The Long Goodbye
Last weekend we cleaned out the attic, moving as much as we could to a storage unit to live in limbo until we can reclaim it again. Moving is a long goodbye, a gradual uprooting, an endless unsettling. Encounters with all the objects you've ever owned, former selves you’ve packed away. The yearbooks and baby cribs and Grandma’s China. The physical/emotional/spiritual labor of at last leaving behind childhood and starting over again. But there is one thing we didn’t touch. A chest of drawers stuffed with all of the letters I've received in my lifetime tied into bundles with red and black ribbon. Red for the girls and women and black for the boys and men.
Letters were as precious then as rolled up treasure maps found in a bottle, clues to a mystery, evidence of time and communication, a mirror of who we were. When my first boyfriend died tragically days before his 40th birthday in 2013, one of the first things I did was go into the attic and read all of the letters he’d ever sent me. It was beautiful, astonishing, heart wrenching. A blessing and a curse.
The intensity and agony of true love at 14….15….16….17. The vows and poems and even the screenplays. Epic love, mythological in proportion. And then I'm 18 and he's begging me not to forget about him but I'm in college in New York and though I've memorized the earlier letters like Bible verses I’ve hardly so much as glanced over these. These letters are a one sided, direct cord to my past, the time travel sudden and visceral and maybe too much. Maybe lost memories are lost for reason— to protect us from the too muchness of living through them again.
I nearly hyperventilated, crumpling into sobs on the attic floor as I read these letters from Carter, that boy I’d loved so much. It was like watching someone drown from the other side of a filmy screen. I could not save him—not now that he was dead or then when I was 18 and falling in love with someone new. But I could save that part of ourselves that will never die, that will live forever because of the written word, because of memory.
The letters will come with me.