It started, I think, in the sixth grade. My best friend Kelly and I couldn't stand our science class, or our teacher, and so we ignored discussions of the food chain in favor of mindless, girly chatter. We didn't talk out loud, of course: no, we weren't that bold. Instead, we covertly scribbled onto any pieces of paper we happened to have available. Sometimes we shared one piece and slid it secretly across the table; other times we used multiple pieces, each one folded into an intricate shape such as a triangle (more commonly known as a "football"). Occasionally, we included a fashion design, sketched with care in the margins of the wide-ruled notebook paper intended for academic purposes.
In junior high, it continued. Tonjia, Nikki, Ashley, Amber: my most frequent letter-writers. Again, notebook paper served as the most common medium. Now, the letters most often contained snippets about crushes; Natalia referred to her object-of-desire as "Chocolate" in case a meddling teacher intercepted our communication. I've never had a note read aloud in front of the class; I'm convinced that if I were a teacher of kids, I would never inflict such a punishment. Letters are too personal, even when you're 13.
I still have some of those messages, folded into neat geometric shapes, mostly from Nikki. We bonded over our mutual love of Omar Vizquel. She was infatuated with a Biology teacher. I liked some boy who, of course, liked some other girl. She always said "W.B.S." We always signed our scribbles, "Love, your BFF." I haven't talked to her in ten years, but these vestiges of my early teenage years remain in print.
So, there was note-passing. There was also note-mailing. My cousin (a year and a half my senior) and I used to mail letters, written on pink and flowery stationery, to each other on approximately a weekly basis. We'd include questions so that the respondent would have something to talk about, in addition to any other random tidbits she'd choose to mention. One time she sent me a set of homemade "Full House Trivia Cards." At some point, we started using e-mail instead, but I remember missing the envelopes and postage stamps and stickers-used-as-seals.
I can't remember the last letter I wrote. It was months ago, at least, I'm sure. AIM usage is constant, though, and I actively use two e-mail accounts. However, I had been writing to a lady -- probably in her 80s or 90s -- who helped me with my book a couple years ago. She's apparently suffering from alzheimers, and she's now living in one of those senior living communities. We most recently exchanged Christmas cards. Her message is clearly the product of an arthritic hand; slanted lines, nearly illegible cursive. But there they are: written words, communication between two people made possible by paper and ink.
Now, instead of choosing a style of stationery, I most often select a style of font. Maybe I change the color; emoticons add some more personality. But receiving a real, tangible card in the mail -- from someone who was born when e-mail could've been nothing more than a sci-fi fantasy -- makes me yearn for a tri-folded piece of paper, with ink that probably soaks through to the other side, containing words that were unmediated by a keyboard. Maybe it's because the paper was once held by its author, as he or she transcribed words intended for me and no one else. Maybe it's because I can stow the paper away and take it out again, decades from now, and remember. Love letters are typically bemoaned as a lost art; but sometimes I crave letters, of any type, that will connect me to someone else without wires or wireless.
Is that too romantic of me?