Unearthing an old heartache

The pain of lost love is hard to forget. One mystery lover commemorated hers (or was it his?) on a wall at Tindeco Wharf.

Baltimore ... Or Less

May 28, 2000|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun Staff

C.

sence you never came

back to work, I guess I am

going to half to try to find someone

else. As you know I cared for you

a lot but now you are gone

and I am left alone. I still want

your body and mabe someday we

will meet again.

Lonely,

T.

I found this love letter scrawled on a piece of drywall in a crawl-space in my apartment. I'm new to Baltimore, and two weeks ago, I was digging through unbalanced stacks of unpacked boxes in my storage space, looking for something I'd last seen back home in Milwaukee. At one point, I remembered there was a light somewhere.

I pulled the cord. Aha! There, just beneath the bulb, was this 54-word note. I've wondered ever since about the contradictory messages it sends.

The crawl space is accessible, but barely. It's behind a door cut into the far wall of my bedroom closet, and it's so small there isn't room to stand. No one would venture inside except maintenance workers or residents of that apartment, and they'd get out as quickly as they could. It's not a place anyone would go to relax. And a wall seems an odd place to write a letter; you can't fold it in thirds and stick it into an envelope.

But maybe that's the point.

Though it's addressed to C, the author might have hoped it would be seen by unfamiliar eyes. The same urge that causes people to seal a message in a bottle and toss it into the sea may have inspired this poignant missive on my crawl-space wall.

It's tempting to assume that the author wanted to record this message for posterity. Writing on the wall might be the equivalent of a cat spraying the furniture to mark his territory. Or it might be a defiant graffiti, an assertion of Lonely T's existence: "Kilroy was here."

But if the author's intent was to make a bold declaration, why did T write in pencil? These feelings are articulated in thin gray lines as powdery and insubstantial as ash. It makes the words seem tentative. A more confident author would shout out her feelings in black Magic Marker.

The handwriting is conven- tional: the capital A with a big belly and perky little tail; the b holding out a helping hand to the y; the carefully looped capital I that grins at itself. They're drawn exactly as we all learned how to form letters in grammar school. It's the handwriting of someone eager to please.

Most striking, though, are the misspellings and grammatical errors: "sence" instead of "since"; "mabe" instead of "maybe; "half" instead of "have."

Was T uneducated? Perhaps -- but residents of Tindeco Wharf, where I now live, always have had discretionary income. The complex is reputed to be among the most expensive in Baltimore. Statistically, those two facts (a lack of education, and surplus income) part company more often than they keep it.

Perhaps T didn't actually live in the apartment, but was a maintenance worker there. A few days after I discovered the note, a repairman wriggled into my crawl-space to fix my water heater. He read T's note, and said it was customary for builders to sign their handiwork.

But the message is so wounded and intimate. It isn't a cornerstone inscription, or an expression of pride in a job well done.

So I cast about for a more convincing interpretation. I speculated that T wasn't born in this country, that English was her second language. That might explain the misspellings.

But how to explain her idiomatically American articulation of desire? Would a young woman from Jakarta or Japan write: "I still want your body?" It's possible, but it seems unlikely.

And why, from the moment I read the note, was I so certain that Lonely T was a she and not a he?

If I'm to be honest, I have to invoke gender stereotypes: The handwriting looks "feminine," rounded and soft, with few masculine edges. Plus, the note sounds so abject. I imagine that few men would admit -- particularly in writing -- to feeling so vulnerable. Although I know better, on a gut level I'm convinced that in romance, men have all the power. If someone was dumped, it must have been the woman. Still, a photographer who read the note reacted to its forthright sexuality, and concluded that T must be male.

But I'm not sure that "I still want your body," should be taken at face value. If we read between the lines, Lonely T surely wants more from C than his physical self. She wants a relationship: C's company, his loyalty, his affection. She wants him to know who she is. But for some reason, she doesn't think she can just come out and say so.

If T intended C to read the note, it might be a tactical move; the language of love is more likely to be rejected than the language of lust. But T didn't even know C's whereabouts. The note was her chance to unburden herself, to say exactly what was on her mind and in her heart. And yet, she didn't.

All these clues circle around the central mystery without providing anything resembling hard information. Who was T?

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