note: summer short #3!
Ever since he was a 2nd grader, Steve kept a journal. All the way up until middle school, he used marble composition notebooks – the ones with the dairy cow spotty covers and thick spaces to accomodate large handwriting. Then in high school, he upgraded to a Mead Five-Star ring binder notebook with mature “college-ruled” margins. Of course, his handwriting had become a lot slicker and he no longer had the urge to accompany his daily entries with doodles of his friends playing catch or a duck crossing a road with ducklings trailing behind. When he received an 800 on his SAT II Writing test, Steve proudly acknowledged his journal writing as the main reason for his excellence in writing skills. And to think that a little more than a decade ago, he was struggling to recite the alphabet in the trailer classroom where ESL students went each morning. True he still had a bit of Koreanisms – the L and R exhibiting tiny discomforts in the tongue and the delivery sometimes choppy – but he felt like he spoke as naturally as any white boy and he certainly felt like he wrote better than most of them.
College was tough. Steve was a history major, and he was sick of taking notes every single day for all the books he read. It wasn’t that he had to write the notes, but he was obsessive about making sure that he knew exactly what he read. Already a junior, Steve was proud of his 4.0 GPA in history – and none of that cop-out American history crap either – he specialized in Eastern European history, including perhaps the most geographically challenging area known to man – the Balkans. Of course, such dedication to his studies meant necessary sacrifices had to be made – besides imposing a no-drinking rule on Saturday nights to study at the library, Steve allowed his time-honored ritual of journal keeping to fade away. He was tempted to start up a blog since that was the new craze, but he didn’t believe in electronic journal entries and decided against it. Steve might not have the time anymore, but he remained a purist when it came to writing personal stuff.
It was another Saturday night at the library, and Steve squirmed in his chair as he read Russia’s Balkan Entanglements, 1806-1914 in preparation for a midterm paper. He found the book pretty dry and noticed that his notes no more than a few scribbles. He looked around the large study room. His university library kept its reading rooms open 24-hours a day, seven times a week during the school year, so it was not unheard of to find driven undergraduates doing work at 2am on a Saturday night. It was only 12am on this Saturday night, and Steve hadn’t even finished half of his weekend special, a tall Starbucks caramel macchiato. About four tables down, he spotted June pouring over her organic chemistry textbook.
June was what Steve considered very pretty. She had pretty almond-shaped eyes, shiny-brown straight shoulder-length hair and a slender frame with hints of athleticism in her gait. While she didn’t have the same coming-to-america-at-age-five experience as himself, she was an American-born Korean and the Korean look had Steve rating her even higher. Steve knew June from their involvement in Urban Tutors, a community service organization that paired up college students with underprivileged elementary students to go over homework and study for tests on weekends. Steve gave up after a few sessions because he had been assigned to an unruly 13 year-old black boy who loved to curse and believed the only thing Steve could teach him was kung fu. But in those few sessions, Steve had been introduced to June and knew her basic information – sophomore, pre-med and chemistry major, from connecticut. He regretted giving up on Urban Tutors so soon in the off chance that he could have gotten to know June better, but he had seen her study more and more at the library. He hadn’t said hi to her in a while, so he decided now – in a relatively empty library reading room on a late Saturday night – was a opportune moment. He put his book down and casually picked up his caramel macchiato while walking towards her.
“Hey June, how’s it going?” he asked.
She looked up, a bit surprised, and took a moment to register Steve’s face in her mind and began scouring for the name. Nothing.
“Oh. Hey,” she said, “I’m so sorry. What was your name again? I think we’ve met before.”
“Oh yeah. We did Urban Tutors together. It’s Steve,” he said, a turbulent mix of regret, embarassment and shame brewing at the pit of his stomach.
“Hi Steve! I think I remember now – you had that really loud kid who wanted you to be Bruce Lee, right? Haha, I felt sorry for you,” she said.
Steve felt a bit better. Okay. Not totally forgotten.
“I’m doing okay. Just studying for my orgo midterm. How about you?” she asked.
“Oh, just doing some research for a history paper. How long you been here?”
“About three hours. I think I need to stay a few more to really catch up. Are you gonna stay much longer?”
“Well, I was going to read a few more chapters and maybe attempt an outline of some sort,” Steve replied.
“Hey – you wanna take a study break? I need to get some more coffee,” she said, much to his surprise. “Looks like you already have some Starbucks though.”
“Oh, well, I’ll still go with you if you’d like,” he said.
“Cool, let’s go.”
Steve was grateful that June was outgoing and incredibly nice. A minute ago she hadn’t even remembered his name, and now they were walking side-by-side to the deli across the street. It was too late for Starbucks – they closed at 11pm – so June had to settle for the generic $1 cup in that super plain blue cup with the white words – coffee – on it. The two of them hit it off on the way to the deli and back. They talked about their other extra-curricular involvements – June volunteered at the hospital a few times a week and also did some work for student council while Steve talked about his work-study job as an assistant editor at the business school’s monthly magazine. In their short time together, they became familiar with each others’ social circles, who they partied with and what they planned on doing for Spring Break, although it was still too early to make plans. When they came back to the reading room, they went back to their books and worked a few more hours. Steve was the first to give up, and he stopped by to say goodnight to June. He asked her for her screenname and got it, although she warned him that she was barely on.
