IN A DARK, DARK WOOD
CAUTION: HERE BE SPOILERS!
When In a Dark, Dark Wood came out, I was lucky enough to be chosen to be part of the Richard and Judy book club. As part of that, I was asked to write some extra material for readers who wanted a little bit more. These letters were originally created to appear at the back of a special edition of the book, and for that reason it’s assumed that anyone reading them knows the truth about all the characters involved in the story.
If you haven’t read In a Dark, Dark Wood, I strongly recommend you stop here, as the letters contain major spoilers for the story, and won’t make much sense in isolation. You can find some non-spoilery insights here and here.
If on the other hand you’ve read the book, unravelled the mystery, and want a last word from James, read on…
[SPOILERS START HERE]
I expect you are wondering who this package is from. It’s Geri, James’s mum. (Oh dear, writing that still makes me well up.) I am sorry it’s taken me so long to write, especially after you asked me at the funeral to keep in touch, but the last six months have been tough, as I’m sure they have for you, and I was not quite sure what to say or how to begin.
However, I now have an excuse to write, which is that I began, finally, to clear out James’s old room. I have been putting it off and putting it off, but it was beginning to feel like something hanging over me, and last month a dear friend came round and helped me go through his things and sort out which should go to charity and which to his friends and so on.
I wanted very much to find some kind of keepsake for you, but nothing seemed quite right, and then I came upon these stuffed down behind the back of his chest of drawers, though whether they had been hidden there or had just fallen down I have no idea. I worried for a long time about what to do with them, whether to burn them as James seemed to intend, or whether to send them to you. For a while I thought they would be too painful for you to read, and I had almost made up my mind to dispose of them, but then I began to think that perhaps they had survived – or been kept – for a reason.
I never really knew what happened between the two of you – and I didn’t try to pry with James. It was obviously something very painful, and I just left it at that, and tried to help James through as best I could, as I hoped your mum was helping you. But having read his letters I think I understand a little more now, and I can only say how sorry I am that you were both in so much pain, and suffering it alone, but that I understand why you needed to leave and make a fresh start.
Please don’t feel you have to keep these as some morbid keepsake, Leo dear. If you want to burn them as James might indeed have wished, that is your choice. But I thought that perhaps, after all this time, it might be a comfort to you to know how much he cared, in spite of everything, and how very dear you were to him.
I don’t want to trust these to the post, so I am sending them via James’s uni friend, Matt Ridout, who tells me that he lives not far from you in London and would be glad to drop them off.
I hope you are happy, my dear. You deserve to be. With love,
No, fuck that. I will not be English and polite and OK about this.
You’re not just ‘dear Leo’ like I’m writing a letter to my granny. What word am I supposed to use? Darling? Dearest? Only? Fucking.
Is that better? Are you happy? I hope you are, because I’m going out of my mind, so one of us should be. How could you, Leo? How could you run away like this without saying goodbye? What did I do?
This is the fourth, maybe fifth letter I’ve tried to write. I tore the others up. I don’t know what I was thinking, except that I was so angry that you could do that to me after everything we said and did and promised, that you could run off without a backward glance, and ask me not to contact you. I just. . . I don’t know what to do, you know? I lie on my bed and cry and cry until my mum comes up and asks me if I’m OK – and I tell her yes, even though it’s a lie, because I’m not OK. I’m falling apart.
I love you – and I can’t even tell you. I rang your mobile – did you know that? Even though you asked me not to. I rang it from a pay phone so you wouldn’t see my number. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t going to whine at you, or harass you, I swear. I just. . . I think I just wanted to hear your voice. But you’ve changed your number. All I got was a recorded message, saying my call could not be connected.
I dream about you all the time, about your face when you told me, the look in your eyes. Fuck, Leo, I would give anything to turn back the clock and undo whatever I did wrong. What did I do? What did I say that was so bad?
I love you. Oh God, I wish I didn’t, but I do. I love you and I hate you and I miss you and I need you. Please, Leo. Please.
It’s been two months and three days. I don’t need to count that. I know it off by heart, like you know the day of the week, or the month, or the year. And every day since you left, I’ve replayed that afternoon in my mind, wishing I had said something, done something different.
I know. I was dumb, and stupid, and I choked, and I said the wrong thing. But the shock – Jesus – and your face, the way you stood there so pale and scared, with your eyes brimming up like you were frightened of me – I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve relived the scene now a hundred times in my mind, playing it back, trying to work out what went wrong, and what I don’t get is what could I have said? I know I fucked it up somehow, I just don’t know how. I don’t know what I did that was so bad, so wrong, what I could have done differently. I don’t know what I could have done that would have made it OK. Was there something? Or had I done the damage already?
