When I was five years old I wrote my first letter; it was to myself and it played a part in the story I was creating. I was locked in a tower and yet every day I was sent a letter by an anonymous person (me) and that is what kept my character going until I escaped and jumped out of the sky, landing on an elephant which bore me away to freedom. Now the bit about the elephant isn’t particularly necessary, but the letter part is, because that is the perfect explanation for what I’m trying to say. A letter filled with words is what saved my character: something tangible to hold onto.
By the time I was nine I had a pen pal and we wrote to each other once a week: a childish game of poetry, passing letters like notes in a rowdy classroom. We spoke of nothing and yet it was everything, ‘Today I ate broccoli and pasta, it was nice but I wish I could have had pudding as well’ If you were to read that now it would tell you nothing and yet it brings me back to a simpler time when broccoli was my biggest enemy. The letters that were sent to me at that age - I still pick them up to read sometimes, and it’s like holding a version of my friend, someone who isn’t around anymore but that version of her is still as real to me now as the person she is today.
When I was twelve my best friend moved to Devon and I wrote her a letter everyday with trinkets that I had found at a local market, or a stone I had picked up on the beach. I have bundles of her letters tucked into my drawers and yet when she came back we stopped writing, and then stopped talking, and finally I realised that over the year that she was gone, those letters were the only thing holding us together.
I started a diary at fourteen but it didn’t write back, it just stayed exactly as it was when I put it down and frankly it’s just not the same. You don’t get that rush of happiness when you open the letter box and recognise your name and maybe someone’s handwriting. It’s a feeling like no other, to open up the envelope and pull out pages of writing and devour them, writing back immediately, asking questions, waiting for answers.
My mother throughout my life has always written me letters. Whenever something big happens, a couple of days later I receive a card with her unmistakable handwriting on it, detailing how proud or excited or sad she is for me. They are memories and lucky charms and a way of bringing me down to earth when I feel like stress or heartbreak is pulling me away.
One year ago I moved away from the people with whom I had spent the majority of my life, my best friend and girls I spent every day with. We text sometimes and that is nothing: all it takes is a couple of taps, everything is written in single sentences and there’s nothing exciting about the ping of your phone, especially when it turns out that it’s just O2 telling me I've run out of mobile data. The month after I had left, I wrote over twenty different letters and didn’t get a single reply, just a bunch of texts saying it was ‘really cute’ and that they would reply when they had time. There’s never enough time if you don’t want to do something.
I still write to people and I no longer feel crestfallen when I don’t get a reply; instead I imagine their faces lighting up when they get my carefully created letter. I write it out with a fountain pen or on a typewriter and then I put my words and questions into a coloured envelope. I light a candle and heat wax over the card, waiting for the drips to create a circle which I can then stamp my seal into. I still have letters that were sent by strangers years ago, and yet when I read them they stop being strangers and become friends, siblings, lovers.
I believe that we should keep sending letters, because they convey emotions more than an electronic device can, they are beautiful and exciting and full of possibilities and passion. Whether you are writing to the love of your life or simply writing to yourself, keep doing it because you can become immortalised within paper and you may be someone’s light in the dark. I will write to anyone who wants to reply, or who needs someone to listen, or just something to hold onto in the depths of sleep when everything seems to be drowning you. In a sense I think that no one can write for someone else: you have to write for yourself, for yourself alone, and that is what matters.