A new friend! I thought, eagerly tearing open the letter.
Dearest Rebecca, it began in beautiful cursive.
Instantly enthralled, I hung on every word as the stranger described his life in Australia.
Yours, Anthony N Pisano, he signed it at the bottom.
Immediately, I penned a letter in return.
And soon, notes were flowing back and forth.
Anthony, 45, told me he was a school teacher and that he longed to fall in love and marry.
Each day, I found myself racing home to check my postbox, desperate for his responses.
Recognising his handwriting, I’d tear open his letters and settle on the lounge to read them, beaming from ear to ear.
In the blink of an eye, our correspondence turned into love letters and soon, instead of my mailbox, I would wait by the telephone for our weekly call.
A year on from our first letter, I was in love with a man I had never met.
‘You don’t even know him!’ my friends would comment in shock when I gushed about him.
Deep down, I knew they were right, but I couldn’t help the way I was feeling.
‘I’m coming to Manila,’ Tony told me one night.
‘What?’ I squealed excitedly.
It would be our first ever date!
Sure enough, a few weeks later, I ran into Tony’s arms at the airport.
We’d exchanged photos, so I recognised him straight away, but with his beautiful brown eyes and cuddly chest, he was more handsome than I’d even imagined.
Spending the next two weeks hand-in-hand, I showed Tony around the Philippines.
Then, on the last day of our holiday, Tony got down on one knee.
‘Will you be my wife?’ he smiled, holding out a gorgeous diamond ring.
‘I…’ I paused in shock.
Everything seemed to be happening so fast.
But as I met Tony’s eyes, I instantly felt safe.
Slipping on the ring, I couldn’t say a word.
‘Take your time,’ he soothed as I buried my head in his chest.
But that night, as I waved Tony off at the airport, my heart sank.
When will I see him again? I thought, devastated.
So, racing home, I picked up a pen and quickly scrawled on a piece of paper.
YES! I will marry you! I wrote.
Tony received it soon after he arrived back home, and the next thing I knew he was helping me sort the legal forms I needed to move to Australia.
Finally, a year later, I placed all our love letters in a box, said goodbye to my family and boarded a flight.
Reuniting with Tony at the airport, our lips met.
I’m home! I thought, happily wrapping my arms around my fiancé.
I moved in with Tony, and within days I found a job.
After being apart for so long, it was wonderful being able to snuggle up together every night.
I’d gambled my life without knowing anyone in Australia, but it paid off – I’d found true love.
And when Tony whisked me off to Sydney, it took my breath away.
A month after I landed, I slipped into my simple white wedding gown and met the man of my dreams at the end of the aisle.
As we stared into each other’s eyes, Tony vowed to care for and love me as long as we both lived.
Every day of our marriage, he managed to make me smile. And for 33 years, I felt like Tony had carried me away to live in the faraway kingdom I’d dreamed of as a young girl.
During his school holidays, we travelled the country.
And when Tony fell sick after he retired from teaching, I cared for him.
Sadly, last year, my smile stopped growing when Tony passed away.
Flicking through the letters and photos of our love, I will always be missing the heart-shaped puzzle piece that makes me whole.
Closing the lid on our scores of memories, I pulled the box close to my chest.
I will never stop grieving my love, but Tony will forever be in my heart. ●