Words move hearts - short story

The writer composed this piece 35 years ago and felt it was time to bring it into the light.

 A HEARTFELT letter can be life-changing. (photo credit: Markus Reinhardt/Flickr)
A HEARTFELT letter can be life-changing.
(photo credit: Markus Reinhardt/Flickr)

They weren’t exactly friends – Eric was too prickly for that. But sometimes their paths would cross, and they’d have a coffee or a beer together.

After a few “Do you remember’s?” about their high school days, the conversation would slump. Sam tried to fill the gap with casual remarks. This time, it was “How are your parents?”

“Dunno.”

“What do you mean?”

“Haven’t spoken to them for seven years.”

 Treating Cystic Fibrosis (illustrative). (credit: NIH Image Gallery/Flickr) Treating Cystic Fibrosis (illustrative). (credit: NIH Image Gallery/Flickr)

Sam was shocked. “Why?”

“They never cared about me. It was only Brian they loved.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. He was disabled, your brother, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah. Cystic fibrosis.”

“So he needed constant care. Doesn’t mean they didn’t love you.”

“They never had time for me. Never asked me what I thought about things or if I had problems. Couldn’t care less.”

Sam was silent for a beat. “I think they were just relieved that you didn’t need them, that you were independent – not a constant burden like your brother.”

Eric shrugged. “Well, now I’m one less burden for them.”“I think they’re missing you terribly. How old are they now?”

“Pushing 60, I guess.”

“Isn’t it time to bury the hatchet, as the cliché goes? I mean, they’re your parents. Even if you’re hurt, you must love them at some level.”

There was a suspicion of tears in Eric’s eyes, and Sam felt some come unbidden to his own.

“Can’t just turn up there after all this time.”

“They’re still in the same place?”

“Yeah, but I’ve moved around a lot.”

“So why not call them?”

“Too hard. What would I say?”

“Well, why not write them a letter? It would be easier. Just imagine if they passed on and you never said what was in your heart. You can’t read a tombstone when you’re dead.”

Eric was silent for a moment, but then he nodded slowly. “Maybe it’s time” he acknowledged.

It was nearly a year before their paths crossed again.

Sam was having coffee when Eric walked in. This time, something was different. He wasn’t slouching. He didn’t look sullen. He spotted Sam first and went directly to his booth, sitting across from him.

“Well, hello. How are you?” Sam asked tentatively.

Eric smiled – the first time Sam remembered ever seeing it. “I’m good,” he replied.

Sam was at a loss, had no idea what to say next, but Eric continued: “You gave me some good advice.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. I wrote to Mum and Dad, told them what I’d felt all my life, that they only cared about Brian. I was wrong. They felt grateful to me for lessening their burden, proud that I was strong and independent. They weren’t demonstrative people... just thought I knew instinctively. Anyway, I see them now – every week. And I’m engaged. Came here to meet my fiancée.”

Just then a beautiful girl entered, and Sam saw an Eric he’d never known. Eric was waving to her, his face alight with happiness and love.

Writing a letter that Sam had suggested had changed a life because words can move hearts. ❖

The writer composed this piece 35 years ago and felt it was time to bring it into the light. [email protected]