asked. Her voice was coarse. Jellie stepped inside the office while carrying a box and a bouquet of flowers.
“Ma’am this arrived a few minutes ago.” She carefully placed the box on Amara’s table and handed to her the bouquet.
“Eh? To whom did it come from?” She asked as she pulled the card attached on the bouquet.
“The delivery man is outside ma’am. He said you need to personally sign the delivery receipt. I told him I can just sign it but the man insisted that you’re required to personally appear outside so he can take your picture.” Jellie explained. Amara looked at her assistant but she was not in the mood to argue back. The headache from the flu was killing her already.
“Alright. I’ll come out in a while.” As soon as she took out the card from the envelope, she read the note and immediately recognized the handwriting. It was Ted’s handwriting. She wondered if the flowers came all the way from the US but that was impossible, it looked so fresh. She opened the box that came with the bouquet and inside it was a white teddy bear holding a sunflower.
Her heartbeat quicken and she felt her blood rush. Somehow, she was afraid to step out of the office to go see the delivery man. Her heart tells her that Teddy was outside her room but her mind reminds her to be realistic, Teddy’s in New York, probably enjoying a lovely dinner with Sarah. She shrugged and agreed with her logical thinking. Stepping in her doll shoes, Amara strode off her office to sign the delivery receipt with the delivery man.
After Amara left New York seven months ago, Ted kept sending her messages but none of it was returned. He would find himself some nights sleeping on the room where Amara slept during her stay, somehow trying to feel whatever little essence of her was left in it. There were days where he would just look at pictures of them during her stay in his laptop in between his breaks in the office or would find himself walking in Riverside Park imagining how Amara would react if she saw its scenic view.
What happened to him and Sarah? A month after Amara left they broke up. Sarah was desperate enough to have all of Ted’s attention that she had threaten to break up with him. He accepted her threat. Ted felt like there was nothing else to lose. He believed he had just lost a huge chunk of his life…16 years of friendship through letters and messages all gone in a snap. Sarah, realizing the mistake she made, tried to win back Ted’s affections but Ted had lost interest on her. In fact nothing could spark his interest anymore. And it was during these moments of feeling that he had lost something very important that he admitted one thing.
How right it felt to be in the arms of Amara.
Fast forward to today, Teddy nervously waited outside Amara’s office. He was hoping that her assistant was able to convince Amara to leave her office to sign the “deliver receipt” of the gifts she received. He knew Amara too well. She would often say in her messages or letters how she would ask her assistant to receive items on her behalf. When she gets bust with her job, she does not leave her working table until the way past midnight. He was hoping his little excuse would be enough to convince Amara to leave her office.
And soon enough, he saw that lovely face that haunted his dreams for years and even more after her short stay in New York. Her nose was red (probably from sneezing. He did hear her sneeze a couple of times earlier). She looked powerful and intimidating in her outfit (she’s an editor after all) but there was a sense of warmth and friendliness that enveloped her as well. He smiled upon seeing him and he did not wait for her to approach him. He walked towards her and soon, he saw the shocked expression in her lovely face which made him laugh lightly.
Amara froze on her spot as Teddy stood mere inches away from him. Her emotions were in chaos. She felt happy seeing him, relieved that he had not forgotten about him; fear because he might be just a figment of her imagination, guilt for leaving without saying goodbye, embarrassed for acting rudely towards him, for not returning his messages but overall, stunned because she could not believe that he was standing in front of her, like a tower looking down on her with an affectionate smile and playful glint in his deep blue eyes.
“Surprise! Happy Birthday Amara.” He cheerfully said. Amara on the other hand was speechless. Her brain as if went into a temporary shutdown; however, she could feel tears forming at the edge of her eyes.
“Fool.” Was all she could say and this earned a hearty laugh from Teddy as he wrapped his arms around her.
“I guess I am a fool. It took me seven months to realize that in all the years we’ve exchanged those letters, I’ve grown to love you more than a friend.” Teddy said with sincerity. With his words, Amara was unable to stop the tears falling from her eyes. 16 years of friendship, two weeks of togetherness, seven months of being apart and a surprise of the lifetime was what it took her to admit one thing.
“I love you Teddy.”
And Theodore Michael Willows couldn’t be more content from what he heard. Those words felt so natural between them even if it was the first time he heard it. He inhaled the scent of her hair which lulled his heart into a steady pace and uttered the words he should have said to her long ago.
“I love you Amara.”
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