“What Might Have Been”–Reading Old Love Letters

Riding Down Memory Lane by Red Haircrow
Riding Down Memory Lane by Red Haircrow

Ah, the wistful memories of youth. As troubled as mine was before my “zero hour” came, there were times of joy, moments of precious, private pleasure. Almost at my fourth decade now, even when I look back knowing what eventually came of those hopeless infatuations, the unrequited loves and painful crushes, it is so very bitter, bittersweet. Some people wish they could go back to a younger age of themselves and live again, even if they didn’t know what they know now, but I wouldn’t. The things that happened, “for good for for ill”, made me the person I am today.

“From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were,
I have not seen as others saw,
I could not bring my passions from a common spring,
from the same source I’ve not taken my sorrow.
I could not awakened my heart to joy at the same tone,
and all I loved, I loved alone.

It was then in my childhood,
in the dawn of a most stormy life
I found for good or for ill
the mystery which binds me still….”
Edgar Allen Poe

I’m moving back to Germany, and this time, except for visiting perhaps, I won’t be back to the US. And such is my way of moving, that all the accumulated items that have been stored at my parent’s or my home, unless vitally necessary, have to go. Usually, when I move from country to country to work for some months, for example, I enter as I left the previous country: except for a change of clothing, a certain book of poetry and documents (and more recently a laptop), I give everything away to charity.

I’m currently going through a few strongboxes in my office/bedroom to further the sort and/or discard process. I found a photo of myself at age six, laughable and weird, believe me. I was smiling, that is a distinct anomaly for me. My last age of innocence. There’s letters also, personal photos, little keepsakes and the like that, unless you’re an über famous person, are not of interest to anyone. Maybe if I become famous someday these things will become collectibles? This is a joke, btw.

So I have dozens of unsent postcards from cities across the globe. Most were ones I bought, but also some that people sent me. “Special” kind of people who don’t want the postcards actually ruined by being stamped, so they put them inside an envelope to mail. I’ve postcards that came as gifts in anime DVDs, Sorceror Hunters, Kyo Kara Maoh and even Mirage of Blaze. Those are easy to look through, but I am strangely ambivalent about the many letters I see, the ones I know are there.

Mostly the letters we written to me during my sixteenth and seventeeth year, 1988-89 or so. I see ones from a young man who was in love with the best friend with which I had a tumultuous love/hate thing going, a girl. This girl was then dating the guy I was in love. Infatuated I should say. He and I were attracted to each other and had a very brief, crazy sexual adventure that shocked him into hating me to keep from hating himself. I’ve found a family photo of him, his sister and younger brother. It absolutely has to go. There’s another letter from an earnest young woman who was interested in me but I had no interest of that kind in her.

Very, very wryly, I observe I had a few letters from a certain young country boy I had a minor crush on. Minor but utterly devoted. I silently and bashfully stalked him, just to see him, but it was fine because it was okay for a younger guy to “hero worship” a successful and popular “somebody.” We both shared the love of art and he sent me some drawings to critique, and he commented on mine. When I spoke too warmly I must have crossed the line because he cut me cold, privately and publicly. I should be lucky he didn’t speak of what I said to anyone. I’ve just unfolded the drawing he did of a Tennessee Walking horse. It’s quite fine but it’s also slated for the trash.

There are very many indeed from a high school exchange student who’d lived nearby me in the US before returning to his home. Perhaps not surprisingly, we had become friends as I was more “European” than anyone else around. We maintained contact for years after, whatever country we happened to be in, we would still write. He went from Yugoslavia, his home country, to Sweden and then to Japan. I thought he was so handsome and suave, and we could have true conversations, in depth on literature, art, history, things I’d never found anyone my own age to talk to about. Not that I minded conversations with older people, but sometimes I wanted to be with those my own age, even if internally, I felt much older than they. Actually, he and I spoke last three years ago, so it was a penpal relationship of over twenty years. After he married, he brought his wife and brother-in-law to meet me while he visited the family who’d hosted him in high school. I still know where he is, of course, so it might be something I pursue when I’m back in Europe.

