Tales of heartbreak, elation, rejection and redemption – to mark Valentine’s Day, here are four love letters, each telling a unique story.
My Dearest Helen,
Here we are in each other’s arms at long last, settling into our home, we can’t stop talking about our lives and especially those three very precious years we spent together over 65 years ago in the 1950s. We cuddled together when my three-wheeler spluttered to a stop on our way home from Chesterfield College of Art and I would ring my Dad to tow us home. What a good excuse that made to have a lingering kiss, although at times it could be a cold wait!
We got engaged and planned to get married when you were 19 but your parents objected to me, forbidding you to ever see me again. I don’t think we knew then how our love would live on. Three years passed before we met again by chance. For your 21st birthday your grandfather bought you a new car and we made a date to meet for a drive the following day. But you never turned up. I was heartbroken but later found out you had discovered I was engaged to someone else, which had broken your heart.
As I seemed unavailable, you had no option but to look elsewhere. A dashing corporal in the Canadian Air Force swept you off your feet and you married him.
A long period of 35 years with the wrong partners ensued but fate still wasn’t on our side because at almost the same time, our spouses died and we both married again.
Davy and Helen around 1951
Decades later, quite by chance, you came across a man with my second name, who turned out to be my son. With the help of your daughter you were able to make contact with me, after a wait of 65 years!
My second wife Margaret had recently suffered a fatal stroke and my grief was understood by you when we met some months later. Gradually we both realised we felt the same love we had retained in our hearts for all those years and went ahead with plans to have a quiet wedding last November.
Our home is full of photographs featuring our separate lives and I can’t help feeling pangs of envy when I see you as a beautiful lady, happy in another’s arms. But you are finally all mine now and you make me very happy. You are still the elegant lady I have always loved. There’s a lot of work needed on our small bungalow and quite soon when finished, it will become the love nest of our dreams. We will spend our limited future together very much in love and although we will always regret the circumstances that kept us apart in 1956, we are happy together for ever.
It’s been nearly eight years since I wrote. I still have your response, telling me my marriage was offensive. Daily I forgive you for the hurt when you rejected my Mark, the day you found out he was black. No-one but Mark and my best friend fully understand how painful it was and still is.
I choose not to see you to protect myself and my family.
But I recently lost someone. A reminder that time is short and there are things I have to say.
Mark says the thing he loves most about me is that I always see the good in people. I always seek the other perspective. What’s made you so angry Granddad? What’s made you so hateful of black, Asian or anyone who doesn’t conform to your standards that you were prepared to sacrifice me? Did I not matter more than your racism?
I like to think you were brought up in a time when men weren’t allowed to show their emotions. That the hard and angry exterior hides a deeply sensitive soul. I glimpsed yours the day you told me about meeting Grandma. This beautiful woman with sparkling blue eyes walking down the street. You fell in love.
I don’t believe, as others do, in a Hollywood ending. I don’t believe that if I turned up at your door with my darling family you’d welcome us as if nothing had happened.
Let me tell you about my tan-skinned children you were so afraid of.
There are many times I’ve watched my beautiful, sensitive Daniel playing with his trains, fascinated by engines or taking comfort in the rolling of a toy car and thought of you. My extraordinary boy who could have shared your passion for model trains and methodical construction.
And little Anna who is all emotion and love and – apparently – so like me.
I tell my son people come into our lives for a reason. Sometimes briefly but always for a reason. I think of the times you were my Granddad. The smell of your bungalow when we visited. How you were always waiting at the door as we arrived. You loved birds (and therefore hated cats) and those rescue dogs no-one else loved.
I love you for those memories.
I can’t be angry with you because you are in those memories.
There are days I find it hard to believe it’s not my fault. I simply fell in love with this amazing man – just as you fell in love with Grandma.
I believe your anger hides a hurting soul. So I’ll take your anger and send you love.
I’m sitting here with my Mum talking about wedding stuff like a fairy tale story and looking at the photo album.
