Important note: all images in this post are from Jane Campion's production notebook from the film Bright Star. I don't usually borrow photos and do hope that Ms. Campion sees this as the rich compliment as it's intended.
He was never a boyfriend, but he wrote me letters.
We met at a state-wide student competition. Across New York may as well have been the other side of the world in the naivete' of youth. DIstance fueled drama to what might've otherwise merely been a shared vodka-root beer under a darkening sky and the Syracuse bleachers, and a mutual enthusiasm for The Jam, and The Kinks.
Drawn with the typographic idiosyncrasies of his manual typewriter were revelations of college application angst and aspirations of a journalism career, mixed with a poem or two. Even at sixteen I possessed enough cynicism to question: are these words really inspired by me?
I would come to learn it was certainly the idea of me.
Years earlier while staying with my Aunt one summer I read a book from her shelves: The Barrett's of Wimpole Street. (I'm not recommending that title now. In retrospect it was a drippy victorian, but I was young.) The story was based on the life of Poetess Elizabeth Barrett -- an invalid, who extended herself exclusively through the written word -- and the powerful connection forged with poet Robert Browning entirely through penned correspondence. It made an impression.
As I matured grew, whether it was on tri-fold Cranes sent from an undergrad apartment, or torn from a ruled spiral-bound on the late-night shift, I continued to be the fortunate recipient of lovely affections put to paper.
The accumulated experience contributed to my foundational view that romance lies in the distant, the unattained, or unrealized; not the fulfillment of promise. The note itself was the thing. An immature belief built layer by layer through years of being on the receiving end of such.
But I hold no grudge against the pen.
Letters are an extension of ourselves. A piece of our scripted (or associative) mind, intended in the moment, but gifted over time.
The realization intimidated me enough to withhold a reply at times for fear of exposure. Of what and to whom are less relevant as the result that I learned to exercise my own restraint.
The tactile form adds substance to the content.
There's value in the anticipation. The immediacy of the internet can't compare. There's value in pondering, interpretation, turning a wrinkled page and re-considering from the author's voice rather than our own first-impression perspective.
Then there is the exquisite perfection that is the embossed wax seal.
What I'm wondering now is this: Do letters work their magic on emotional distance too?
I've had letters on the brain for months, so it should be no surprise that these memories have surfaced.
Darcy's letter to Lizi was the turning point. We watched The Shop Around the Corner (on which You've Got Mail was based), which had me seeking Bernard Shaw's letters to Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Then came Bright Star and Possession. Even my husband -- who's not a professed romantic -- has been enamored of a compelling volume entitled Letters of Fallen Englishmen.
Following my own obsessive trail, I've just ordered two books on the subject.
There's more to that first story, but that's not for this time and place. Suffice it to say that just because someone takes you to Washington Square Park Arch, you don't always end up like Harry and Sally.
While clearing my parent's attic before their move, I found the Gummy Bears high-school-fund-raiser box that held that bundle. With the emotional surety of the man who would be my husband, and the space limitations of my tiny garret apartment, I let them go. It was time.
Somewhere I still have the black and white enlargement of Ray Davies he took for me from the front row.
How do we honor/keep/share those stories that don't turn out to be the BIG romance, and don't include our spouse, but are formative nonetheless? Something about this part of my life seems charmed, and worthy of writing down. It shouldn't detract from my REAL love story, but does contribute to a broader picture of my self.