Sunday, June 13, 2010

Long Distance

Generation X doesn't have many claims to significance.  But, if pressed someday, I will say with confidence to my kids "my generation was the very last one to conduct a relationship through the mail."

It's a unique thing, a long distance love affair managed through envelopes, stamps, ink and paper.

There's the long wait for something to arrive in your mailbox.   There's the initial disappointment when said letter is only one page, two pages, maybe a stack of pictures and not many words.  (No matter how long, it is never long enough.) There is the breathless devouring of the contents, searching for magic phrases and inspired ideas that will remind you of why you're so crazy about this person.  You hunt for the ambiguous phrase, the ones that will stay with you for days and days as you wonder 'did he mean that?'  "if he meant this, then surely he meant to imply that?!"

There may even be a turn of phrase that confuses you - sends you down a rabbit hole of doubt, confusion, misunderstanding.

But here's the thing: the only resolution is your letter in return.

You might have stewed for days, about this little phrase.  You might have obsessed long into the night over what the words meant, specifically.  You have turned it into a proposal, a rejection, or a double entendre, just depending on the hour of day.

But when you write back, you have to play it cool.  You have to keep all options open, whilst trying to make your meaning clear between the flowing lines of cursive.  You play with words, you offer several scenarios, without committing to any of them, all the while trying to craft a letter to triumph all letters - the one that will get the true meaning out, the one that will be the ultimate love letter.

With each successive missive, you do the same thing.  Over and over - until the letters get gradually shorter as you get closer to meeting in the airport, the train station, the bus depot. 

There is an enforced delay, between dropping the letter into the red postbox adorned with Air Mail stickers and a variety of stamps and the m.a.n.y. days whilst you wait for response.  The delay in which you wonder if you made yourself clear.  In which you wonder if he'll answer the Big Question that you'd tossed in there so casually.

It's nothing less than Art, this long-distance relationship.  And it's an art that my kids will never know.   When their time comes, when they meet a heart-breakingly gorgeous Scandinavian who approaches English in a whole new way, they will have Skype, text, email, instant messaging.

Actually, who am I kidding?  By the time they're doing this, Skype will seem as antiquated as the rotary phone. My kids will never be forced to imagine what might be going on in a continent 6000 miles away, will never be obliged to craft a whole Parallel Theory of Post Feminist Romance from the book Grapes of Wrath in an effort to not be obvious, will never be forced to wait for days and weeks to find out if you bared your soul to the right person.

Those relationships will always miss something that mine had. Has.  The alchemy of paper, words, and distance:  the stuff that romance is made of.


Dana @ Bungalow'56 said...

This post is wonderful. It hit a chord with me. I was remembering one letter in particular. He would have had to work hard to find my address. It came out of the blue and oh did I pour over it again and again. Thank you for the memory.

Aging Mommy said...

Another great post on this topic.

hezro said...

Love it!

CaraBee said...

What a beautiful post. I marvel all the time at how technology and thus communication has changed so dramatically in the last couple of decades, heck, the last decade. For thousands of years before, the letter was as fast as it got, and now we can communicate at the speed of light. It is interesting to think what our children will look back on and think of as the good old days.

Harold of Scaggsville said...

My wife and I laugh often about this and how different it would've been for us with today's technology. Even unlimited long distance would've made a tremendous difference for us.

My long distance relationship was only 3,000 miles and only across this country but you are right, every letter was certainly precious and the anticipation of receiving was pure anxiety. I wish we had written more but we later resulting to racking up hundreds of dollars in phone calls instead.

There is still no doubt the letters sealed the deal for us and our love. 15 years of marriage this past June.

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