It’s that time of year where I want to de-clutter. I dig through my file cabinet, happily removing items to shred, and find the folder.
Oh, the folder.
It’s an army green file folder. For as non-descript as it looks it is full of extraordinary emotional garbage. Yes. I said garbage. The tough girl side of me doesn’t want to admit I’ve kept this drivel, and the sentimental fool within won’t let it go. To my credit the last time I looked at these was years ago.
My best friend is a photographer. It’s her profession to capture other people’s memories to add to their own army green file folders. She’s married, and her husband has never really written much in the way of love letters. He’s not that type. He’s more of an action guy than a write-it-down-so-you’ll-have-a-keepsake guy.
“I have a box,” she says sheepishly. It’s all the stuff from her first love. The one who couldn’t make up his mind. The one who never really materialized. “But it’s duct taped shut a million times around,” she clarifies. “At some point I felt I should get rid of it but I couldn’t. So I taped it up and hid it in a far corner of the basement so I have to be serious when I open that thing.” She corrects herself, “If I want to. I mean it can’t just be an idle thing.”
Others disagree. An old coworker, Jennifer, tells me, “I saved love letters until I got married. Now and then I’ll still find them in a box. But it feels icky to have them around with a husband and kids, so I read them one last time and toss them.”
My fabulous 40-something friend Karen is a divorcé. When I tell her I’m thinking of throwing out my collection she adamantly exclaims, “No! You never know when you’ll need a good love letter to cheer you up someday. I’d keep those.”
And so I start the process of going through the folder. All kinds of things live there. I find a letter painted with watercolor from the first boy I ever loved. This letter—and any other from him—is signed “Agape,” a Greek word that implies an unconditional, and at times self-sacrificing, kind of love. I’m sure he meant it—even though he cheated on me. A lot.
I flip past notes and poems from college boyfriends and the man I almost married. I find a more recent letter written by a French-Canadian I met on vacation. It was one of those whirlwind affairs that lasted a lifetime over a weekend. In it he admits, “I was thinking of you today. Actually, I think about you a lot…Ah man! I wish you were around.”
I stop reading and pick up the phone. Stephané and I are still in contact. We both hold that weekend in the jukebox of our respective memories. We may never see each other again but that hardly matters.
I ask him, pointedly, how he feels about Spring Cleaning. Does he throw out love letters or is he sentimental too?
“I keep everything. But I’m a bit of a packrat,” he explains. “I throw out indiscriminate scraps of paper, jeans that are worn out, but not that.”
“I have some of your emails,” I say. “To remember how lovely that place in my life was.”
“Aw! I’ve still got those too. It was a pretty silly adventure.”
There is a pause. I suck my breath over my teeth unsure what my next bold move will be.
“But,” he interrupts, “lovely.”
Lovely indeed. I’ve got the letters to prove it.
Charney is a sassy yet classy packrat who likes the sound of the paper shredder.
Originally published in Women’s Magazine, March 2009 issue. See www.womensmagazine.com for more fancy.