I don't know what Bonnie looks like, but I know that she had a round cursive handwriting that's classical yet not too serious. She played the piano and was an aspiring photographer. Her father owned an architecture firm. They had a home in the mountains with their own gasoline pump. She was down-to-earth and approachable. She was my dad's ex-fiancée. I've never met Bonnie, but I feel like she was someone who has always been a part of my life.
I learned about her through a bundle of letters that I found hidden in the back of my parents' closet after they divorced. I was sixteen going on seventeen. Like a detective, I arranged the letters chronologically and read them as fast as I could to learn who this woman was and why she was writing to my dad. It didn't take long for me to realize that they were in love. Their chemistry was alive in those letters. My heart swelled with emotion as I read them. I laughed and cried with Bonnie from 1975 until 1981.
October 1981, to be exact, when she sent her last letter–which was also when I was born. This was not a coincidence.
It was written on a note card featuring a bird in a nest, watching over its egg. Bonnie's teardrops had blurred away most of her inked writing. From the pattern on the page, I knew that the blurry splotches weren't due to mere crying but rather a deep sobbing. The writing was barely legible. All I could piece together was that she understood his decision and his newfound responsibilities as a father. In it, she mentioned enclosing a check for $5,000 to help him with his newborn baby, me.
My dad told me the story about Bonnie after I showed him the letters I found—how they met and how he met my mom. He told me that he still loved her and that he was sorry he never apologized to her for breaking her heart. Convinced that their love story wasn't over yet, I devised a plan to write to Bonnie and introduce myself to her. I sent the letter to an address I found on the internet for her father's architecture firm.
Months later, I received a response. The return address was typewritten simply with her last name and address. Immediately, I knew it wasn't her. It was from her niece-in-law, whose husband remembered my dad fondly. She told me the news: Bonnie had passed away in 1994 from breast cancer. My dad was heartbroken.
We ruminated about this one night in the kitchen.
"You and mom... You were never that happy... Not like you and Bonnie."
"Your mom and I are two different people. We tried but we couldn't get along. We're too different."
"I wish you had chosen Bonnie. You could've had such a happy marriage. Your life would be so different," I sighed.
"You chose to spend sixteen years with someone you weren't in love with. Don't you regret it?"
"No, I don't."
"Because..." he said, pausing for a draw of his cigarette, "I chose you."