I live to write letters. I have lived because of letters.
When a parent decides to leave, there is infinity of questions. Inside my head was an avalanche of questions. When I was five, the black jar, a familiar fixture in our living room, accidentally got broken, spilling over my brokenness in scraps of paper scribbled with love letters to a father who decided to leave. This memory regurgitates in conversations with my mother and in spite of the heartbreaking back story, she uses this story to lovingly prod that writing is just as important as breathing. I must live.
I wrote letters to express my love for family and friends because certain moments merit not only non-verbal expression, they deserve to be documented, reconstructed and reread in my small universe. Writing is my human attempt to immortalize fleeting moments of happiness.
My passion to write and my stubborn impulse to document my thoughts are evidenced in various notebooks I have collected over the years. I write notes to my past, present, and future self. When I accidentally come across these old letters, I often find myself smiling, as if reading a letter from another who writes with raw and shameless honesty. It is overwhelming at times. I find that the letters to my younger self are most difficult to write, as she has been through a labyrinth of thorns – she deserves a good one.
I have written countless letters to my mother, many of these I have given to her, the others I kept somewhere. There is infinity of words but there are number of people who deserve my letters – just as the ink from my pen bleeds when I write my letters, my heart bleeds as well. There are infinite words but finite number of years. Words must be written. Pain, the breaking, must be transformed in written form.
Just as there are infinite characters and words, humans have finite number of days. The freedom to write must not be wasted – the other one, the intended receiver has to know. My mother once told me that she loves my letters but could not find the words to respond. I told her that my letters demand no answers and require no affirmation.
Tuck in between the pages of my notebooks, I come across my letters to God on a spectrum of topics; from philosophical inquiries and mundane questions, to prayers that could change the world to shallow pleas, to lashing out my disappointments and to crying out for forgiveness. My prayers, albeit short of poetry, remind me of King David’s passionate and reckless abandon to convey his feelings to an Almighty being. My dream has always been that when this lifetime ends, He had a way of keeping all those letters and He will show these to me. Writing letters does not require an accurate memory but what it does require is chiseled aspect of the memory, particularly that defining moment.
If of love, the defining moment transcends the emerald tinge in another’s eyes but that moment when staring at another’s eyes made one feel less alone, and then protected. If of pain, the writing process reminds one of the recurring wound which refused to be a scar, not the heavy breathing of an abuser or the abrasive palms, but the horrendous feeling of being defenseless – this is the defining moment. That moment, which is so pervasive, you would never want another soul to be subjected to.
Letters, refined by overcoming injustice, need to be written. There is an African proverb which states, “until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best stories.” For many who suffer from painful memories, the hunter or the monster re-echoes the stories in their heads. Writing letters is a way of overcoming. Writing is a tool to defeat the hunter. Writing letters is a way of letting other survivors knows, they too, can survive. They, too, can live.
In 2013, I entered into motherhood and with slew of hormones, I realized that my memories have become more vivid than usual, inflicting anxiety whether I will be able to fulfill the most important role of my life, that being a mother to Kaleb. Amidst the dust of old things, with a heavy bump, I struggled to look for an exquisitely bound leather notebook I bought in an antique shop in Lithuania. In the crisp, brown pages, I began writing letters to Kaleb.
While I used to write and immerse myself in memories too painful to forget and find indulgence to pain therapeutic, motherhood has transformed the aching. The aching must be transformed. I began writing of pain, and then hope. I described the dark years and then spoke of the bright moments. I wrote of rejection and unrequited love and then, voraciously wrote about my mother’s unconditional love. I leave online tracks for my son Kaleb using a hashtag #readmekaleb, leaving virtual notes and letters which I pray he will find existing when the time is right.
May the letters, the scars, the living wounds, of his grandmother, of his mother, and of the women and men in my letters, strengthen him when days are dark and inspire him to become a good man. #readmekaleb
Dyan is the Advocacy and Governance Referent in a humanitarian NGO. She is based in Makati for the past three years. Born and raised in Davao City, she dreams of Mindanao’s seashore and mountainside each day.