Years later, Thomas Fiffer can recall every aspect of the letter he wrote to her—how he felt, the way his “e’s” curled—everything except for the words.
Sometimes, when you have lost something, and especially when you have lost the real thing, you have to reinvent it, reimagine it, recreate it, and restore it—you have to bring this thing in full color and exquisite detail back into the stark black and white emptiness of your life. Such is the case with the letter I wrote to J, on my cream-colored stationery with my name and address, 2379 Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520, printed in dark blue and centered across the top of the page.
We had just, well, let me say we had just shared an experience that was a first for both of us. A magical moment. A moment of realization—the realization of dreams—a moment of recognition, not just of the intensity of our connection but of our incipient adulthood, our new place in an unfamiliar yet achingly familiar world, our transition into … the great beyond. We had shared the expectant ascent to the mountaintop, the smack of cold air rising through trembling nostrils to sting oxygen-starved lungs, the labored breathing, the planting of feet, the marking of territory with a happy flag of conquest, the astonishing view, the expanse of sky stretching endlessly into the sunny distance, the new closeness, the hum of our favorite song warming frostbitten ears, the sigh as we finally slipped the heavy packs from our backs, set up camp, curled up in the tent, and determined to stay a while in this extreme, unreal, dreamy, forbidding and yet somehow supremely welcoming place.
The day after, I wrote a letter, to J, in blue pen. I let my feelings flow onto the pages, compressed the language of love into tightly curled c’s, e’s, and s’s, and unfurled it in more expansive j’s, l’s, and a’s. I expressed my self, my new, altered, activated self, a suddenly able, grown-up self, a self I had waited longer than most to come in to, a self now initiated, enriched beyond measure yet stripped to the bones, a self in transition, a self now certain that the long years of doubting, hoping, and wondering had wasted nothing and preserved everything in its entirety.
So what did the letter say?
It was not a love letter, though it was surely signed, “Love.”
It was a compliment, a tribute, a celebration.
It was a paean.
And it was a promise.
It was a wondrous piece of writing—at least it seemed so at the time—so wondrous that I took it to the copy shop and made myself a copy. I was more enamored of J than of my own words, and I did trust her to save the letter. But at the same time, I needed to be able to savor it, to pull it out of the folder in my filebox, to remember the moment, the sweep of feeling, the cresting of that wave, the graceful floating, the peace, the warmth of my new ocean, the washing up ever so gently on the soft white sand of a once ever so distant and now pleasantly proximate shore.
Would that I still had my copy.
Would that J still had hers.
Time takes no prisoners, and separate lives, separate households, and separate spouses, the fear of hurting, the call for closure, and the cautionary wisdom not to look back, all these conspired to mute words that once sang across the page into silent memories; to stifle that joyful dance into a slow, measured, monotonous, march; to ferment the sweetest dreams of a life together into the bittersweet, uncorked wine of loss and regret.
The letter said a lot of things. About me. About J. About how I felt about J. About how I felt about who she and I were together. About my hopes for our future. About who I hoped I—and we—would become.
A lost letter. A lost future. Time lost as things shifted, as we shifted, as things fell first gradually then suddenly apart.
Lost words. Lost worlds. Half a lifetime of words unspoken and worlds uninhabited. Of settling in to choices made. Of feelings not unfelt but unexamined, stored safely in the well of walking it out, contained in the cool mud bottom—until the lid was pried off, pushed aside, and the smell of love abandoned, that unmistakable, unavoidable, unconsummated smell, wafted up and out and over, washing away years of absence, erasing unfamiliarity and wonder and replacing them with instant recognition.
I can picture that letter. I know exactly what its pages looked like. How the paper felt. How I felt when I folded those ink-filled sheets in thirds, first bottom up, then top down, then slid them into the long envelope before I sealed it with melted wax and a long, eyes-closed kiss. I know everything … except what I wrote to J.
The actual words.
The manifestation of the sentiment.
The fleeting feeling captured in Yale blue on off-white.
I know my love, my shining love for J, illuminated every word.
Every word I can’t remember.
I know the lux, just not the veritas.
This book excerpt previously appeared on HamletHub Westport.
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