A month ago, I asked a former boyfriend if he would lend me the letters I sent him while I was in Peace Corps. I had meant to photocopy these letters before I left Portland, but I ran out of time.
I absolutely want you to keep them—they were written for you, I had said. But they’re also the only detailed records of my daily life in Lesotho.
Within days, he had mailed them priority. Included was a gracious note wishing me a happy quarter century and encouraging me to keep the letters as long as I needed.
Thinking transcription would be emotionally fraught, I dragged my feet. I began the task today. The letters weren’t filed in chronological order, but the first one I pulled was written nearly three years ago on July 27, 2007. In closing:
Do you keep letters and cards people write you? I definitely do and still have letters/cards from when I was 5. I don’t know that it’s a good thing, to be honest. It’s a huge file and I’ve kept these correspondences knowing I’ll probably never open them simply because a.) I think that they put the effort into jotting down a word or two (for which I didn’t even have to pay a penny), so the least I could do is save them, b.) what if I do go back and read them? It would be interesting to see what I was like at whatever age, the relationships I had, what I cared about, &c.
Again: “What if I do go back and read them? It would be interesting to see what I was like at whatever age, the relationships I had, what I cared about, &c.”
It’s amazing how quickly all the little details snap back. I was obsessed with the song “Here I Dreamt I was an Architect,” I had an unending love for Cadbury‘s hazelnut chocolate slabs (I would have married them all—rum raisin, fruit and nut, hazelnut—ceremony on the playground, free slabs for everyone) and was saving meticulously to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. My observations on Basotho culture. My recurring dreams. When I melted my Naglene because it was too close to the gas heater or when the corrugated roof would rain on me in the 34-degree mornings.
Reading these letters has been like reading a fiction novel. I am both the narrator who can fill in unspoken details and also the reader who has merely a second-hand acquaintanceship with the characters. I’ve transcribed 11 letters—an average of 670 words apiece, often 2-3 pages double-sided. At most, I’ve only skimmed off a tenth of the stack.
Every year since has had some element of destruction about it. Every year, I feel like I’ve crumbled a little more. In the several hours I devoted to transcription today, I’ve learned so much about this person and realized that she’s no stranger. I’m not that different now than who I used to be. This priority parcel time capsule reflects both my current and former fears. Do I shine a little less bright? Maybe. Maybe I’ve been snuffed. These letters have affirmed that looking for the silver-lining is what has always gotten me through, and so I want to think I’ve just been tempered.
“I do hope that besides being honest, we do continue to be bold with each other,” I wrote. “At least I know I could always use more courage.”