“X” (Image: Jessica Hi C-#3)

I hadn’t thought about her in close to 50 years but remembered her immediately when my sister mentioned her name and said she ran into her in a Laundromat there in that little town we grew up in in upstate New York.

Atlanta Acworth—that really was her name—was 15, I was 16 when she and her two sisters and mom moved in across the street. We’re talking 1961 and back then being a single mom was definitely not cool.

Her two sisters, Madison and Dallas were not particularly attractive and her mom, Tulsa was a total troll—I mean an ugly female dog—which also describes her temperament. I don’t think I ever knew what happened to her father but she probably got her looks from his family because Atlanta was a major cutie pie. The prettiest eyes I’d ever seen on a girl up til that point in my life and a body that looked to be about 3 years ahead of schedule. Every time I saw her with the other three it astonished me again—always bringing to mind that lame story device—babies getting switched in the hospital and going home with the wrong parents.

To cut to the chase, I was completely in lust with her. I’d sit in my upstairs bedroom window at night with the light off looking through her bedroom window with a cheap pair of binoculars. I caught a good clear look at her in baby doll pajamas one evening and that image fired my fantasies for months. I went over to her house a few times and tried to talk to her—get to know her–but she always looked bored and impatient. She’d just stand there not saying anything—not responding to my awkward attempts at communication. Just standing there silently looking at me—like I was a bug crawling by. I didn’t need a house to fall one me. I got the message but that doesn’t mean I gave up.

There were always guys hanging around her place—all of them older but more importantly—much bigger than me. I had no idea how to attempt a relationship with her that didn’t involve some likelihood of serious physical injury. I was sitting in my tree house, which commanded a good view of her place one Saturday afternoon watching her come out to get the mail when it hit me.

I could write to her anonymously.

That way even if her large boyfriends found out, they couldn’t do a thing about it short of sitting by the mailbox and snatching the letters as soon as they were delivered.

That was as much as I figured out. Assuming she liked the letters—I don’t think details like how to actually start talking to and spending time with her and how to avoid being drop-kicked into the next county—occurred to me. Or if they did I probably decided I’d come up with something later.

I didn’t know what went into a love letter so I went to the library and asked the librarian for a book on love-letters. That part was easy. I found dozens of sample letters—many written by English and French aristocrats Like Lord Chesterfield—and just modified them—modernizing the language and dumbing them down a bit so they didn’t seem like they were written by a much older man.

The first one went something like this:

My beloved Atlanta:

You don’t know it but I love you with all my heart. I dream of you every day and one day I hope to make you mine.

You are the most beautiful girl in the whole world and I think about kissing you all the time.

I don’t want to be pest and bother you so if you want me to write more letters just hang a towel or blanket on the front porch rail. I’ll walk or ride by sometime in the next few days and if I see it there I’ll write more letters. If I don’t I won’t write any more.

Thank you. I love you. Your secret admirer.

I watched her take the mail out of the box a few days later, sit on the porch steps and read my letter. As soon as she finished the letter she immediately jumped up, ran into the house and came back with a dishtowel which she hung on the rail. She walked out to the curb and looked back at it then ran back, removed it and replaced it with a huge bedspread. I remember sitting for hours in my bedroom window looking at that big bedspread—billowing slowly in the cool, fall, evening breeze. Every 10 or 15 minutes Atlanta would look out of the living room window over the porch rail—I assume to see if anyone was walking by and looking. That bedspread meant someone—a girl someone—cared about me—kinda. But more importantly,  there was that potential for all the incredible, exotic excitement of a physical liaison. To this day that image is easily recalled.

I wrote I guess a total of ten or 12 letters always saying pretty much the same thing—how beautiful she was, how much I loved her and thought about her, how much I liked certain clothes she wore. As soon as I mentioned a certain skirt or shirt or she’d wear it for several days. I told her I saw her at school every day and made up a name for myself—I called myself “X.” I explained X meant unknown—I was her unknown lover.

Really I was more scared of her not liking me than being attacked by a big boyfriend. A bigger guy I could run from and even if he caught me and hit me, that would heal. But if she rejected me there was no escaping that—and that hurt (in my 16 year-old mind) would never heal.

After almost two months of letter-writing it began to bore me. It wasn’t going anywhere, I was sick of being a wimp and sick of the hanging ambiguity.

I decided to reveal myself.

In the last letter I sent I told her if she wanted to learn who I was she should scotch-tape a postage-stamp sized piece of paper with the word “Yes” or “No” to her locker at school.

The morning following her getting the last letter I stood down the hall concealed by other kids passing by and watched her tape the word “yes” to her locker.

She stood next to her locker looking up and down the hall anxiously. I walked up to her and told her I was “X.”

After the initial surprise passed she stared at me a few seconds. Tears welled up in her pretty eyes and ran down her cheeks. She never said a word—just walked away down the hall to her 1st period class. I later learned she couldn’t stop crying in class and was sent to the school nurse’s office. She never told anyone what had happened. I know some of her girl friends knew about the letters but I don’t think anyone knew “X” had revealed himself—and was me.

Years later when I was home from college during the summers I’d hear bits and pieces about her. Her family only lived across from us for a year-year & a half then moved—I don’t know where they went. She grew up to be an average-looking woman and worked at a series of menial, minimum-wage jobs. My sister told me she finally got a job with the state that paid pretty good and eventually retired from that work. She married twice, divorced twice and had no kids. And for reasons she never understood, she was never able to find a partner, a lover—who she believed genuinely saw her as the most beautiful of women–and certainly not a lover who took the time to write and send those words to her —the sincerity of which was shining, pure and above doubt.

Atlanta recognized my sister in the Laundromat even though it had been decades since she’d seen her. Atlanta was several years older than my sister but I remember them speaking a few times.  She asked about me—my sister gave her a brief outline of my life after high school.

The way sis explained it she sat down on a bench by the dryers with tears in her eyes and said she had, for most of all those years, been ashamed of the way she treated me and asked her to convey her apologies to me.

As my sister was finishing up her laundry and getting ready to leave Atlanta approached her and told her to tell me “Thanks,” indicating those letters were the only written expressions of love she’d ever received. Standing there holding her basket of folded laundry Atlanta told my sister she lived alone and whenever she felt depressed and lonely she would hang a bedspread on the front porch of her house and somehow it made her feel a little better.

She knew no letters would be coming of course but just knowing they once did was important and this little ritual at least connected her to that time in her life a secret lover cared about her enough, desired her enough—to write to and profess his love for her and of his own innate volition—tell her he wanted nothing more than to kiss her. A secret lover who believed her to be “the most beautiful girl in the world,”–words whose sincerity was shining, pure and above doubt.

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