Loitering Between Letter Lines

CAROLING

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You know the joke where the woman asks the man how she looks and he says "Fine."

What does "fine" mean, she asks herself.

Is he thinking, ‘She really does not look good with red hair, why did she dye it that color? She had black hair when we got together and that looked fine. If she doesn't go back to black I think I'll do like the country song and find a brand new girlfriend and fly to the beach with her for the weekend.'

All he really means was that she looked fine and oh, could he get back to watching the game now, please.

Alternately, she asks what he is thinking and he says, "Nothing," so she spends the next hour trying to guess what "nothing" meant?

How come the plumbing matches, but the hard-wiring between men and women does not?

I received a letter from a male friend a while back.

A real letter, written in longhand stream-of-consciousness; a missive to be savored.

Yet, as I re-read each sentence he penned, I wondered: Is there ever a time a woman should try to read between the lines of a man's letter?

Intuition, in this instance, could lead to folly.

Knowing I needed help to answer this most ponderous question I turned to 10 male friends for the definitive answer.

I should have known the answers would be just as varied as the guys.

I suppose I could construe the variety of their responses to mean that at the very least, there are literate men who live as near as Payson and as far away as Sweden.

My high school buddy Mark's answer was the most pragmatic. He suggested going for the brutal truth: "Did you mean this?"

Theatrical David, wry as usual, apologized for what he did not say in his last e-mail. I went back and looked at his least e-mail. It was a joke. (Oh, I get it now.)

Voyce, a professional drummer, summed up his response using only the subject line of his e-mail, "NEVER!"

Bruce never answered my question although he asked two of his own. "Why do you ask? What's up?"

Harry, put down his book, looked over his glasses and told me with great decisiveness that it depended on the guy.

Christer, who sees women most often through the lens of his camera, said it depended on the woman.

Leroy laughed, shook his head and poured himself another mug of beer.

Rodney was happy to know I knew a literate man, however, since my missive-writing-man is straight, Rod's final answer was negative.

Jim replied, "Yes, but she may not find anything there. You are assuming, I guess, that men can't be sensitive and subtle. Most can't, at least most of the time, but some can some of the time, although none can all of the time."

Chris said he never wrote between the lines and that a military comrade in arms coined the phrase,"I think I love you; lie down."

Those men I asked range in age from 35 to 65. Our friendships have lasted as long as two decades or two years. I freely admit one is my big brother, but we're not always friends -- although Bruce did have the pleasure of knowing me when I could not read (or write) at all.

These men come from blue and white-collar professions. They may not be a scientific representation of Americana but they are men I respect.

I was grateful at the time none of them replied to my question with, "Not this again."

My first order of business after getting the 10 definitive answers was to make my long-time-letter-writing-male-friend cookies. I shipped them in the certainty that he wrote "send homemade cookies" on the back of the envelope in invisible ink.

Yet it was within the letter, that I began to long for a romance that had been and the one that still might be.

"Get on a plane" might have even been the words in between "I don't know what all these years we've known each other mean to me." and "Keep writing, Carol." I read the words I wanted to believe my writer could not bring himself to write: "I want to see you. Catch the next plane East."

I guess it could be said I took Mark's advice, except I never asked the letter writer.

I never bought a plane ticket.

Because when I searched deep inside, I found I knew the answer, even though it was not the one I wanted at the time.

I am glad I stayed my hand, still, Harry and Christer might have had a point.

Reading between the lines could be different for you.

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