Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our Life (and Love) in Letters

I was reading this post the other day about high school love letters and it got me thinking a lot about my and Rob's letter-writing past.  I have a feeling this post will be far more interesting for me to write than it will be for you to read, but I hope you find some enjoyment out of it regardless.

For as long as I can remember I've always written tons of letters.  As a child my uncle Kevin and I exchanged letters that I wrote meticulously on graph paper (one letter per square...I was dedicated).  When I got older and went to summer camp, my friends and I wrote letters constantly, and I kept them all in a blue binder covered with stickers.  Even with email so ubiquitous I still preferred to sit down and compose an actual letter over typing.

Part of my fascination with letter-writing was (and is) that I have always had really nice handwriting, and I loved watching it morph as I grew older and changed certain aspects of it.  I loved to see just how neat and straight or flowy and beautiful I could make it. While other people doodled pictures, I doodled words (I still do this, actually).

Side note: Does anyone else like seeing other bloggers' handwriting? I think it kind of makes this whole thing more intimate, but I also am the type of person who loves handwriting.  Regardless, this is a thought that is getting me through today, handwritten by me:

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If you haven't read our story, Rob and I began dating in high school at ages 16 and 17 respectively.  Long story short, I dated a friend of his until I realized that the guy standing next to him was pretty damn special and fell in love...hard.  The letter-writing started here and quite frankly never stopped.

The first letter I ever wrote to Rob was a translation of a song we were singing in Spanish class.  My teacher, Mrs. Swain, passed out the lyrics and helped us translate each of the words.  I wrote down every single word she said on the paper and gave it to Rob over locker break.  This is the song, if you're interested.  And yes, it's on my iPod. And yes, I still sing along to it. And yes, we still have that piece of paper with the song and translation.

From December, when we got together, until June, when Rob graduated, we wrote each other at least 2 letters a day.  We would bemoan the fact that we were in high school and couldn't see each other as frequently as we wanted ("HA," I say out loud to my past self), we would write about all of our friends that made fun of us for how insane we were for each other, we'd have frank conversations about Rob's upcoming Army enlistment and what that meant for us as a couple, and we'd dream about the future when we wouldn't have to pay attention to anyone's rules but our own.

Recently Rob and I were visiting his parents and I found the box in which he kept all of my letters from high school.  Here they are:

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I almost can't bear to read them now only because I don't recognize the whiny, doubting girl who wrote them anymore, but regardless they make me smile and remind me of how far we've come as a couple.

The letters weren't always sunny, of course.  The first summer we were apart (2003) we went through the only "rough patch" of our relationship.  We both were changing and growing and went through periods where we weren't sure how we'd grow together rather than grow apart.  Luckily for me we came together stronger in the end, as we always have.  

We continued to write letters throughout my senior year, as Rob was waiting to leave for the Army.  The letters got a little more serious, as we began to have more frank discussions of what we could expect from the next four years.  There were goofy letters too, about the turtle that I compulsively bought for Rob and other things that made us laugh together.

Rob left for the Army in April of 2004 and let me say that it was a huge wake-up call for old Liz Lemon Caitlin.  I remember writing in my diary that we would probably speak on the phone "at least once a week" but it turned out that phone calls were more like "every 2.5 months, for around 2 minutes," which is significant when you consider the fact that Basic only lasted 16 weeks.  Because of this we once again turned to the power of the written word.  I am not joking when I tell you that I wrote 2-3 letters every single day.  I wrote them during class (got called out by a teacher once but he quickly shut up when he realized who it was to), wrote them at home, wrote them at friends' houses.  I wrote about his parents and what they were up to, how much I missed him, how eager I was to be through with this period in our lives, and how much he meant to me. 

Our mailbox was around 2.5 miles from our house (small town) and on days I had off from school I would park my car next to the mailbox and wait for the mail ladies, or drive the 10 miles to the post office to pick up Rob's letters myself.  For his part, Rob would sneak away forbidden time at night to write me letters about what was going on, how much it sucked, and often how proud he was of the work he was going to do in the Army.  I began to learn the schedule of letters (don't expect letters on Wednesday because no mail goes out on Sunday, etc.) and planned my free days around it.  I was devastated when a letter didn't come.

Fast forward to when he arrived at his duty station.  We still wrote letters despite the fact that Rob had a phone and could call relatively regularly.  What is strange is that after Basic, the letters had become somewhat of a release for me.  If I was feeling anxious, I could write a letter and instantly feel better, even if I ended up not sending it.

When Rob was in Iraq the letters slowed significantly.  It was never discussed at the time, but we figured later that it was the first time in our relationship that letters weren't really necessary.  On some deep level we were both highly aware of what had changed--namely, Rob's safety--and sort of adjusted our communication accordingly.  Of course, I still wrote letters.  When I was in Russia I bought a graph-paper notebook (reminiscent of my first letter-writing experience) and wrote letters, song lyrics, anything to keep my mind off of missing my husband.  I got mocked a few times by my fellow study abroad students, who would see me writing in class or writing a letter while we were watching a movie.  It just felt natural.

