When I was a child I would write letters to people and not send them.
I wrote letters to the girl I liked but was too afraid to talk to. She was a year older than me, the daughter of the pastor, and definitely not someone I had any business talking to. I would watch her with her friends and plan conversations I was going to have, and then return home to write them down, knowing no one would read them.
Later, when I was a year older and had confessed my love, I would write letters that I intended to send to her, but at the last minute, I decided to keep them. They were too childish, I would say, too frivolous. My romantic sentences looked dry and empty, not full of passion as I had hoped. So they were carefully folded and left on my table. Over time I added mementos of her: a photograph, a ticket stub of a concert we had gone to, the wrapper of a chocolate she had given me, neatly folded and smoothed, as though I could preserve the sweet moment we had shared eating it. I wrote her letters when we grew apart, and these letters envisioned our lives together, happy and untroubled. These were the cause of some embarrassment and I knew I could not send them, but I returned to that happy fantasy every morning for several months.
I wrote letters to my father, angry letters, when I had been stripped of my righteous privilege to stay up past 9 am or I had been caught eating honey from the pantry. I experienced more indignation when writing than I did when actually being chided. Reliving the punishment, I was able to write myself as the victim of unjust parenting, believing no one else had ever suffered such an injustice. The piety with which I seethed would evaporate minutes later as my father spoke to me. His calm voice and frustratingly logical words would give way to an embrace and I would run to play outside.
I wrote letters to myself. Not to me the writer, but to me the reader, who would be a different person when I read it in a day’s time. These I knew I had to hide. They were the only time I could say that I felt alone when I was around my friends, or that I did not think my parents’ love was sincere. I wrote that I was a shapeless being, changing to please everyone, not sure who I really was. It was vital that no one else knew. Sometimes I felt guilty but I never felt I wasn’t telling the truth. I believed that writing down problems would somehow solve them.
I did not know at the time that my letters, regardless of whose name was at the top of the page, were all meant for me. They may have been addressed to Kathryn, or to my father or to God, but some part of me knew I was keeping a diary for my eyes only. I have not looked through these letters for a while now, but I know where they are, all bundled together and sealed in my cupboard. I would like to think that I keep them for nothing more than sentimental value, but every so often a passage I wrote years ago springs into my mind and reminds me that there is a child in me still. Perhaps one day I will post them and they will be read and I will be fondly remembered. Or perhaps this is another letter, addressed to readers unknown, that I should wrap up with the others.
Matthew is an editor living and working in Cape Town. He enjoys reading, watching meme compilations and spending quality time with his cat Thomas.