Friday, November 11, 2011

Love Letters

Recently, I've been thinking of the piece of advice delivered in a commencement speech at M.I.T. by Kurt Vonnegut in 1997,  

"Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements."

 In a hiccup of technicality, however, Vonnegut never delivered this speech, nor did he write these words.  Actually, the speech was originated by Mary Schmich of The Chicago Tribune, on June 1st, 1997, as a imagined musing of what Vonnegut might say, were he to give such an address.   Ah, the power of misinformation, spurred by the internet.   Regardless, the idea of keeping old love letters is something that occurred to me recently, when my mom produced roughly 5 years of written evidence of our daily correspondence. 

  My mom came up to Dayton this week to take me out to dinner.   In the back of the car, she had with her, a large yellow file folder full of probably 100 sheets of paper.   "Do you know what that is, Annie?" she asked me.   "Those are all the emails you've written me since your freshman year of college."   I didn't at the time have any interest in reading the emails, but my mom mentioned some of the highlights; boys I dated, people who annoyed me, homesickness, professors I liked/disliked, fears about graduation, etc.  The past five years of my life piled up in the back seat, there for anyone to leaf through.

So I got to thinking... while I don't have very many "physical" love letters in my possession, I have email folders full of them.  I could open folders up and find impassioned declarations of love, mundane musings about the events of our days, and "cute" inside jokes, the meanings of which I've probably long since forgotten.  It would be like getting a bird's eye view on the past, something so unfamiliar and alien given today's context it might as well be a trip to an alternate reality.  While part of me is very tempted, again as Liz Lemon would say, "to go to there," and read them, at the same time I think it might make more sense to throw them away like old bank statements, or in a more apt metaphor given the way I manage my bank statements, ignore them and pretend they don't exist.

It's not that I'm afraid to stir up old emotions and miss the person. The worst part of breaking up is never missing the person.   That's part of it, but how many people come and go in someone's life?   Breaking up with a significant other is really no different in that sense, than moving to a new city and leaving behind your friends from the old.   It happens.  People move on.   The worst part of breaking up is mourning the imaginary life you will never have with that person.   And that's what reading the old letters will put into focus again--the trips you were going to take, the holidays you would have shared together, the illusive future when it's you two together against the world like some damn Taylor Swift song.   That's the hard part.  It doesn't matter that the future was never going to unfold that way, or that the person didn't have any of the qualities that you attributed to them--what matters is that, for a moment, or in a letter or for the entire course of the relationship, you believed your own lie.

Is it wierd to any one else that in Taylor Swift's love-fantasy she saw herself as a teen mother?   Anyone?

 Because I am very vain, and also because I would like to think I'm infallible like the Pope, I don't know if I have any desire to remember times when I was duped, and because of this, I don't think I have any desire to keep old love letters.   So I don't know if Vonnegut (Schmich) really had a grasp on that. 

Worth pointing out, I frequently gush and get very excited about things and skip 1000 steps, and when they don't pan out--I shudder when I'm reminded by friends or family about the things I said at the time.    For instance, right after college I was confident I would be in D.C., where I have always wanted to live.   I told everyone and swore up and down, that as soon as I graduated Ohio was ancient history and everyone could, "kiss my grits."  Unfortunately, here I am, not even in Columbus, which at least has nice restaurants, but in Dayton whose only claim to fame is that some brothers from here invented a form of transportation that would one day force me to sit in close quarters with creepy old men and pay 7$ for a beer. 

Basically, even when I don't put it in writing, I have enough to remind me of times when I was stupid enough to get my hopes up and be fooled by something that was never going to pan out.   I don't need written documentation, thanks.

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