I, like many, believe in the power of the written word. But some days, I give more credit to the carefully snipped out one.
Let me explain.
Over the years, I’ve been the recipient of countless cards and letters from my mother. But it wasn’t until my freshman year in college, my first official year away from home, that the envelopes arrived a bit bulkier than a $20 bill and card stock would allow.
Turns out, they were filled with articles clipped from newspapers.
There were L-shaped articles. Articles that arrived taped together, beginning on 12A and ending on 3C. Occasionally, a glossy snippet from a magazine would show up. And then there were the cartoons—where the two-dimensional characters played out some event oddly parallel to my own life. A breakup. A promotion. A depressed cat. Sometimes Mom would even ad-lib a few comic strip bubbles if the sentiment wasn’t quite right.
Over time, the articles reflected political viewpoints she knew differed from my own. Once, when I announced my plan to move in with my boyfriend, now husband of eleven years, she sent me an article about the rising rate of divorce among those who lived together before marriage.
It was then that I recognized the role of the article as an objective third party. The perfect way to communicate about the things we didn’t want to talk about. I soon found myself searching for articles about multiple sclerosis research and alternative treatments for the disease that was quietly attacking my mother’s nervous system. The student had become the teacher.
Thankfully, the paper-stuffed packages weren’t always so heavy.
Not long ago, an anonymous envelope arrived at my workplace with nothing but an ad for a beauty salon inside. Wobbly, disguised handwriting circled the golden hair of the woman pictured and read, “You’d look better as a blonde.” If the postmark with my parents’ zip code hadn’t given it away, I’d still be looking over my shoulder.
Today, I eagerly await the next delivery. But I now view each article, meticulously cut out along imaginary dotted lines, as if it were a coupon for one free, shared experience. As if we were both reading and smirking with the same twisted sense of humor, or swallowing hard at some inevitable facts we both have to face.
Maybe that’s why I keep them. And feel a sense of loss for any that I crumpled up in a hasty cleaning frenzy or accidentally used as a coaster. There’s something comforting and satisfying in knowing that someone is always thinking about you, even while absorbing her daily view of the world.
I understand now, as a mother myself, that you read everything twice: once with your own eyes, and then again through the eyes of your child.
Sometimes you’re on the same page. Other times, the fact that you are simply both looking at the same page is enough.
Robin Fitzgerald lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children and works in advertising. Her parents live in North Carolina. Near a post office.
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