My sister called me yesterday. She often calls me. She lives about 4 miles away, her kids are the same age as mine (except she has one more, a newborn), we are probably still each other's best friends. She called once while I was at the gym and then again while I was napping. My husband forgot to give me the message while I was in between those two activities, so I had to call her back.
Little bits of small talk and details of the day are discussed: her husband took the two boys to a local campsite in their ancient RV. He was going to build a fire and cook them hotdogs and marshmallows on sticks. He needed kindling.
I'm only half-listening. I'm pouring myself some cereal or maybe a soda (two weaknesses of mine), holding the phone between shoulder and ear. Uh-huh, I say.
So, anyway, she says, I found this box of letters that we wrote each other, mostly from '93 to '95, when I was still in college and you were living at home, working. They're mostly the ones I wrote, but there are some of yours, too.
Uh-huh, I say. Did you read them?
I don't want to waste the whole afternoon, she says. I mean, I've read them before. Okay, I read one of them.
She tells me about the letter she read, eight pages, in which she complained about the camp cooking job she had at our college's outpost for wilderness exploration in Wisconsin. She says, I took a lot of naps. I complained about being tired, even though I wrote that I'd gone to bed at 10 and taken two naps that day!
I understand, having been through the newborn nightmare of no sleep, complicated by having a toddler who doesn't always sleep perfectly either. Yeah, I say, We didn't know, did we, how much more tired we could be? Then I think, Wait a second, didn't she say something about kindling about ten minutes ago?
You're not going to burn them, are you? Is that what you're calling to tell me?
She laughs, awkwardly. I'm not going to burn them, she says, J. is. Another laugh.
We wrote each other several times a week, when we were apart, my sister and I, and eight page letters were not out of the ordinary. What did we have to write about? I think I have more going on now and I can barely squeeze out a blog post once a week (definitely not eight pages worth). We wrote about people we talked to, roommate problems, boys we had crushes on, books we were reading, who knows? We wrote everything. From August 1990 - January 1992, when we were at different colleges, until she left hers and joined me at mine, and June 1993 - June 1995 before we moved to Charlottesville together, we must have thousands of pages.
What if you want to read them later? What if you want to read them when you're 50 or 60 or 70? Did you really call to tell me that you're burning your letters. Our letters?!
She seemed to waver a bit, although she said, Why would I want to read them, I was whiny, I know what I was like then.
I don't know if she called her husband and asked him to save the letters after all. Probably not, but it made me sad. There are more of them. I have most of mine (although I should have hers, probably, but that's the way we divided them when we moved). I don't think that's what I want to do with the past. Sure, I was a whiny little shit, too. Who isn't in their late teens and early twenties? But we had something to say, and we said it, if only to each other. I think we revealed stuff about who we are that we may not have even known at the time.
If there's one thing that I regret (okay, fine, there are a lot of things I regret, but here's one), it's that I didn't write letters or journal entries in more recent years. Now I'm blogging, so that's good. That's something, but what about those early years of marriage, those first days and weeks and months of motherhood? I'd moved to email, by then, if I had need to say something to someone. I wrote my sister some letters, but we talked more by phone, I think, and then we were back in the same city. No need to write letters, to record the minutiae that make up a life.
I said to my sister, If you burn them, they're gone, Sis. That's it. You can't get ever them back.
I know, she said. And I think she let her husband burn them.
Update: I talked to her at the gym this morning. She called her husband after our conversation and told him not to burn the letters. . .