I wrote this letter on the last day of 2008, to be opened on the last day of 2018. It took me until well into 2019 to remember about it, at which point I took it out of the box with all the other important documents, wasn’t brave enough to open it, put it down, and promptly lost it.
It turned up again a couple of weeks ago when I unpacked the last but one box from my study at the old house (in the sitting room at the new house, not that it’s really relevant). This time I opened it and read it. I didn’t laugh at my poor curious twenty-three year old self, not really. I wanted to reach back through time and give her a hug. She was so grimly cheerful, so resolutely clinging on, so obviously scared that she wouldn’t keep on doing that.
It’s an interesting mixture. Curiosity about my own future (in answer to my questions: yes, though it takes a year to find one to stick, but that one really sticks; no; yes – funny you should mention epidemics, though; yes, finished, self-published – bet you weren’t expecting that! or that I’d prefer it that way!; no, if anything it’s got worse but I type most things these days; yes, but then it went away again; yes, no; not in any practical way; haven’t tried). Gossip (no; yes; not that I know of; yes, and would you believe four children; haha, no; yes; very well; some of them; yes; OK so far as I know; ahahahahaha, no; yes, most of them, every now and again.) And a gloomy fatalism:
I’m guessing that life isn’t going to get easier. I almost wish you could write back – but not quite. I don’t want to know.
It’s probably just as well that I can’t. I don’t know that I’d have been able to convince her that, though we’re twelve years closer to the end of the world, I’m a thousand times happier than she was. I could tell her that I’ve fallen on my feet over and over again, that I have some of the things on the list of things that she wanted for me, that I very much don’t want some of the others, and that actually some of them are none of her business. I could tell her that all the things on the list of things that worked for her still work for me. But would she believe me if I told her not to worry: we were going to make it? Because look, she was worried that we wouldn’t:
What do I want to tell you? Not to give up, I suppose. Because if you give up, I might as well not even try. To live, to love, to be what I can be – what you can be, I mean – & not to make excuses. To hold on to what is good & true.
She had her excuses. Good ones. 2008 was an awful year – she knows that, she listed the reasons at the opening of the letter. I think she’d be wary, rather suspicious, of my compassion for her; she’d worry that I was letting us off too easy.
And of course I wonder what my self of twelve years hence would make of both of us. I don’t know that I’d write another letter. I notice that I’m just as wary of hearing back from her as my twelve years gone self was of hearing from me, though for rather different reasons. But I do wonder what she’d see me hiding from myself, what she’d read between the lines that I wouldn’t be aware of having written between them.
Assuming, of course, that either of us could read my handwriting. Perhaps I’d better type it.