I’ve written more letters in my life than I’ve actually sent. Many more. I’ve written letters to my family and friends and politicians and store clerks and other drivers and strangers on the street and parents at parks and children of those parents. I’ve used these letters to say something that I needed to say. It just so happens that not everyone needs to hear everything I need to say.
Not all of these letters were letters of complaint or unhappiness. Some of them were letters of admiration or amusement or gratitude. But there are plenty of angst-filled ones. Especially from my youth. My unsent letters to my father would constitute its own volume. He surely wouldn’t know what to do with them. So they sit around, tucked in one notebook or another. I’m not very good at throwing away my notebooks. At throwing away any of my writing. I have stories from newspapers and magazines piled up over twenty years. What am I saving them for? When my friends moved me into my house five years ago, one friend asked, “Why do you have so many boxes of paper?”
There was box after box of old clips that I had written. Profiles of killers, stories about adolescence and mourning and gang wars and embracing your feminine side and black, white, and Somali kids, and elder care.
Paper is heavy. Do I imagine that I’m going to read the clips again? Could I find any particular story if I looked for it? Do I think that my children will one day pore over these stories? Would they be interesting to read? Were they to begin with? All of this is unclear. Because the stories sit in boxes.
One day, I was looking for something in the attic and I came across a short story published in a newspaper about a woman who had been killed. She was found in her home and there were interviews with her neighbors. I had conducted those interviews and written the story, but I didn’t remember a thing about it. This woman died and I had spent some portion of my life, probably an afternoon, thinking about her. But seventeen years later, I couldn’t recall the day, or the woman. There were a lot of people killed during my time as a crime reporter. Minneapolis was dubbed “Murderapolis.” Some of the dead come frequently and vividly to mind. Mostly, I think about the people who survived, the people I got to know and sometimes had relationships with.
But this woman died and a newspaper clip is all I’ve got from her.
A while ago, in a box full of important papers that got lost during one office move or another, I found a whole set of cards that I didn’t send.
These weren’t letters I’d written not intending to send. These were thank-you cards. They are bright purple and orange and pink and have hand-drawn pictures from my oldest daughter, Irene, on the envelopes. They’re sealed. They are from a time when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, Molly. My marriage was rapidly deteriorating and then my husband and I got pregnant. I had always planned my babies before and this was a shock to me. And incredibly humbling. Mortifying is more accurate. I wasn’t the kind of woman who had an unplanned pregnancy, I had previously sniffed.
Was I the kind of woman who would try to save a marriage by getting pregnant? Ugh. I had to go around telling people I was pregnant when everyone knew that my husband didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He did, however, want to have sex with me. And I with him. Some things don’t change just because you don’t want to be married.
In any case, all these women gathered around me. Big bunches of them. They made the most delicious food. They rubbed oil into my feet and hands and shoulders. We stood in a circle and we created a web of yarn, connecting all of our hands, and then we took the web and bound it together, sealing it with two tokens of love and clarity. They spoke wishes of harmony and ease for me and my baby. They loved me. They didn’t care if I was the kind of woman who got pregnant when my husband didn’t want to be married anymore.
I wonder if these women know how much that circle meant to me that day and many days since. Maybe not, since I didn’t send them their thank-you cards.
But here’s what I hope. I hope that I’ve been grateful enough in word and deed that they each would know the gift they’ve given. Maybe I’m wrong about that.
And Molly. When these women see the delightful sparkle in this girl’s eyes, do they see their part? That even if they don’t remember that circle, that afternoon, they helped a woman who was down on her knees crawl back up to standing? I am sorry that I didn’t send the cards. I wonder what they say. I wonder if I should open them and read them.
Maybe it’s time to send them.