In this one, it makes me feel a bit scared, my eyes, my face and my hands… I really was scared. Excited and scared to begin with. Oh my goodness Dad, I’m going to get married!
Joe, you were already there in the marquee waiting for me. When I was waiting to come down the red carpet, I felt a bit tearful listening to my favourite song… When You Wish Upon a Star.
I walked down the aisle with my Dad, he bought me to you Joe. I never felt this way before our wedding day. Everyone stood up and clapped, it made me happy. Joe, you came up to me from the unicorn throne, you gave me a little kiss on the cheek and put your hands around my waist, it felt really ticklish. You looked like a dream husband looking all grown up in your lovely blue suit. I loved touching the pink rose on your jacket because I love the colour pink.
The unicorn throne was like a fairytale fantasy film. It was fun to sit on it especially when we did our legs kicks to I do, I do, I do.
Now we’re looking at the photo of us dancing to Come What May. Joe, did you like my lovely dress? Colourful, big giant pattern like a leaf and a spinny swishy shape. Oh my gosh, my garter slipped down and I kicked if off away and Dad picked it up and put it in his top pocket… It made me laugh!
When Vivienne said: “You’re husband and wife, you may kiss now,” we both threw our arms around each other and we kissed on the lips. It felt like love’s dream. The best thing in the whole wide world.
Once we were married, we’re wife and husband with our rings on, everyone’s throwing confetti – I’m surrounded in confetti and it’s down my top… too much confetti! We look too happy. Holding my bouquet with everyone smiling and cheering.
I like the photos just of us that Leela took in the garden. I like the way you held my hand. I like the way you’ve put your arms all round my back. You feel like a really strong person and I want to spend my life being with you. All times. I just love the kissing photo.
Joe, it was so much fun at the party. I love the way I spun round with the singing waiters. I liked the pink and blue balloons and the bunting. Our friends and family found it really good fun.
We are going to be happy ever after.
Lots and lots of love from your Polly
The arranged marriage
My Dear Kam,
Before I met you, love hadn’t been all it was cracked up to be. Life before had knocked me down, then just as I picked myself up, it tripped me at a bend. An innocuous phone call led to the discovery that my then-husband was involved with someone else.
An idyllic wedding had not turned into the marriage I expected and now I was lonely. So lonely that loneliness became a thing. It sat with me at work and followed me home at the end of each day. I’d speak to the birds when no one could see, and stare at the bark of twisted old trees. And all the friends in the world couldn’t fill the void it formed in me.
Each day I’d walk about, waiting for that lightning strike. An electric shock. Love at first sight. Hoping it would happen to me, perhaps even while shopping at the local Sainsbury’s.
But nothing. I realised then that stars aren’t obliged to align to make our dreams come true.
And so, on holiday with Mum to see my gran in Pakistan, I caved, mustered all my courage, challenged the views I held about arranged marriage and agreed to marry you. This man I hardly knew. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I really liked the thought of you. Your kind eyes, the smile that drew me in. I ditched my search for lightning bolts and everything began to change. Now I can see that marrying this way was the best decision I would ever make.
One year in we were told we couldn’t have a baby. Had we considered a pet instead, asked the grey-faced doctor? You took me in your arms and, with heartbroken eyes, said we would be OK. That it didn’t matter if it wasn’t meant to be.
When I was hurt by those closest to me, it was you that made me see straight. You showed me that I already have all the love I could ever need.
We’ve had joy-filled times when we’ve danced the jive right in the middle of our living room: the news I was pregnant, the birth of our sons and an amazing book deal with my publishers.
Then last year, I faced the toughest test of all. My dear Mum passed with me at her side after weeks in the intensive care unit. Each day and night, you held me tight, tears from your eyes mingling with mine.
So what I’m trying to say to you, is that love may not be a flash of lightning, a six-pack or stubble that makes for perfect chemistry. Stars are not obliged to align to make our dreams come true. Except. Sometimes they do.
Love from Hina