Love’s Letters Lost

My oldest daughter has attended an all-girl’s middle school for the past three years, and I think it’s fair to say she is ready to the point of bursting to start a co-ed high school next fall. All signs that her romantic clock is approaching High Noon are there, including last year’s unceremonious breakup with horses and her recent inability to talk about anything else besides Louis from the band “One Direction.” (Admittedly – he is the cute one.)

Which is why I am suddenly sad that our kids will not have love letters to save and read through when they are having a low day.

My own high school love letters earn the title only through a technicality, in that they were written by boys to me and saved carefully in the same box with actual love letters from later on. They were more like “Like” letters.

But the days those letters fell out of my locker, where they’d been shoved between classes, or were passed into my hand furtively as we passed in the hall: those moments shot sparks through me. Carefully unfolding the notebook paper replete with hanging chads, taking a moment to adjust your eyes to someone’s handwriting and skimming to the bottom quickly to see what word was used to close it (“love,” “from,” “see you ’round”?): those moments were special.

I know my daughter, and other kids of her generation, will feel exactly the same way when they get that heart-stopping text from the cute kid in Geometry; human emotion doesn’t change, just the triggers. It’s the impermanence of those digital declarations that I think is tragic.

Were it not for the pile of love letters that I could go back and compare, for instance, I might never have recognized this pattern emerging in my young dating life: “I like you. So much that it scares me. That’s why I’m breaking up with you. Even though we only went on the one date.” By age 17, I could smell this bullshit excuse from a mile off, saving me years of heartache later on.

But I also have letters that remind me that for a while, at different times in my young life, I was someone’s somebody special.

Probably once every three or four years, I want to be reminded that I was a person who drove another person to dig out a working pen, stationery, and a stamp. I pull out my stash for a trip down memory lane. The letters carry tactile reminders of the writer: one has a chewing tobacco stain on it, a quick visual reminder about why that guy didn’t work out. Another is covered in creepy pleas for commitment, and dated only a few weeks after we first met – it’s when the handwriting got to 4 pt size and a 90 degree angle that the relationship jumped the shark. A postcard sent from France contained only a few scribbled lines, but the image on the front was a painting of a reclining nude woman. Wait. I thought he was a boy who was a friend? Was he trying to tell me he wanted to be a boyfriend? A young person could spend hours trying to parse the codes hidden in a letter. How are you going to do that when everyone writes on a white screen in Calibri 10 pt font with single spacing?

From the first day we met, my husband and I have really only ever been apart for one semester. I am so glad we muddled through that time, even if I hated it then. The letters we sent each other during those months are the only concrete documentation of how we fell in love. Sure, you could print out emails, but  what if you didn’t realize you were falling in love as it was happening?

Here’s my hope, my wish for my kids (and yours:) that they experience young love so profound and poetic and moving that it transcends the digital realm and can only be properly expressed by a scratchy Bic pen and a sheet of lined notebook paper.

Without further ado, I present One Direction, singing One Thing. Louis is the guy in the white shirt and striped suspenders. In the words of the 8th grade girls in my carpool who start sweating and giggling when the subject of One Direction arises, “so…many…emotions!”

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20 comments on this post.
  1. Floribunda:

    When we cleared our crap out of your dungeon, I found the one thing I’d been hoping to find, anxious that, in a fit of clutter-clearing, I’d thrown out – every single love note Neil wrote me during our courtship. Some were letters smiled from Mammoth, when he spent the winter as a ski instructor, and some were the ones he’d hide on my clipboard at work. Worth more than their weight in gold…and the best part is that I continue to get them. Hopefully our sons will take note (no pun intended) when someday they’re head over heels…

  2. Floribunda:

    That’s “mailed”…

  3. K Fee:

    Couldn’t agree more. I love those love letters even though they can be embarrassing.

    Along these lines, I highly recommend taking your loved one or parent or child to the StoryCorps booth and getting your story recorded.

    You might fall in love all over again.

    storycorps.org

  4. Sara Evinger:

    I have a shoebox full of love letters Joe wrote me the summer before I came to California to “elope” and we got married three weeks later at SF City Hall. Marriage license $6; blood test $6. And parking ticket $6; meter expired because we had to borrow witnesses from the couple who got married before we did. Back to the letters…I ran across them in my sewing room closet recently – pulled out one at random – as though he’d written it yesterday – pretty good after 40 years. (All together now…AWWWWWWW.)

  5. lisa:

    Nan
    Loved this- you know how I save things and I appreciate the sentiments you shared. Xox

  6. Wendi:

    So very sweet.

  7. Nancy Davis Kho:

    or maybe you smiled because he mailed them. Maybe NOT Freudian. Glad neither the rats nor the mildew got them in our dungeon.

  8. Nancy Davis Kho:

    did you guys do that? Sounds like a great idea…

  9. Nancy Davis Kho:

    I still have the itemized list of every penny we spent on the wedding, too – in my defense Andrew had moved to DC and I was living with my parents and bored out of my skull in the weeks before the wedding, so what else was I gonna do. I plan on whipping it out when it comes time for me to be mother of the bride, as a means of insisting on a similar budget (not even adjusted for inflation, if I can get away with it.)

  10. Nancy Davis Kho:

    and the best part is when you give them back to the writer. There is so much material in that bag, I don’t even know where to start. Probably with your bangs.

  11. K Fee:

    Yes, on Sunday. It’s a great experience. Now a part of our love story is on a cd and in American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which should hold up better than a shoebox.

  12. Floribunda:

    OK, it’s official – our kids can NOT get married. Aside from the purple balloon decor and marshmallow treats that Andrew’s threatened to serve, I don’t think I’ll be able to stick to a non-adjusted budget.

  13. Nancy Davis Kho:

    Don’t you remember I already arranged your son’s marriage to Maria’s daughter? There was a goat involved as a finder’s fee? It’s not easy to find a mother of the bride whose utter disinterest in planning her daughter’s wedding matches your level of enthusiasm for planning for your son’s. It’s perfect, I tell ya.

  14. Floribunda:

    I completely remember that arranged marriage, but not sure I can put my stamp of approval on it since I don’t want my future grandchildren to have the herp gene coming at them from both sides. That might be a union to rethink…just saying’…

  15. Julia Watson:

    I loved the music here – made me feel that some things haven’t changed too much. These cute little guys are the Beatles updated!

  16. Nancy Davis Kho:

    I’m sorry but were the Beatles ever this cute? On the other hand, I’m guessing tambourine is the only instrument any of these fellows play.

  17. Ann:

    I should’ve saved more of them. Have never thought to dig them out, but come upon them accidentally some times.

    Very sad if our children won’t have something concrete to hold on to when they need to remember.

    Love this.

  18. Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac:

    I did a StoryCorps with two best friends and loved the experience! I want to go back with my Hubs!

  19. Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac:

    Loved this post so much! (And thank you for the tip on Suspenders Boy…I needed a new crush!)

  20. An Education Vacation :: Midlife Mixtape:

    [...] between reading about the stylish flair of Beyoncé’s baby frontpack and what various members of One Direction consider a perfect date, as relayed to the literary scribes at Tiger [...]

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