Nostalgia for Letters

A friend of mine was clearing out some of her old stuff from her mum's house a few weeks ago and came across a bundle of letters I had written to her in the early years of our friendship. She snapped a picture of a couple of them and sent them to me via text. When they pinged into my phone, my first reaction was to cringe to death. My stomach flipped and I think I actually curled up into a physical ball of mortification.
Whenever I think back to who I was at age 19 (when the first letter was written) and in my early 20s all I can remember are the things I'd rather forget. How unsure I was about... well... everything. The self-consciousness. How afraid I was to use my voice in case I said the wrong thing. Awkward, messy romances. Confusing social situations. The things I did when I was drunk. The shame I felt for all of it. Because shame was mandatory in those days. For young women especially.

Even seeing the relics of that time made my face burn and I felt sure that if I ever read those letters again my worst fears would be confirmed and a horrible cloud of embarrassment for the stupid youth I was would descend.

Two days later, my friend and I went out to dinner and to my chagrin (that's a nice word isn't it?!) she had brought two of the letters to show me.

"NO WAY!" I said, as she pushed them across the table towards me. "There's not a hope in hell I am even looking at those. I can only imagine what ridiculous, embarrassing things I wrote back then. It was the 90's. Everything was awful!"

She assured me they were fine. That she had really enjoyed reading them again and that they weren't embarrassing at all. She told me that when she'd opened one of them, a shower of small, shiny, green stars tumbled out and sprinkled all over the carpet. In fact a few had already spilled onto the table in front of us. I used to always fill envelopes with glitter - it was almost my calling card. I used to get a thrill from imagining my friends and loved ones opening my letters and getting covered in a shower of sparkles. I'd imagine their delight. Or their horror. It could go either way...

It might have been the glitter... or the assurances of a trusted friend... or the wine (probably the wine)... but curiosity eventually got the better of me.

The first letter was one I had written from home and sent to Italy, where she was spending the Summer. The letter itself was mundane enough. I was working in a local video shop (remember those?!) and regretting not planning anything more adventurous for my first long Summer as a university student. Accompanying the letter, however, was a small handmade booklet, entitled 'A Remedy for Homesickness' by Sadhbh Gallagher (as I was back then).

The first page advised: 'keep your mind busy' and there was a small puzzle cut from a child's magazine stuck below it. The whole thing was similar. Each page had a piece of advice and a corresponding image cut from magazines or newspapers to go with it. It was funny and sweet and quite thoughtful and I had zero recollection of ever making it!

The second letter was written the following Summer. This time she had stayed at home and I had gone to Philadelphia - where I worked as a waitress for a couple of months before taking the train right across the country to San Francisco. The first half of the letter wasn't even really a letter. I was writing from a park called Rittenhouse Square which was near my apartment and I basically just described everything around me. The sound of the water in the fountain. The shimmering buildings that surrounded the park. The people I could see and what they were doing. It was almost like an excerpt from a story, a descriptive passage, and reading it brought me right back in time.

The strange thing was, that only the day before, I had spent the morning making exactly the same type of booklets with a group of school-children, as part of a workshop I gave in DLR Lexicon library. Stranger still, was that I had just started trying to write a novel and, being so used to putting blog posts together (which are relatively quick to do) I was struggling with slowing down and just describing things scene by scene.

It is the oddest thing to think that what I was doing 20 years ago has come full circle. That what I am doing now is what I have always done. That maybe I don't have as much to be ashamed of as I believed.

Except for writing letters...

Somewhere along the way, I have stopped doing that and it makes me a bit sad, and nostalgic for the time when the things that came through the letterbox weren't just bills or work-related...

I think it's time I invested in some glitter...

Dear friends, I'd advise you to watch your letterboxes (and your carpets)!

12 comments

  1. I'm fairly sure I've managed to destroy the letters of the teenage years - if you think letters from college age is bad, the teen angst and the FOREVER "Oh maybe he looked at me, no he looked at you" doesn't bear thinking about. Sounds like lovely discoveries on your end. Perhaps check who has wooden floors under their letterbox first :P

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    1. Oh, now, I'd be quaking in my boots if my teenage letters were unearthed! The actual thoughts of that...

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  2. Oh Sadhbh this is so sweet! What a wonderful friend you sound like. I hope, with the benefit of hindsight you can see that. Ans best of luck with your book

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  3. This is a lovely post Sadhbh. I have letters at home in Ireland from some school friends and an old college boyfriend. A few times I've been tempted to throw them out but I can't do it. They are odd to read, as probably are my letters to them, but I am amazed at how articulate we were and what we made time to write about. It sounds like you were / are great friends.

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    1. Thanks Fionnuala. I think old letters are treasures, relics almost, because not many people write letters anymore. You should definitely keep them!

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  4. I'm so glad you wrote this, it's gorgeous. I really want to find my old letters now. My friends and I used to write to one another in school, even though we were all in school together. Big long letters that we LOVED to get. I'd love to find some of them now!

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    1. And then you'd have to have really long telephone conversations every night too, even though you'd spent all day together. What on earth did we have to write/talk about?!?!

      Thanks Andrea x

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  5. Oh the memories this brings back. My friend and I wrote to each other every week for our entire secondary school years...she was in boarding school, I still have all of them, I also have years worth of letters from a boy I was going out with from when he spent a year in France. I really want to look through them again now.
    What a lovely post. X

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    1. Oh, I used to write to my cousin who was in Boarding School in England too. Not as dutifully as you though - every week is very impressive. That must be an absolute treasure trove of a collection!

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  6. Awwwwwww I loved this! Probably because I too was a letter writer and know all too well those feelings when a dear (old) friend produces one of my ramblings written on an A4 refill pad page !( I never bought proper stationary, I probably should have with all the letters I wrote !) The glitter however ; you've out 'letter-ed' me !!!
    This really was lovely . Thanks for reminding me too of my bygone days x

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    1. Thanks so much! I don't think many of my letters were written on proper stationery either! Mostly pages ripped out of notebooks or whatever I could find. Or my Mum's 'Basildon Bond' pad if I was feeling fancy :)

      Thanks for the lovely comment x

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