Last night I was too exhausted to sleep. It was about one in the morning. I was so tired that I couldn't quite bring myself to get out of my clothes and into my bed. What I need, I thought to myself, is a useless and consuming activity. With this in mind I opened my wardrobe and pulled out from the bottom of it a medium-sized grey box. Over the top of this grey box spills hundreds of curling bits of paper, battered cards, grainy photos. This is place I used to put all the correspondence I ever received, including birthday cards, notes passed to me at school and letters from boys. There are letters my Mum used to send me when my sisters and I would go to summer music courses and on school trips. There are my own letters to other people that I have never quite got around to sending and letters to myself from before I discovered blogging.
I was reading through these letters and cards for about three hours. I pored particularly over the love letters, of which there are a surprising number. It seems so strange to have had all these experiences, to have had and incited all these intense feelings which have just floated away as the years have passed. What struck me the most was the extent to which these letters are written with total sincerity, promising eternal devotion, but I'm completely sure that, now, some of these boys would struggle to remember who I was. The youthful expressions of love scribbled ferociously on paper are so lovely, so touching, but so fleeting. I thought I'd share some extracts. Partly because reading them made me feel nice and I like to look at them, obviously. Also, though, I find it strange to think that if I did track these people down and show them their sixteen-year-old passions, they would probably laugh at their former selves. They would probably be slightly embarrassed. And I feel sorry for these former selves, because they do not deserve to be laughed at. They are so sweet, so expressive and so brave, and I love them for it. Even if I didn't at the time.
I don't want to mock these letters and poems, because they're too lovely. They're funny, a bit, but I am so impressed in retrospect that teenage boys set pen to paper like this. Written in such earnest they do not deserve my adult scorn, but I shall nevertheless write some little bits out and hope you understand that I'm not being mean.
Some of them are just honest and nice. I like you, you are nice, will you be my girlfriend sorts of things. Others, though, are so poetic:
"...the grace of your image sweeps through my mind..." (Charlie)
"...the night, the weather, the mood and the girl - never has such perfect things fitted together to make such a wonderful memory..." (Jack)
"...ive been thinking about you alot (dont think i'm a perv or a stalker)..." (Simon)
(That last one I think is Keats.)
"Your beauty astounding, your personality is more
I fell in love with what I heard, not what I saw." (Ben)
(A big fan of the jokes, then.)
"When sitting alone with nothing to do, I'd shut my eyes and think of you.
It sounds so rubbish, so false, but yet it's true.
The buzz, the hype, the adrenaline rush,
It was one little secret, no more than a crush.
So silly it sounds, just a holiday fling
It felt so special, so real, and that's the hard thing." (Pete)
(This poem goes on for two pages. That's some impressive rhyming skills.)
These are ones from the very youthful letters. Most of whom I never went out with, or even kissed (honest). There are also Letters (And Some Poems) From Boyfriends, which I wouldn't paste up on the Internet because that would seem wrong. It is these letters, though, that are the most touching and the most evocative for me. I remember feeling depths of emotion and being so sure that I would always feel them. When I read the letters now all those feelings for those people are so distant. Also what I feel is, well, if I was basking in that much adoration I can't have felt as rubbish as I (sometimes) do now. In fact, though, for many of those years I remember feeling even worse than I (sometimes) do now. Which makes no sense and for which I would like an immediate explanation.
My favourite of all the letters I recieved from girls is this sentence:
"Anyway, let's get off that boring subject and onto BOYS!!!!!!!!!"
Which pretty much sums up all the interchanges with my school friends. There is also a holiday postcard from my friend Antonia with only the words:
"Oh my GOD all the girls here are so skinny I am like a beached whale compared to them!!!!! Love ya!! Love Ant xxx"
Which pretty much sums up all the interchanges with Antonia.
There is a letter from a friend worrying about her sexuality:
"I can't believe how funny this is! It's actually really, really FUNNY! Wow, this is me - normal upbringing Hertfordshire random who is seriously considering/doubting her sexuality! And talking to people about it! Ah well."
Then she talks about dancing around her living room for half an hour just because she felt like it. I wonder how she would feel reading that letter back. I suspect she would enjoy reading about the turmoil of some of her youth from the perspective of a happy adult. I also suspect that she would enjoy knowing that in the midst of a very, very difficult time in her life she chose not to mope around, but to go crazy and dance around the house, then write to a friend about it.
I love reading all this stuff. Apart from the memories it evokes, it also reminds me that my life has had so many different phases so far and this must be just another one. Also some of the poetry is actually really good so I might make it into a song.
At the bottom of the box I found a card I had made. I remember being about ten and deciding to make and sell Valentine's cards. The little card is covered in red tissue paper and has a dark red heart in the middle. Around the heart is written, in careful childish letters, the words "I Love To Love", pressed deeply into the paper. Over sentimental, perhaps, for a ten year old, but sweet nevertheless. I read these letters from people I haven't spoken to in years, some of whose faces I cannot even recall, and am touched by the emotion that springs from the pages.
I'm not sure what made me write all of this, share it all. I have things to think about that are less enjoyable than looking at my love-riddled past with rose-tinted spectacles. I am getting to work now, but I think I might not put the poems away just quite yet.