When a letter appears, addressed to you, what thought flits through your mind? Do you open it with excitement? Wariness? Or blindly, not knowing that it could change your life?
My life has been defined by letters. I receive thousands of them every day, in e-mail and by the old snail post. Some are complimentary, others innocuous. Occasionally, these letters contain job offers. More often than not, I get rejections. I've gotten letters of glowing praise, and letters filled with death threats.
All of these missives have given me a unique view of letters and the art of mailing. But it's the stories behind the letters that really appeal to me.
RETURN TO SENDER
A few years ago, I heard a terribly sad story about letters. There was once a young woman who fell in love with a wonderful man. He went off to war, Korea I believe, and while he was gone, they shared many letters.
One day, he wrote to her and said that he was returning from the far east with a geisha girl. This letter wounded her deeply. How could he betray her in such a fashion? What had happened overseas that so completely changed the way he felt for her?
Angry and rash, she married another man and moved 3,000 miles from her home. When she thought of her old love, it was usually with scorn.
Years later, their paths crossed again. Her first marriage had ended in shambles, and with three children in tow, she had married again. When the love of her youth appeared, looking dashing and well, all the old feelings overwhelmed her.
That's when she learned the truth. You see, she had misinterpreted his final letter. When he said he was bringing home a geisha girl, he did not mean a woman meant to replace her. He meant a five-year-old orphan.
But she didn't know that. And he never knew why she stopped writing to him, and why she simply disappeared from his life.
Sometimes letters can herald such disappearances. Ask any woman who sends a son or a lover off to war about dreading the post. As much as a letter from that brave soldier is always anticipated, it is tempered with the fear of the simple telegram offering only condolences.
I once engaged in a heated relationship by e-mail. The man and I had shared a similar interest, and from that interest sprouted a casual friendship. With each letter, he and I revealed common beliefs and interests. Since we were both writers, these daily letters often ran long, sometimes 10 pages or more.
Whenever a new letter arrived, my breath would catch in my throat. Without warning, my heart would start to pound and the rest of the world would slow in motion, as if to allow me to make the most of that first read-through.
Those letters were intense and personal. They included shared feelings and the promise of a future. Endearments littered each paragraph, and I couldn't help but smile or blush whenever I read the thousands of words.
After this man and I spoke with each other on the phone, the voice in the letters became even clearer, and a real life person formed in my head. He was a man I was sure I could love.
Of course, letters are not the same as reality. This man was not who I pictured from his words, and perhaps the fault for that was mine. I believed every word to be the utmost truth, and offered similar words in response. Instead of seeing the man as he was, I fell for the man I imagined him to be.
Letters can be potent in aiding such wishes.
SEALED WITH A KISS
I still believe in the power of letters, though sometimes, letters are just not enough. As a wooing tool, there are few things more lasting. Moments come and go, but a letter cements those moments to a page. The key is to transcend the contents of the letters.
My best friend once made his living writing love letters. Posing as a modern-day Cyrano, he helped other lovers create and nurture their relationships. While the money was good and helping people with his pen was satisfying, he really only wrote for one woman.
This woman was his soulmate, and the minute he realized it, he pulled out a pen and started his quest to prove it. He wrote poetic missives and heart-wrenching prose. He weaved magic into each line, and almost managed to woo her.
Fate set them up for a perfect collision, yet she swerved in the wrong direction, leaving him in the dust. Instead of spending their lives together, he was left with a handful of inked paper and that heady feeling of just missing something deadly, or something wondrous.
You see, even when love goes sour, it's a bittersweet experience to pull out those love letters of old and remember how you once loved.
Though their story did not end happily ever after, I breathed in their experience and made it part of my own destiny. I know my future will be forged by love letters, pages of honest feeling, addressed to me. So while I wait for Mr. Wonderful's first missive to arrive, I'll keep busy opening each letter I receive with a bit of trepidation and a whole lot of hope.