The letters I’m saving until last are those from a youth who greatly reflected myself at the time, though we never discussed it then. We couldn’t speak of it, perhaps we didn’t know how. I hoped. Oh, how I had hoped he would speak to me of love. How I wanted him to want more of me. There were times I could see it in his eyes considering, but perhaps the fact we were both of the same gender besides the fact he was from an old, old deeply monied and landed family influenced him to stay silent. My parents knew them otherwise, and one summer I’d been hired to sit with his ailing grandmother who tolerated very few people, but I happened to be one of them. At sixteen I sat with her, dreaming of him. She would have risen up off the pillow-topped queen sized bed and killed us both. I was tolerable as a companion, smart for a youngster, but I was not white and very decidedly poor.

As I typed this entry, I was still going through the storagebox, and I found a picture of him. I’ll stop writing for a little while now, the memories are so strong. I can remember just how much taller he was than me. How deep blue were his eyes, the timbre of his voice.

I’m back now, but I wonder where he is today. If he’s still alive. He moved to San Francisco to get away from his family and their expectations and requirements. He dreamt of becoming an airline pilot.

Down to the bottom of the box now, and it’s romantic and sentimental cards that I bought because of their messages of devotion and steadfast love. These I intended to give to someone I fell in love with who actually fell in love with me, but that never happened, so they are still there…waiting.

A little deep yellow slip of paper, with no matching envelope of any kind, is the last piece. And it’s a total surprise, something I completely forgot having received, although after reading it, I remember the incident that sparked it’s writing. It was from a former school friend, a partner in silly juvenile crimes like swinging from the curtains of the theatre during a Christmas play (we got suspended) or pouring a “procured” measure of liquid nitrogen into someone’s backpack and freezing all their stuff (we got suspended even longer for that). We were a really terrible twosome, too clever for our own good at thirteen years of age.

As we went into high school, ninth grade, a different level of hormones, things began to change. The complications in my own private misery were ending, but I had curiousities of my own regarding sexual exploration. While sitting in class one day, at the back as usual so we could whisper jokes and non-sense to each other, as he turned back to me…there was just something about his face. Clear brown eyes always fun of mischief, curling brown hair…I reached out to touch it. I’ll never forgot the shocked then furious look. He’d accused me of being gay citing the comment made by a female “friend” we both shared, that it was so. We had a hellacious fight as I tried to explain, to deny, ashamed and furious at myself! I’d told him he’d never understand me. I twisted the offense into a show of swift hatred for him, and he called me a number of choice terms. We were broken by our diverging paths, but he still wrote me this note. It ended with “…you will always means something special to me.”

He and I were with each other almost every day for around three years as we shared the same classes and past-times, from age twelve to nearly fifteen. When I learned that he’d been shot down in Afganistan ten years ago, I hadn’t seen him since that last falling out, but I grieved so deeply. That loss took my breath and a part of my youth away.

People don’t write letters much anymore. There’s electronica, and though people think they can delete, it’s always there somewhere but never in the way of opening a physical box and touching what someone else touched; what they spent so much time over, writing with ink or pencil upon paper, folded and placed in an envelope then labelled for you. They took their time to place a stamp and mail it. They were thinking very deeply of you. It was silent affection of a kind, appreciation. This creates connections in a very different way than “firing off” an email.

I’ve mentioned it in my author profile on Goodreads.com and other places besides, speaking of myself in the third person, of course: “Red chooses to inject realism in their work and happily ever after is not always in the mix though love and strong characters always are. Like life, there is always a bittersweet mixture of laughter and tears, and Red imbues their writing with the passionate love and depth of emotion they’ve experienced.”

This is part of my past, these letters, these memories that further influenced relationships as I grew up. Alive or now dead, these are some of the people and situations, the emotions that I tap to flow into my work. They are part of the foundation laid in my soul, so naturally they are a part of me just as each and everyone of my stories. Without the art of letter writing, I would never have learned more about others, myself and the human condition. I wouldn’t have these precious pieces of my past.