Once more I have stumbled upon them. They are written on tissue thin paper suitable for overseas mailing and on yellowing scraps torn from long-forgotten notebooks. Some are handwritten notes on ancient corporate letterhead, others have been neatly typed out and formatted, as if knowing they will be preserved. And every time I find them, they pull me up short, they shoot me back in time, they return these people to me.
I read my father’s letters first. Written to me during my first year in college with salutations that go from sweet (Hi Babe), to silly (Hi Sierra). Now, 35 years after his death, I still hear his voice, his questions about my academics and advice about my love life. His admonitions to a daughter who never believed in herself to, “stay smart, stay sweet, stay pretty.” His voice, floating over the years, still filled with belief in me. Every letter ends with the same line, “let us hear from you, baby.”
And then there’s Howard, whose notes are full of advice to a younger sister he clearly is molding; Movies he wants me to see, books I must read immediately. It is 1971 – I have to see Ken Russell’s movie, The Devils, before end of day. I must, must, must get right over to Korvette’s and buy 70 Girls, 70. It’s not a great musical but there are moments of brilliance and it’s a scream. But he is also treating me, for the first time, as an equal. He writes of his own theater triumphs and failures, his concerns about writing his thesis, ideas for my scene study class, questions about my own performances and auditions. He wants to know about boyfriends, understanding that, at 18, I have finally discovered the wonders of boys who pay attention, of being a girl who holds power over men.
And I find a poem my husband, Ron, wrote for me. It’s dated Christmas 1990. Howard is dying, we know it will be our last Christmas together. The poem is five lines about loving me more because of the pain we are feeling and who I am becoming through it all. In the blur of that time, I had forgotten that this wonderful man had supported me, continues to support me, in such strong and meaningful ways.
But I saved his poem, as I saved the others. I put them away to be discovered at odd moments in my life. When I’m looking for something else, when I’m cleaning out a closet – I stop to read them.
I have saved every letter that reminds me that I am loved and have been loved. These people have sustained me, continue to sustain me, even when they are gone. In turn, I love them and have learned to love beyond them. To sustain and return love, it’s the best I can do, it’s the best any of us can do. That’s what I believe.