6.17 Return to Sender

What is the time limit required for you to keep mail from the previous inhabitant of your apartment? People are really bad at changing their addresses. I lived in my last place for three years, and right up until I moved, I still received mail for others. Actually, it was kind of sad most days as there always seemed to be more mail for other people and none for me. Granted, most of my bills had been switched so I received them electronically, but still, it was at times disheartening when there was so much mail coming in addressed to people I never met. Most of the mail seemed to be junk, but sometimes I’d get a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency and think, This might be important. Scribbled ‘return to sender’ on the front and hoped the person received it. I guessed this person just couldn’t see the need to change their address because the mail kept piling in.

So, I started making up lives of these people whose mail I was getting. From my last place, Goran was from Slovenia. I looked up the name Goran and found that in the Slavic tradition, it means woodsman, man from the mountains or highlander. In my head, Goran was born on a farm nestled in the Karawanks mountain range. The mountains framed the town of Bled and are near the Austrian border. As a young boy, he was walking through the town of Bled when he came across two old men playing chess. He watched them play this curious game and something in his brain clicked. He immediately learned all the pieces and moves and beat both of the old men by the end of the day. Goran walked down from the Karawanks everyday to play chess and everyday he got better.

The year was 1958 and an announcement came from the mayor that in 1961, Bled would host the Chess Olympiad, what would later be called one of the most important tournaments in chess history. Goran could not believe his luck, having the opportunity to compete in his home town. Goran played chess for eighteen hours a day over the next three years and qualified for the event. He became a celebrity in Bled and when the tournament started, he arrived in a convertible, sitting on the back seat, waving to the adoring townspeople that awaited him. Goran won every match easily and made it to the final round. Fate drew him another card as the Russian prodigy, Alexei Sutovsky, overpowered Goran in a tight and suspenseful match.

Goran was shocked at his loss and could no longer even look at a chessboard. The townspeople shunned him. Goran decided to leave Bled, crossing into Austria, through the Czech Republic and into Germany. His bitterness grew as he returned to the chessboard in each of these countries, but it became a place where he could hustle and make money. Finally, he traveled to Canada and landed in Toronto where he rented an apartment in North York. At the local chess club he played at, Goran met a computer programmer. As smart phones broke into the mainstream, Goran and his new friend created an app to teach people how to play chess. Goran made enough money from this app to retire and he bought a beach house in Jamaica. Because he now lives in Jamaica, he doesn’t care about receiving letters from Canada Revenue Agency.

I moved last September and I’ve got a place on my bookshelf where I throw mail from the previous tenant. This person has been really bad at changing their address. Most of the mail was bills and so on, but one day a letter came through. You don’t see many letters anymore. On the back of the envelope, it said, Please Open, My Heart Depends On It. The letter was sealed with a heart sticker. I put it in the pile on my bookshelf.

Every once in a while, I’d pick up that envelope, re-read the words on the back. I tried putting it up to the light, thought about trying that steam trick I’d seen in movies. I eventually wrote ‘return to sender’ on the front and put it in the mailbox. A few weeks later, the letter appeared again, and again I put it on the pile. Finally, I decided to do something illegal and opened the letter. It was two pages long, handwritten and was addressed to Andrea, the woman that lived here previously. John, the man who wrote the letter, explained all of the things he did wrong in their relationship, starting with not treating her better and moving through some issues that he has since worked on. He ended the letter by saying he feels she was the love of his life and that he could not even imagine being with someone else. There was a photograph included with the letter of the two of them from a time when they were both happy.

Bills were one thing, they could be accessed online, but this was something else. It was someone putting their heart on the line. I don’t know much about what John did outside of this letter, and I don’t know if Andrea should give him another chance, but at the very least, this letter needed to reach her. It was like John put a message in a bottle and threw it into the ocean. A last chance effort for communication and possible reconciliation.

I tried to find Andrea. She was tough to find. But I had a first name, last name and a photograph. I contacted all the Andrea’s I could find on Facebook and LinkedIn, but none of them used to live in my place. I contacted my real estate agent and got him to try and track her down, but that didn’t work either. Finally, like the letter, I went the old fashioned way and found a few Andrea’s in the phone book. I called all five of them - nothing. Out of these five Andrea’s, I spoke with four of them on the phone. The last one I called a few times, leaving long strange messages, but received no call back.

There was an address, so one day when I had some time, I stopped by. Rang the doorbell and a woman answered - the woman from the photograph. I explained that I lived in her old place and came across this letter from John. She opened it and I went to leave, thinking this was a private thing. Andrea told me to stop and wait. She looked at the photograph for a long time, then turned to the letter.

Sometimes you can get caught inside another person’s energy, that place where the elements are disrupted, causing a moment that can’t be written down or captured in any way. I saw the moments of their relationship playing in Andrea’s head, that perhaps something in the words that John wrote made her re-think what happened. Maybe she was thinking all the same things that John wrote, but had convinced herself that another direction was a better choice. Deep down, she didn’t believe this and didn’t quite know how to express it yet.

Andrea folded the letter and placed it and the photograph back into the envelope. She looked at me, smiled and thanked me. I walked away from the house hoping that something happens from here, that at least a conversation was opened between the two of them. I hoped that they made it, in whatever way was best for them.