An old friend from college called to tell me David had died. He died in a men’s halfway house in Mississippi, where he had recently lived after deserting his family in Alabama. He had tried for so long to get sober, the friend told me, and evidently he was trying again, but his heart was too far gone from the decades of abuse. I thanked the friend for calling me—which is ridiculous, to thank someone who brings such awful news. Then I pulled out boxes of photographs, looking for him, any picture at all. But the only ones I found had grown fuzzy—cheap film and an Instamatic camera circa 1977. Maybe he was on Facebook. I found his name, but not him—it was David III, his son. I had heard he had children, but never much about them or even whom he had married. I scrolled through, hopeful I would see photos of my old love, and then, there he was. But it was and wasn't him—it was his son, who looked so much like him, so, so much like him, down to how he held a cigarette in his mouth and the way he looked over his shoulder. This young man doesn't know me, I thought, but I could tell him about his father—I know things about his father. I clicked off and put my photographs away. In the following days I grieved; I felt stripped of part of my past. Then I remembered the things I wish I had not remembered—the violence when he was very drunk, the threats he made about what he would do if I ever left him.

My mother taught me how to write when I was three years old through the art of the thank you note, which sparked my love of beautiful stationery. There is absolutely no substitute for stiff, crisp paper and a fine pen.