“Shoot me an e-mail or something,” she said.
And that was how the seed of infatuation was planted in the mind of Steve. In no time, Steve entertained dreams of having a girlfriend and all the places he would take her on dates. He replayed in his mind the image of her sipping on her coffee while asking him what he liked to do in his free time – of course, free time was hard to come by and his best answer was – “oh, watch movies, hang out and just catch up on sleep i guess.” he wished he had been more original, but the answered seemed good enough for her as she agreed and said that was exactly what she did as well. they were meant for each other!
She was right. Steve never saw her online and when he did, he never got a response and often waited until her screenname turned light gray (idle) on his buddy list. He sent her an email, but her responses were nonchalant: Hey, how are you? I am good. Sorry for the late reply, been real busy. Hope everything is good. Catch you later. Bye! -June.
He saw her from time to time at the library or just around campus, but it was never the same. She was with her own friends, and she always seemed so preoccupied – so busy that there was no space in her life for him. How could it be? Could this be the same girl who had asked him to come to the deli with her at 12am on a Saturday night? Steve knew he was counting on too much from so minute an experience, but nonetheless, he grew frustrated and even a bit saddened that she was not the person he wanted her to be but that he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
So he wrote her a letter. It began with a Dear June — the first five letters of that – Dear J – had been so natural to him at one great expanse in his life. Dear Journal. Dear Journal. But this was different. Dear June. He wrote to her, not about how his heart ached to be with her or how he thought about her every waking moment, but about more “intellectual” and “interesting” things like how one of his history professors had served as a historical consultant for a famous war film released recently or how you could get free donuts from the supermarket when you went a quarter to midnight, right before they threw out all the leftovers. He relived the finer points of his day and captured them with a cool, subtle style that skillfully disguised his screaming desire to be understood and liked. He sent it to her through campus mail, which only took a day to deliver. He waited three days to see if she would say anything to him about it. Maybe write back or drop a one-liner email.
He wrote her again, about more things dear and interesting to him. What do you think about the architecture of our dining hall? I find it a bit too claustrophobic and the way there are very few windows makes ventilation a problem…. The squirrels here are so fearless. I felt like one of them was walking with me to class today. I later held out an apple core and a squirrel came close and took it from my hand. He continued to write. He dated the letter. And he kept it.
He wrote her again. Dear June.
And again. Dear June. Dear June. Dear June.
He saw her around campus from time to time and said hi. She never mentioned the letter. They never exchanged more than a few words thereafter. She was a busy girl. He wrote her yet again. And again. He kept it all in a shoe box, neatly stacked rows of trifolded letters. He never missed a day and even wrote during summer vacation. He got himself a new shoebox when the first one became too full.
I really enjoyed the bbq that the student council put on for everyone the other day. I heard you did part of the planning. Good job! I think our campus can definitely use some of these community-building events. I liked how you got a bunch of student groups to perform. I really loved that a capella group – forgot their name – but the one that did the Maroon 5 song – that was spectacular! I sometimes wish I had some skill to contribute in the performing arts arena, but I guess if anything, I can learn to write a play or something. Anyway, I finally got myself a job — I’m going to be a research assistant at Goldman. Well, it’s not quite banking, but I hope this position suits me best. Maybe I’ll work my way up to research analyst one day and make recommendations that people will actually follow. But in the meantime, I’ll be doing some grunt work on Wall St. Hope your MCAT preparation is going well. See you around.
The third shoebox wouldn’t take anymore. Steve paused while looking at the boxes. His midtown apartment was small, but expensive and cozy. The boxes took up extra space. It had been two years since he wrote that first letter to her – the one she never replied to. He had been out of school half a year already and a few months into his job as research analyst. Why had he kept on writing? He wondered if he was mentally stable. Well, I’ve been no good at getting dates or hooking up with girls, he noted. But besides his letter-writing habit, he hadn’t felt too weird or obsessed in any way. He still thought about her from time to time, wondering what she was doing and if she still remembered him. But he hadn’t ceased the letter writing. Now they took up space in his $1,500/month apartment.
He looked her school address up. She was a senior now. UPS Ground Shipping for three shoeboxes worth of letters. He attached a note.
I hope you’re doing well. I realized that I should’ve tried sending all these to you, but I decided to do it in one shot. It’s not anything creepy or stalkerish, so please don’t be afraid. I don’t have any use for them, so maybe you can take a look before you decide to trash them or do whatever. Anyway, good luck with senior year, and if you need advice in investing, feel free to ask me.