I am so sorry, Leo. What happened, whatever I said, I fucked it up, and I am so, so sorry for that. I will never be done being sorry. Are you OK? You’re so far away from all your friends. I wish you would just drop me a line to say something. That you’re all right. That you’ve moved on. Even that you’ve found someone else. Because then I could stop feeling so responsible for what happened.
I love you. I love you so much.
Today is my birthday. Did you remember it? I’m seventeen.
When Mum put the cards on my plate at breakfast, I couldn’t help looking through the envelopes for one with your handwriting on, these pathetic fluttering butterflies in my stomach, like you would change your mind on this day of all days, like I somehow deserved to hear from you.
It was stupid, I know that. I know you well enough to know that once you make up your mind on something, that’s it. You’re not fickle, Leo. Whatever I can accuse you of – and God knows, I’ve called you some pretty ugly stuff, inside the privacy of my head
– I can’t say that.
But then, I thought I knew you, and now I’m wondering if I did at all.
Clare says I should move on. She says that’s what you’d want, for me to be happy. I asked her how she knew that, and she just shrugged and talked about letting go of pain and opening myself up to new possibilities, and forks in the road and stuff that was meant to be. I kind of tune it out, to be honest. It reeks of self-help bullshit to me.
God, I’m reading that back and I feel ashamed. I shouldn’t be such a dick when she’s never been anything but kind to me. I didn’t have much time for her at school. I thought she was shallow and bitchy and painfully in love with herself – but then people probably said the same about me. Since you’ve gone. . . well, I’m starting to see a different side to her, that’s all. She’s been a good friend, you know. To me. To both of us. Going with you to the clinic, holding your hand – I’m glad you had someone there, someone who loved you, even if you didn’t want me.
Call her, please, Leo. Even if you can’t bear to contact me, call
her. She deserves that much.
They sold your grandad’s house today. I watched the new people move in, saw them ripping down the sale board and shoving it in the dustbin. And I felt like. . . this is it. She’s finally gone.
It’s been four months and I still don’t know what I did wrong, but if I could make it right I would, I swear. Maybe you thought I wanted out, or wanted you to make a decision you couldn’t make – was that it? But if so you were wrong. I never wanted anything for you except what you wanted yourself. I wasn’t trying to abdicate responsibility for the decision. I was trying to say that whatever you want – whatever you wanted – it would have been OK. Because I love you. That’s what love means, isn’t it? That you want someone to be happy more than you want it for yourself, because without their happiness there is none for you. That’s what I was trying to say, back in my room, and I blew it, because I’m a fucking idiot. And I wish there was some way I could go back and make it right – but there isn’t.
Shit. I’m reading this letter back – and I’m looking at the page and it’s I . . . I . . . I . . . and this is still not what I wanted to say. Because it’s not about me, I know that. It’s about us. It’s about you.
And yet I can’t help myself. All the questions I want to ask you, they’re all about me. What did I do wrong? How can I make it right?
Maybe it’s because I’m scared that if I ask the other questions, the ones about you, I already know the answers.
What do you want, Leo? What do you need?
I know what you want. I know, because you’ve already told me. You want to be left alone. You don’t want to be contacted. And I’m so fucking selfish that I can’t listen to that, I can’t accept it. I need to hear the words from you, from your lips. I want to hear you say it just one time – see your lips shape the words, feel them punch me in the gut: Leave. Me. Alone.
Because maybe then I would believe they were true.
I love you, Leo. Oh God, I wish I had the words to tell you how much. I love you, and I can’t bear that you are somewhere dealing with this alone when it’s all my fault.
I love you – and because I’ll never send this letter, I can tell you what I really want to say – not what I know I should say, not what’s right for you. I can be completely selfish and say what’s in my heart, which is this: please come back. Or let me come to you, and we’ll go away together, and fuck Reading and the stupid bitchy gossips. Please, Leo. Please. I love you.
Jesus, I loved you so much. I never knew how much until you were gone, until you ripped me up inside.
I’m writing this, but I won’t send it. I’ll get my lighter out, and when I’ve written the final x, I’ll set fire to this, the way I have all the others, all the tens, dozens, maybe hundreds of letters I’ve written you since you left.
I will burn this, and hope that maybe before I finish the next letter you’ll come back. That you’ll text. Or call. Or something.
Because I will be here. I swear I’ll be here, where you can find me.
And I swear something else, Leo: I love you, and I’ll love you till I die.