April 25, 2009

Peacock Blue

The empty envelope had my childhood address in peacock blue ink, and hers in the corner.

Empty, and with two corners slit. I’d found it in a box of old books when I was rearranging the garage. Maybe the letter was somewhere among all these boxes, with a dozen others she’d sent, but I had no idea where. Maybe I’d thrown them out in a seizure of anti-nostalgia, or they’d been lost in one of my dozen moves.

Was it a letter rhapsodizing about making love for the first time? Or pleading with me to go to the same college as her?

Peacock blue: the color of junior year of high school. Her handwriting: careful, regular, every letter standing straight. A schoolgirl’s handwriting, belonging to someone who thought that to be mature is to do things correctly.

Peacock blue. We wrote letters obsessively though we lived only half a mile apart. Outranking the late-night phone calls and intense afterschool talks, the letters were for deep, enduring questions that couldn’t be allowed to evaporate into air. They’d continued into the first year of college, traveling a thousand miles. Then they’d stopped.

The smallest souvenir can take you the furthest back.

We’d been landmarks for each other, like pencil marks on a wall to record your height. Impersonal. Not that it could have been anyone—no, we really liked each other. But we hadn’t even had selves yet to know. I didn’t know who’d written those letters, or answered them.

I tried to wonder what she was doing now, but it didn’t work. If I’d learned that she’d been married, divorced, had children—my God, by now she could have grandchildren—had this or that illness or occupation, they would be arbitrary facts, unattached to a solid form, like pushpins without a map to pin them on.

What I would have thrilled to see, what could have told me something, was, What is her handwriting like now?

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