I’d intended to burn them when I moved and down-sized. Three boxes of letters, two large ones containing John’s letters to me, and one small box of my letters to him. He could always out-write me. He’d sit at the typewriter, later computer, and punch those keys with the passionate fury of Horowitz playing Chopin.
As I prepared to burn our pre-marital love letters from more than forty years ago, I made the mistake of opening and reading one. And then another. I could read no further, but I quickly realized there’d be no incinerating John’s letters—although they were hot enough to ignite a flame on their own. He wrote three or four pages every day, the words flowing, the sentiment naked and honest. I wrote maybe a page or two a week, reserved, cautious.
I was working in Seattle, weary of my job as an AP editor. I lived on Vashon Island, a beautiful place I swore I’d never leave. He was, of course, in Omak, where I claimed I could never live. Besides passion, there was a lot of negotiation in those letters. We wrote our way toward the epic decision of marriage and my relocation.
The letters have been stored in the far corner of a high shelf, where I wouldn’t see them but be assured of their presence. Today, Memorial Day, I didn’t go to the cemetery, with all the flags, flowers, and people. As the poet Mary Elizabeth Frye observed, John is “not there.” Instead, I dragged out the stepladder and retrieved the boxes of letters. That’s where I find John. His presence in those letters is so real, I cannot read more than one or two. It’s a paradox. His presence in the letters makes his absence more vivid.
The letters still need to be sorted, possibly burned. Another project for “Someday.”
(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider the stories attached to the stuff you treasure—maybe even share them.)