To this day, though we are together, there are few things that can calm me as easily as writing a letter to Robbie.  Often I don't even give it to him or if I do, he reads it once and it gets left on his desk for a few months until I move it somewhere safe.  When I was traveling full-time a few years ago, if it happened that Rob went to class before I left I would leave him little notes (either of the love or nonsensical persuasion) all over the house, most of which are now accrued on the side of our refrigerator.

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Somehow along the way the mere act of letter-writing became a thread that tied us together even when we were thousands of miles apart, and when I write to him I feel like he's right there talking back to me.  

As for all the letters we've accrued, they are split amongst various boxes and there are several in picture frames.  I struggle with what to do with them because they so special to me, and a 6-year-old cardboard Victoria's Secret box just doesn't seem appropriate.


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Do you write letters?  

14 comments:

  1. I love writing letters though I don't have much time for it anymore. At one point my best friend and I were writing in a journal and would mail it back and forth to each other. I think I still have it, and it's only half full. I should write to her and mail it!

    PS, your handwriting is so neat!

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  2. Oh Caitlin I LOVE this! So sweet! I have every card and note Ryan's ever given me too. =] We've never really written letters persay, which I would love, but at the same time we've never been a part for more than four days and I'm more thankful for that. This makes me want to go look through my little letter box now. =]

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  3. We strive to write daily love letters, but generally we only end up with 2 or 3 a week. We don't mail them because we're usually both sitting on the couch. The letters are usually just a half or a whole page, nothing elaborate.

    This past weekend we went to pick up OccDoc's stuff that finally arrived from Afghanistan. In the boxes he pulled out a few ziplock gallon bags full of the letters I'd written him while he was deployed - didn't realize I sent so many. I'm not sure when I'll be able to go through those letters, I'll wait for a day when I feel like a good cry.

    My handwriting is terrible. I used to have neat handwriting, but it's turning into my mom's penmanship as I get older. LOL!

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  4. peppy and i never hand-wrote each other, but i had penpals from 6th grade on in high school. i absolute love writing letters. :)

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  5. oh, and i have really ugly handwriting. i think it's because i'm always rushed and it just looks slurry.

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  6. This post is so sweet. I love writing letters. My sister worked at a camp this past summer, and I enjoyed writing to, and receiving letters from, her. I also enjoy thank you cards and notes.
    I love the idea of seeing a bloggers hand writing. I hadn't thought of it, but you're right, it helps personalize the experience. :)

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  7. Love this <3 Such a sweet and personal post. I'm like you when you say it's hard to read some {of my letter's to my hubby} without thinking about how young and whiny I sounded. Thanks for sharing!
    P.S. I love Juanes
    P.S.S. Your handwriting is so pretty!

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  8. Aw, I loved this post. Also, I have always felt the same way about my handwriting as you do yours!

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  9. This is so amazing! I honestly cannot help to just love the trace you're leaving behind. If you ever have any children this will be such a treasure for them! I love writing letters, but I am quite sad that the internet has taken a bit of that away..

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  10. I think it's so beautiful that you have all these saved! I'm uber jealous of you and my good friend Nitzalie! The only letter I have from my almost-hubby (can't believe I can drop the almost NEXT WEEK) is the one he wrote to me in our pre-cana class. That one, I know, I'll treasure forever and for always.

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  11. This is so sweet! I love letter writing. I have tons of boxes from high school of the letters my friends and I would write to each other. I even have a notebook that a friend and I bought and we would write in it and give it back to the other person the next day... We filled 2 or 3 up. I miss those days!

    I'd love to think that when I meet a guy he'll be into letter writing too, because I happen to find it quite romantic :)

    I try to do as much real handwriting as I can because I do really love it. When I was in Greece my 3 friends though I was insane because I sent out almost 2 dozen postcards. I just had the urge to write to people about my experiences from far away. It's a nice feeling!

    I hope you and Rob never lose that connection between letters, it's something really, really sweet :)

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  12. Maybe you should go through them once you both have some time and put them in some albums, with the back and forth letters between you? That would be pretty awesome I think:)

    Also, you're inspiring me to write more letters. I need a penpal again! I had one for about 12 + years, but we drifted apart a bit!

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  13. That is so sweet!
    I have all the letters that my Dad wrote to his parents while he was away at university and they're so interesting to read now that I'm at uni.

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  14. I love letters. & love letters. ;] I love receiving notes or cards from people I see regularly or not so often - it just gives my heart a little 'oomph' - "They think of me when I'm not around!" ..

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