I grew up with texting. The first time a boy asked me out at school, we swapped numbers. In the evenings, we’d chat on MSN messenger; a real-time, instant gratification way of communicating. That was a novelty back then, a kind of new-fangled magic. Then, the connection would drop. “Mum, can you get off the phone?” I would shout from upstairs in the dedicated computer-room.
Over the years, then sentiments I’ve treasured the most haven’t always been tangible. Face to face conversations can stay sharp in my memory for years. I have a knack for remembering words, and sometimes for the detailed expressions of the faces delivering them. Like most millennials, I’m tech-savvy enough to have a whole bunch of starred WhatsApp messages and a backup file in case a software update ever erases them in error.
Despite all that, I’ve always kept birthday cards and hand-written notes for many years after receiving them. There’s a folder somewhere in my bedroom, stuffed to the brim with them.
On my 30th birthday, I woke up feeling a little blue. I felt as though I hadn’t achieved enough, and that the decade had passed by too fast. Plus, I was in a long-distance relationship. It was tough to wake up on a special but somewhat emotionally difficult day and not to be with my beloved person.
Then, the mail came. I flipped through the usual junk, leaflets and bills to find a beautiful envelope. The paper was silky and smooth, and the handwriting was beautifully crafted with a calligraphy pen. It was from my serious boyfriend on another continent.
Long-distance relationships are hard. Phone calls, WhatsApp and video chat all make them easier, and I honestly don’t think I could have managed it at all without those real-time options. Yet there was something so special about receiving a letter. For the first time, I was holding in my hands tangible proof of the love that I had built. The words written affirmed an intensity that couldn’t be lost in cyberspace in a failed backup to the cloud. The marks of the pen on the page would still be there, 50 years in the future, after phones and chat apps have evolved dozens of times over.
The letter detailed what he was looking forward to about our lives together. As I read it and my eyes filled with tears, and I had the desire to immediately pick up my phone and call him, but I tried to stay in the moment for as long as possible. In real-time text and voice communications, it’s easy to interrupt the flow of the other person’s thoughts, and the exact same sentiments can never be recreated.
I must have read the letter dozens of times that morning and since, and these days I know it by heart. I live with the sender now, and he is my husband, but I still sometimes slip the letter out of its protective plastic sleeve. It’s nice to remind myself of the little hope-filled envelope that arrived on my doorstep to fill me with joy and optimism on the day I wished my twenties a bittersweet goodbye.
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Image courtesy of the author.