Sunday, February 23, 2014

Letters I've written

Now, this is going to make me sound really old, but in my day we didn't have facebook or email or skype - we just wrote one another letters... lots and lots of letters. During my teenage years, I corresponded with friends in other cities, love interests, boyfriends, mentors, pen friends overseas who I'd never met, and school friends who I saw every day. It was the way we expressed ourselves, and how we connected.

There is a box at my parents' place full of letters that I received, and cherished. This little box of treasures provides a glimpse into the 1980's teenage experience, expressed through the people I was communicating with. There are tentative reflections in french on a memorable night, angsty post-break up letters complete with lyrics from REM, tales of road trips and overseas travel accompanied by photos, drawings and mixed tapes, queries about life's purpose, declarations of love, and secrets shared that I have never disclosed. Boy-crazy letters and girl-crazy letters. Letters on pretty paper, neat paper, and on the back of recycled paper. Letters that followed ruled lines, and others that whirled across the page in a spiral. That was the great thing about those letters - there were no rules, and each person's style of writing and choice about the packaging said as much about them as the words they wrote.

While I hold some of the letters written to me, those I wrote are scattered around the world. I have since wondered who kept them, what they meant to the recipients, what I was saying back then, and where they will end up. After my grandfather died, and we were methodically and painstakingly going through his possessions, I stumbled upon a Valentine's Day card Grandma had written him early on in their marriage, when she was not much older than I was at the height of my letter writing era. I felt like an intruder into a time and intimacy that I hadn't been privy to before. I guess that's what happens with letters - sometimes they outlive those who cherished them.

After my friend David died, Lisa told me she had some of the letters I had written him over the years and that I could have them back if I wanted. He had kept them for over a decade. For those years since he died, I didn't feel ready to read them, perhaps scared to discover myself there - raw in black and white. What if I wasn't how I remember, or I don't like that girl? But one day I will read them, and like a voyeur again, I will be transported back into the experience of my 21 year old self, a girl who might seem as distant from my "today" self as the newly-wed woman was to my Grandmother. But that's the thing with letters...


Mark Riboldi said...

Good post! Yes, letters are fantastic. Writing is my most comfortable way to communication, generally. Three short letter-related anecdotes:

When I was living overseas, I wrote letters to my grandmother, and she back to me. She might have written more than I did... I love those letters from Nan - they were this special insight into the beautiful person that she was and always will be, to me.

These days I write letter to a friend of mine who has moved to Berlin. It's a lovely way to keep in touch, and a good way to keep up the practice of handwriting. I'll be seeing her in Sydney in a week, so I'll be hand-delivering my most recent letter :)

Then, when I was about 8 or 9, there was a girl I had a crush on who was a couple of years older than me - a family friend. I had worked out the Dwarf rune alphabet using maps in my copy of the Hobbit. So I wrote her a whole letter in Dwarf, and sent her the key. She wrote back. She wasn't interested in being my girlfriend, but she wrote a whole paragraph of the letter in runes! Sadly I don't think I have it anymore :(

Selena said...

Great post! I still have some of your letters. Some, unfortunately, have not survived the strange and wonderful places I've lived. But even many of these I remember fragments from, and Latin phrases, and in-jokes, and nicknames, and I don't think I'll ever forget your handwriting, even if you stop writing. It makes me feel good to see it every time I do. I think I'd be nervous to see some of my letters (although I feel I recognise some here). You somehow always knew which items discussed in a letter were not to be revealed. Xx

Lucy said...

I love this post. Letters are a sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful, snapshot of time.