One day, when you’re receiving the deceased’s personal effects, dismantling a life box by box, you’re handed a pile of stuffed manila envelopes to do with what you will. Letters, cards, and photos of old lovers. One stands out, marked with “Memories – R. <3” and, at first glance, yes, the contents seem to be from someone named “R____”
But it’s something else that catches your eye.
An old-fashioned cardstock framed photo, the school class kind, and this doesn’t look like the “R” from the rest of the photos and letters. With the pictures are old newspaper cartoon cutouts about love along with three letters in envelopes.
It’s voyeuristic to look, but it was left in your care, so you give it a quick once over.
The first two envelopes and letters are old but smooth, dated July ’73. Nothing overtly personal, just catching up over the summer, but end with a boy promising his love forever.
Then there’s the third.
The envelope and letter within have been crumpled, probably repeatedly, and only smooth and crisp now because they’ve been tucked away for forty years between two flat surfaces. It’s a brief letter dated Aug ’73, tone shifted from friendly to short, revealing it will be the last one because the writer has gotten engaged to another girl.
The final line is “I know I’ve been unfaithful and I hope someday you may forgive me.”
The pieces slide together then–you remember this story of the boy she loved, who couldn’t wait when they were apart for a few months and cheated on her, and how that betrayal changed everything. She relayed it when you couldn’t see through the cloud of grief and rage at having been betrayed by a boy yourself, a moment of understanding.
And now you hold a tangible piece of that, forty-year-old heartbreak.
I talk a lot about death now (I’m really fun at parties).
Unsurprising, I guess, not only because I write about death a lot, but I’m a very depressed person for whom suicidal thoughts have been a recurrence for twenty years. But losing people you’ve grown up, whose constant support has always been there, drives one’s mortality home even after living with it for all these years.
Especially when you’re holding a piece of someone’s life in your hands, even in the form of a crumpled letter. Something that was cried over, hated, probably tossed out, but later retrieved and kept. For forty-two years.
The same time I was writing this blog post, I was messaging with a writer friend who knew Aunt Judy. She mentioned how she ended up with her friend’s old journals when the woman passed, and how periodically she’d have dreams about her. Each time she’d pull out a journal, stop when she felt compelled to, and what she read left her feeling like her friend was there speaking to her again.
Maybe it’s the benzos talking, but I felt something, holding this little pile of tucked away treasures no one other than their owner held for many years. Some resonance, some message even if it hasn’t quite clicked yet. People break our hearts, and part of us holds onto that for the remainder of our lives, and then we’re gone and someone else is left pondering the pieces remaining.
In the movie version, this is when the music swells and the heroine has her epiphany, rushes outside, and runs to the hero’s house–probably in the rain although her makeup is still pristine–and “Something I Need” plays along with her confession about how life is short and this is what she wants, then they kiss and the credits roll–
Except in real life, the heroine has only spoken to the hero for ten minutes and is pretty sure he doesn’t remember her name, and if she heads out in this weather, she’ll probably freeze to death anyway. There’s no movie, no soundtrack, no sudden chill as if a message is being passed between the living and the dead, no meaning but what I bring to it.
I wish I could ask her if she ever did forgive him.