We live exactly one and a half miles from each other and I have just mailed my one-hundred and seventh letter to him. It is a twenty-eight minute walk between our apartments in Brooklyn and an eight to ten minute bike ride depending upon the strength of my bones at the time. We see each other almost every day and even with these face-to-face encounters, these letters have continued to remain between us.
I have been a dedicated letter writer for over a decade. I often make my own cards to further personalize the experience and my slightly obsessive need for organization causes me to keep track of every letter to each recipient by marking the date next to their address on a tiny piece of paper I keep with me at all times. Some of the people I write to are close friends, others are ones I’ve met only a handful of times but appreciate the exchange of words through the mail. I never expect a letter back; I write in order to give away my language.
As a writer, I recognize that words are exchanged between people all the time, though often the medium is through glass screen of computer or telephone. We rarely give away our actual handwriting or take the time to slip our words into envelopes that we must lick closed with pre-purchased Forever stamp in right corner.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a love affair through the mail.
The first time was with a beautiful Canadian I met at university in Boulder, Colorado. We met fourteen days before the end of the Spring semester and in those two weeks, we learned as much as we could about each other. She taught me the proper way to cut a mango and in the evenings, we’d stroll beneath the moon with Malbec in mugs, walk her dog and teach each other our histories. She had to go back to her home to work in the summer months and I went back to Brooklyn to do the same. As we neared the moment of leaving each other, she asked me to be her pen pal. I barely hesitated before exclaiming, Yes! During the course of that entire summer, I wrote her forty-two letters. Some would be on receipts from cafes I drank coffee in. There were letters written on tree bark, found amongst the grass of Prospect Park. One letter was just a collection of flowers I had picked during a walk, shrunken and dried by the time it reached her in western British Columbia. In turn, she mailed me pea pods picked off a tree at the camp she was working at. She wrote on postcards and on the backs of photographs. There were some letters that reeked of her salt, sweating off her skin from the hot summer sun.
When we finally saw each other again in person at the end of August, I found myself deeply in love with her. We had shared so much of our days and the words were like curled threads sewing us closer together. I exchanged more words with her on paper than in person, but this created an ease between us. We began dating, eventually moved in together and though the letters stopped, we never ran out of words. Little post-its left as love notes replaced paper pushed into envelopes.
Fast forward a few years and distance found us again. Three hours time difference. A border crossing. Two thousand, four hundred and forty nine miles between us (give or take). She went back to Victoria, B.C. to work toward her master’s degree and I went back to Brooklyn to do the same. The letters started back up, but our vigorous schedules yielded fewer words between us. We introduced other modes of communication such as Skype, though poor Internet connections often led to frustrations or fights. After about seven months, we broke up. I still sent her the occasional letter, but then that fluttered away. I realized I needed to mourn the loss of that love and let go of our letter exchange.
Fast forward once more and I find myself with a stack of stamps once again. On a Sunday in March, I stood in a fancy east village bar with paper-over-linen tablecloths, polished chandeliers and over-priced drinks. I noticed him the moment he entered the room in burgundy converse, suspenders hugging t-shirt, jeans and baseball cap. My previous methods of flirting usually existed within silent treatments. If I’m interested, I’ll usually ignore the person. Needless to say, I don’t have very much luck with this strategy.
It was an evening of poetry, music and performance art. As I took the stage, I looked over at him to see if he was paying attention. I thought: this is my chance to impress him. I’m rubbish at articulating myself, but on the stage, I find my words through my poems. I couldn’t tell if he was listening or not and by the end of the night, when I hoped to find my courage to ask him for his number, he had already left.
Several days later, I get a text message from a friend that Burgundy Shoes wanted my phone number. An hour later, I received a message on my phone from him asking me out for coffee and the next evening we met at a bar in Williamsburg at a friend’s music show. Before the loud music began, as we awkwardly shared words and drank non-alcoholic beer, I tried to gauge his level of interest in me. During one point of the evening, I stood beside him with my hand so close to his, I could feel the heat pulse off his knuckles. Unfortunately, two shy people equaled an evening of G-rated body language.
As our friend gathered up his things, Burgundy Shoes and I waited. We soon realized we were standing beside a photo booth. He slipped himself inside the tight space and inserted money into the slot beneath the bench. Another friend pushed me in and before I had a chance to get nervous being so close to him, the camera began snapping photos of us.
Photo number one: We are looking at the screen, smiles wider than a four-lane highway.
Photo number two: I am looking at him. My unruly curls hide my face, but his begins to turn from smile to serious gaze.
Photo number three: I move in closer. If photographs came with their own caption, this one might read: I am about to kiss you.
Photo number four: Our mouths finally mash together as though they had been training for decades for this moment.
We, along with our friends, made our way from one part of Brooklyn to another on a bus leading us to a different bar where Burgundy Shoes and I kissed with parched tongues, pressing our bodies together as though they knew each other for years. At two in the morning, we reluctantly decided to make our way back to our respective homes. We held hands and kissed at every stop sign and red light. When we reached the point where he needed to turn left, we said goodnight.
A week into our collision, I received a text message from Burgundy Shoes that requested my address. I had mentioned my love of mail and he wanted to send me some. Five months later and we are still exchanging letters, often daily. Sometimes, he reads me the letters in person. One Sunday, he hand-delivered one so that I could get magical Sunday post.
I found myself falling in love with this romantic, kind human through his black-inked words. I was hesitant to allow myself to feel these feelings again, having been broken-hearted several times before and not sure if I could risk doing it again. But love is thick and bold enough to keep reeling us in, even though it so often ends in heartache. It is beyond a drug; it is like a second set of lungs breathing for us. The air becomes flavored. Every noise is like a harmonized symphony—even the car honks and door slams sound like a top-forty tune.
When we end one love affair, there is a moment of readjustment. What is necessary to leave behind and what is learned? Memories stop being about the people we are with and more about the person we were when we were with them.
My desires are evolving. Who I find myself attracted to is shifting and widening. Burgundy Shoes makes it safe for me to share my reluctance for parts of my body and I celebrate the constant changes growing on his skin.
We also have a shared fondness for napping against trees. He is just as much in love with the moon and its various shapes and methods of glow as I am. He is the Brooklyn hippie I have been searching for.
Through our letters, we have grown closer in a short amount of time because every day is stuffed onto these pages and mailed out.
Love is inconsistent and scary. It is in constant rough draft mode, revising itself through cross-outs and drafts. My pen pal and I do our best not to lose track of the uniqueness of this relationship. We’ve since started notebooks where we place more of our words inside, swapping them back and forth. One of which is a tiny black book we fill with our fantasies. Words are loud and can be far more forthcoming when mailed out because one must wait. One must channel patience as postal workers diligently gather up carefully addressed envelope from blue box toward the one it is meant for. As a society, we have grown restless, often unable to wait days for things. We send out our words and expect an immediate response. Sometimes love needs to linger in the air before it is delivered to the one it grows for.
I love you, pen pal.