by Alexandra Baybutt
becoming one-way, 1:
I thought I lost his letter. Actually, I thought it ended up in the wrong pile and got thrown away. Not lost in the agency-free slippage out of the pocket, or out of the mind. We had, in those early months of our short relationship sent each other postcards, but this letter was a new turn. It is the only love letter I ever received. I did reply. I kept on replying when actually he’d turned away already. I sent him letters and items when he was abroad. I kept the one-sided correspondence going, as the letter and all it held dear was too hard to put down, still to lose. I write now to an echo chamber, where I don’t even send these letters. He has no idea of course, that he still is a cherished interlocutor. And admitting it is embarrassing. But I wanted to know more about what I correspond with when I conceive of him as someone I address. Not as a psychoanalytical experiment, rather the intimacy of the incursion to thought, and to feeling, that this figure and his handwriting brings. I have his hand writing on some postcards, some inside of books, and the letter that I thought I had lost. I cannot dismiss these traces as nostalgia; though they do vivify the present tense that is no longer the then. These letters are the mute swans that do not sound. The passages of time between the correspondence are lengthening. His object sings of time travel.
When my grandad passed away, his eldest son cleared the house, including the letters my nan and grandad had written to each other, probably during the Second World War, when he was getting sunburnt in Egypt, when she was lighting the fire at the top of the hill. I never knew these letters, I can never know them. I know their handwriting though, beautiful formal cursive, educated in an unknown era, used in birthday cards. And once to write their names on their VHS copy of The Sound of Music so I’d be sure to return it. I think about the analogue practice of intercepting the post, whether someone else read my grandparents’ letters, if someone else got to see their words, skimming over the cursive for clues, indifferent to their intimacy.
This feels very heteronormative and swan-like. It’s hard to queer this into something more radically radiant. It’s too intimate. I cannot conceptualize these as performative or frame them with distance. It’s hands, pen-holding, pausing over the end of the line, the flow or stutter, the kinaesthetic warmth of the pressure of ink, pouring over the horizontal.
Too-many syllables of my name filling up the space. I struggled in my 4-year-old hand. I signed off my thank-you letters Alexxxxxxxxxxxxxxx long before I knew that ‘x’ meant ‘kiss’. I wasn’t being sweet. I was making up for lost letters, then enjoying the shape and rhythm of the ‘x’.
At least by now I can spell my name, though I write letters that cannot be read.
becoming one-way, 2:
Or, alternatively, I don’t write anymore. I lost touch with one pen pal. We migrated from letters written from the age of 10, to the telephone, to the internet when the dial-up internet appeared, to face to face meetings. Our lives differed and parted, and I was the less attentive one. The passages of time between the correspondence are lengthening. I can bear a divergence of feeling with one, and yet not with another.
Or, I do receive. I received a tiny note inside a box of biscuits. The gesture was perfectly decorous, had it been intercepted. Yet its placement and timing converged to make it more intimate.
his-way, old-way, 2:
My cousin told me his family doesn’t do thank-you letters. None of his children have the labour of spelling out on paper their attempts at feeling grateful. Maybe he feels it’s hollow or old-fashioned. But we come from a line of written correspondence. I still have post-cards from him that he sent me two decades ago. And more than this, I don’t see how this tradition has transformed into something else. Something is lost. All I see is my confused mother, wondering if the cards were received or mattered
I hold onto the letters from my parents, even small snippets of text in my mother’s handwriting. She told me that whilst her mother was dying, she wrote my mother a birthday card to open after her death.
Alexandra Baybut works as an artist, movement educator and researcher. She writes on topics of negotiating change in fiction and non-fiction formats. http://www.alexandrabaybutt.co.uk