Most people don’t answer letters anymore. Even fewer people write them, less than that address them, and even less than that actually send them. For those of us that do, we know full well that we might as well put a message in a bottle and throw it out to sea. Even if the post office gets it to the right address, we have little way of ensuring that the desired recipient will even be there to receive it. If that person is there, the letter might still go unread, go read and unanswered, go unanswered and destroyed or worse, returned after the desired eyes have scanned the postmark, recognized the handwriting, caught the return address.
Yet even as we know the odds, we nurse tiny embers of hope. One day, we might just open our own mailbox to find a letter addressed to us. We, the letter writers of the world, read them, love them, immediately pen eager responses. But the instance of response is such a rare thing – perhaps it’s a mercy to the human brain how often we write those letters, send them, and forget even the person addressed.
Not all brains have mercy upon their bearers. We must live with our memories, all of them, and struggling to find a way to earth ourselves to the present even as we forever witness the processions of the past.
For me, the letter writing helps. Each letter offers a constant conversation of the present to the past. It helps me relieve the pressure in streams of apologies, packets of explanations, accountings for mistakes. Every injury ever inflicted has a letter written to it.
A smarter woman would write these, burn them, maybe throw a few herbs on them as an offering to whatever gods tend to regret. I’ve had a therapist tell me that I’m too smart and too sane, and that’s part of what has locked me in this cycle. Something triggered the wrong brain wrinkle, and now it has me writing these long, effusive letters and then sending them out into the world, to the people that have long forgotten me. Most of whom will not even recognize the incidents that my cramping hand scrawled about across each page.
There remains one enveloped confessional, unwritten, held back. In many ways, the non-existence of this letter represents the completely unmet potential of that relationship. My inability to speak back then parallels my inability to write right now. I can say all the things. I can say all the things on paper. Back in those days, I could say anything, anything at all – except to the one person who needed to hear me say something, the one person who needed to read not my explanation of myself, but some beyond-my-reach words about who he is, not how he fit in my universe but what he did to it.
When you are taking account of someone else’s destruction to you, such accounts are easy. “Here’s how you hurt me.”
What he did went deep into reconstruction of my person, although I don’t think that his intention was ever to go as deep as he did. It wasn’t a simple opposite of “Here’s how you healed me.” He restructured me. He expanded me. He made me feel safe and he pushed me to take risks. He loved me, as a verb, as an active choice, beyond the limited romantic concepts that I understood back then.
That’s a lot to accomplish between children.
Every few nights I sit with my stationery set and ballpoint pens, and begin. Dear Plato –
…and the next line always leads to a crumpled ball. It says it, but it never quite says it.
“I should have told you I loved you.”
Doesn’t say it clearly enough.
“I miss you.”
“There’s so much I wanted to say, but you had a girlfriend and-“
“Thank you for helping me extricate myself from that asshole boyfriend…”
That should come attached to an extremely expensive gift basket. Also, it’s not about him and me, it’s about some other guy and a mess he helped me clean up.
“I hope your wife and kids are also well…”
It became socially unacceptable to Google people almost as soon as it became possible to do so. I haven’t – I think? – but there’s no way in hell he doesn’t have a wife and kids. It’s who he is, in such a deep rooted way that it made me literally run away from him a couple times.
Christ. Information may be hanging out in my subconscious from surfing drunk around 2009.
“I’m sorry. If you understood about my fucked up family – “
You have to come from dysfunction to understand dysfunction. Back then he kept telling me I only thought I was losing my mind when I damn well was. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t possibly understand that language, thus he couldn’t understand the thought chain that led to my decisions regarding him.
“Do you remember when –“
He probably doesn’t.
After three or four attempts, another person came to mind – one I had wronged, one I had helped, one whom elicited my own deep pools of gratitude. My left hand moved, neatly dating the letter at the top, and words, as perfect in meaning and intention as I could create, spilled onto the paper. Often as I wet the envelope with a sponge and inserted the paper, I wondered, why is this so much easier with absolutely everyone else?
In March, just after the spring equinox, a sleepless night led me to my writing table. The wind stirring just-shot grass, the spring’s gentler pressure of air on skin made me feel fanciful. I dug a multicolor candle from beneath the desk and lit it, issuing a prayer full of regrets, and love, and play.
As the candle burned, the pen felt light in my hand as words dripped across paper in a spattered unease.
March 31, 2013
Three things we never did: we never went on a date, we never spent a night together, and we never truly spent time alone together. I want to say: we did fall in love. We did fight. We did make each other into who we are.
I predicate this on two assumptions: that my memories of our conversations and interactions are real, not rose-colored, and that my guess of mutuality is accurate. Doubts about the accuracy of my perceptions are always what kept me silent.
What I can say is this: I meant it when I said I loved you, every single time. Yes, that includes yelling it at you when pissed, screaming it down a hall at you over my shoulder, and a phone conversation after I moved to Mankato where you said “I do love you, Cicero,” and I desperately wanted to ask but didn’t, “In what way?”
Whether intentional or not, you made me who I am.
Thank you for that.
Whatever it was with us, it was real. It’s probably still real.
If I could see you again, I would in the space of time it takes to max out a credit card.
Knowing you’re out there is good, too. I hate settling, but if I have to settle, that’s something I can settle for.
P.S. You were right. Philosophy isn’t bullshit. Next time, ask me in a way that doesn’t trigger my fear of commitment.
I laid down the pen. Since then, I haven’t written a letter. Thank you notes, emails, books, yes, but the letter writing has stopped. This was what needed to be said, the burden I needed to lay down. Some will ask about partners – husbands, wives, the narrow constrictions we place on love out of fear of seeing anything go uncontrolled. The questions will all imply that according to our silent rules, I should remain silent, suppressed, submit to doing it right. If I hurt Plato in any way, it was by doing the “right” thing according to laws not my own, according to a truth that for me was a lie. The letter is in the universe now, and it is my truth if not a truth. I can settle for that, too.