Letters (Un)Remembered

In an effort to exorcise my past and to clear out clutter, I have decided to take on the dismal task of working through a collection of letters that date back to my childhood. The collected letters made its way to my home here in Austin on my road trip back from San Diego after my father died the end of 2018. Why did I collect all the letters, notes, cards, and invitations I have ever received, and then decide to keep it going after all these years? I don’t think it was a conscious decision–more like this is where all letters, notes, cards, and invitations ought to go, a way of organizing things that I could not decide were worth saving so the pile grew larger and larger over time until they became this nostalgic thing I’d eventually get to sorting out.

At first, I thought of burning them. But too cliche. Then with all this time on my hands during Summer of Pandemic, I decided I could turn it into an art project. I’d been wanting to return to my childhood art practice of paper mache, and so was born the dualistic opportunity to preserve (albeit in a distorted fashion) the letters of my past rather than burning, shredding or destroying them in some way. Before tearing the sheets of old-fashioned letters and saturating them with glue and water mixture, I read them. I read the letter from a someone named Linda Belcher–that’s right–the name of the mother from Bob’s Burger’s–whose name rang a bell but even after reading her hand-written letter on stationary from 1984 (making me 15 years old) I could not for the life of me remember who she was. Even after she said she missed California (she now lived in Texas) and Montgomery Junior High where we both went. There was one dated July 26, 1999 (making me 30 years old) from a friend named “Carmen” that I imagine would have made me blush at the time. Carmen said she was enclosing three photos that included a photo of me and that when she went to get them developed, the civilian manager who worked there saw my photo and liked it, said I was very pretty and would like to meet me. When she picked up the photos, she thought he would have forgotten but he asked “Where’s my girlfriend,” and proceeded to give his phone number to give to me. Wow, bold I thought, and still couldn’t remember. Carmen decided on her own that I would not call him because as far as she knew, he was not a Jehovah’s Witness (I was a devout one at the time). All this to say that though she wouldn’t dare give me his number, she wanted me to know I had an admirer. Though I remember my friend Carmen, I don’t remember a single thing about this incident or this admirer, which is especially surprising to me because I was awful self-conscious even at 30. After reading it, I decided not to include this one in my collage. I wanted to preserve it as is, for what–I’m not exactly sure. Which is to say, this is going to end up being a long, interesting excursion down (un)memory road. I have all summer. By the end, I hope to have determined which letters should end up in the recycle bin and which ones should be salvaged for a future return to the past. I could end up with a bin of letters again or a letter burning ritual in my backyard.

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