mbird love letters 3

Two years after moving into our house, my husband and I have finally unpacked. We got through all the easy stuff first: kid toys, old clothes, books that we will never actually read. And then we began to deal with the heavier stuff of life. Which astonishingly seems to come in the form of papers.

There were photographs from prom (his) and programs from earnestly bad high school theatre productions (mine). We found our first driver’s licenses and concert tickets. But mostly, there were pages of letters from old boyfriends. There was correspondence in that box that went from 7th grade crushes to that one very serious college sweetheart. Turns out your Mom really will save everything.

Now, amor doesn’t demand the paper it used to require. My husband and I met right before texting became the preferred nomenclature for romantic communication. Lucky us. I can still remember the first potential suitor in college who sent me a text message. I literally didn’t know how to find it on my phone. And when I did I just assumed he was rude.

mbird love letters 2Of course, joke’s on me. Texting is the way we communicate everything to everyone, especially to those we have the proverbial hots for. Even I have taken to sending my husband dancing flamenco lady emoticons when we plan a date night (I know, we’re crazy like that). And now that I’ve waded through a gallon of paper correspondence from my past, I’ve decided this whole texting fad is pretty fantastic. The great thing about texting is that if you want to delete everything you said to the dude you are pining for, you can. I mean sure, it still lives on in the other person’s phone. But what does that matter? He’ll have to clean out his old texts eventually.

But a love letter lives on forever. There’s the paper it was written on. Mostly notebook, but then there were the backs of college newsletters or the occasional cheap postcard. Actual handwriting seems to mean more than tiny letters typed onto a tiny screen. I’ll be honest, though: the content is what slayed me. Despite the fact that I was standing in my garage right next to my husband, reading snippets of old love letters made me feel like I was drowning in expectations all over again.

I know you’re hoping for something elicit (this is the internet, after all). Me too. But it was more of a reminder of who these previous beaus thought I could become. Who they thought I should be. You know, when you are 19 you think you might actually be the prettiest, wittiest girl some guy has ever met? Reading those letters reminded me of how tired I was to let those old boyfriends down. I knew at some point they would realize I wasn’t Gwyneth Paltrow meets Eudora Welty. Yet I always wondered how long I could keep up the ruse.

The truth is, I wrote my own version of these thinly veiled missives to those well meaning fellows. Letters that told them they should read Faulkner or listen to Chet Baker if they were to meet my hipness expectations (15-22 year old Sarah was/is incredibly obnoxious). Who knows, those guys may have some of my letters tucked into boxes in their suburban garages just waiting to pull them back into something crappy. I picture them opening an old box marked “college” and being transported to a moment when something called a “love letter” was sent to them, laden with requirements.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It is the folly of the young and the unmarried. In some ways, I think we should just blame our mothers. After all, they are the ones who seem to land these jarring rides down memory lane in our garages around the ripe old age of 30. It can be a brutal brown box. But maybe our mothers know it’s actually the perfect time. You’ve either had enough of a gap in time that you won’t feel tempted give some old flame a call or you’ve been married long enough that retrospection makes the past look lame. Or maybe, our mothers know that we couldn’t end up with the boyfriends that had oceans of expectations because we never were very good at treading water.

funny-prom-awesome-1After skimming one too many of these allegedly romantic letters I said out loud to my husband, “I could really use a letter from my Ghennie.” In the South we have very odd names for our grandmothers. Ghennie was my maternal grandmother. She passed away a little over a year ago. She was funny and brave, and she thought I was the best thing that happened to the planet. When dressing for church and I get the colors and patterns just so, I still think to myself, “Ghennie would have loved this outfit.”

Anyway, she loved to write me letters. But my grandmother never wrote anything that was more than one or two sentences long. She was a bright woman. She had a high school diploma and ran a beauty shop in the Mississippi Delta. She didn’t need loads of sentences to tell me how much she loved me. Because nobody really does. If married love has taught me anything, it is that love really is patient and kind, not verbose and demanding.

So in a moment when I needed a loving word from my past, free of the freight of “becoming,” suddenly one appeared. I looked down and saw a cheap greeting card with a kitten and a daisy on it and I knew it was from my grandmother, Ghennie. To be honest, I kind of held my breath as I opened it. Would this be the one time she had offered me advice about my shortcomings? Or told me what books I should be reading? No, Ghennie never wrote me anything like that. The card said simply:

“Dearest Sarah, I love you more than you’ll ever know.”

Now that’s a love letter worth finding. That’s a past I always want to remember. That’s the kind of assured and wild love I so desperately need.