Open Letter To Gayle Forman

Dear Gayle,

I am writing to thank you. I needed to thank you for your words, your books, your stories, and to do this I needed to tell you my own Dutch love story.

I first read Just One Day when I was 18 and travelling through Europe. I had to stop. In comparison to the novel my trip felt restrictive, adventure-less (even though that’s how the majority of Allyson’s trip was too).

I didn’t ever get my one day, not in the three weeks of Europe, and I probably won’t ever. But that’s good, at 18, I wasn’t ready yet. Three years later, I still wasn’t ready. I was a mess after a mess after another mess. I was bruised, and defeated; ready to graduate from university and move on. (For good). So of course, that’s when I met him.

Jordy (prounounced Yordy), was shy and tall. He didn’t look the way he did in pictures. He was wearing cowboy boots and an ugly black sweater with his name printed on it. I couldn’t believe it was him. I started thinking of ways to leave the date early as I led him into Starbucks and sat down. He spoke loudly and with a heavy dutch accent. A farmer, he practically shouted about cows and milking (most of which I began to tune out).

“Sometimes though, when I’m milking I start to wonder what it all means…what the point of it all is, what I’m even working towards or for.”

I looked up. This simple man had caught my attention with his philosophical question. There was something there, something that wasn’t easily seen. I took him back to my place where I forced 20 minutes of High School Musical on him, tested to see how he got along with my beloved pet rabbit, and then booted him out the door with a conciliatory hug.

He texted me the next day, and the day after that, and after that. I was leaving in four months, but I was lonely. I gave him another shot, and another, and another and another. A month later, I introduced him to my family. A week after that he asked me to be his girlfriend,and without hesitation, I said yes.

Fast Forward to Now.

He’s working on immigrating to Canada, and I’m spending hours a day helping with the never-ending paperwork. It’s stressful, and terrible. It’s got us at each other’s throats almost constantly. I’ve wanted to walk away so many times. I wanted to walk away from the paperwork, from the stress, from the process and sometimes even from him. Two days ago, he yelled on the phone out of sheer frustration, and I almost did.

But see, he’s home. He’s my home.

Even though, through his immigration situation, he’s become the source of my frustrations, my stress, and my sleepless nights, he’s also the only person who’s broken my heart wide open.

He’s kind. He’s consistent. He’s extremely patient with me. He’s gentle. He’s caring, and when he walked in the door last night, I could see the how pale he was. How rundown. How red-eyed and dog tired. How terrified. How devastated he was by the situation we were in, and by the real possibility of losing me.

I couldn’t look at him. Not without crying, not really at all. I didn’t know you could actually feel a heart break. I didn’t know you could feel it crack as the cracks were happening. I didn’t realize just how physical, mental and spiritual that kind of pain could be.For a moment, I thought these were pains were sympathy, empathy. But I don’t believe those feelings could ever be born of pure sympathy.

I am sure that what I was feeling wasn’t his heartbreak. It was mine. It was realizing how gutted I would be losing him. It was feeling the pre-loss of knowing in a few months, I might be putting him on a plane to Holland while the paperwork gets figured out. It was the guilt of letting myself fall in love while knowing full-well that love might be the one thing out of and above our control.

Gayle, I didn’t get my one day. I fell into this slowly, and by accident. I fell into it despite an existing plan, despite the risks, despite not wanting this or him, or any of it really.

 Unfortunately though Gayle, I might get my one year. Depending on how this all goes, we might be apart a few weeks, a few months, or much longer. That’s the reality of it. That’s my reality.

And you know, “maybe time has nothing to do with it”.
Gayle Forman, Just One Year

I always told myself the reason I hadn’t fallen in love at 15,16,17,18,19,20, was because I was the type of person who could only have one great love. That maybe, the reason all the heartbreak, and close-calls in the past, were only close calls was because mine was a heart that could only love once. That that’s all I was capable, was to love once, but to love hard and love well.

“Doubt is part of searching. Same as faith.”
Gayle Forman, Just One Year

Or maybe that’s bullshit. Maybe he’s not the one. Maybe I was wrong and this is just part of a longer story that ends with someone else. Between you and me though, I hope not.

See Gayle, I’m ready now. That’s why I’m writing this very long letter to you. I am writing because I am almost finished reading Just One Year, for what’s probably the 5th or 6th time, but the first in this new context. And in this new context, I’ve learned a new lesson.

Loving someone is such an inherently dangerous act. And yet, love, that’s where safety lives.”
Gayle Forman, Just One Year

In this mess, I have tried many times to escape this immigration prison. And in doing so, I’ve built myself many different ones. In an attempt to deal with, understand and manage my stress, pain and anxiety, I have locked out the one person, locked out the love I am putting myself through all this for.

Sometimes you escape one prison only to find you’ve built yourself a different one”
Gayle Forman, Just One Year

Worse than this, I have justified the building of these prison walls, rationalized them time and again. Convinced myself they were a refuge. I have held onto them for dear life, built them up strong with my resentment towards him for putting me in this immigration prison, for making me love him and in doing so, putting me here.

Yesterday, I tore them down.

I sobbed into him as the reality hit. I took refuge in him and let him wrap himself around me. I accepted he will probably have to leave, probably for at least a few months. I cried and cried, letting him harbor my fears for the months ahead, the pure loss of being an ocean away.

Gayle, loving someone is already such an inherently dangerous act. However, loving him, loving a foreigner, makes something already dangerous, also wildly and uniquely precarious.

When I first went to read Just One Day and Just One Year again, I was initially angry that this wasn’t something you captured, but as I once again reach the ending, I am realizing that isn’t the important lesson. It is the necessary sentiment the book needed to capture. That quote is. That’s the applicable piece.

Because, love isn’t a prison. It isn’t something you protect. It isn’t something you should protect yourself from, nor is it something you can protect from external factors. It’s a risk. It’s something you have to risk. And it’s always a risk, no matter the situation, no matter the circumstances.

That is to say, love is necessarily a risk. The nature of it is such that you must risk. That you cannot protect, because in protecting love, even with purest intentions, you lose it.

For in protecting love, you are protecting yourself from the loss of that love, and in doing this, you inadvertently protect yourself from love, from having love and from being able to love. And so, there can be no protection. There can only be risk.

To most, I think this seems scarier, but your book helped me to understand it better. I understand now, that in protection there is no risk, but there is also no love. In love, there is risk, there is loss, but even if it is only for a moment, there can be love. This is what matters, this is why we must risk.

This is why I tore my walls down, because if I didn’t risk loving Jordy. If I didn’t risk it with him, I’d lose him anyway, probably prematurely.

Thank you so for helping me understand this, for helping me realize this. For helping me love.

Hannah