I’m writing to you from my bed as per usual, on a rainy Friday. I wanted to go out but the weather is holding me hostage and forced me to tidy my room to pass the time. Dusting the windowsill, two years of our friendship fell to the ground, bound up in twine. All stacked up, I like to keep our letters in a pile and call them ‘my correspondence’.
Previously cute and dainty with your cursive hand decorating my room, the pile has become a bit out of control, full of torn cat stamps and puckered wax seals – but I love it. When it fell, I wondered what numbers and calculations would fill your head, what would beat it to the ground, how our words would interact in space. So I thought it right to tell you (again) how cool you are…“
A pair of friends that are perpetually cursed to live at opposite ends of the country, Holly and I have never been in the same place for more than a couple of hours. Meeting online and barely seeing each other once a year since our friendship began, it’s strange to call someone a best friend despite having spent a cumulative ten or so hours together in total.
I don’t remember the first letter really; I have a feeling it was a card that would become the first of three Happy New Home cards I’ve received from her. Between us, we’ve had four new homes, five new jobs, two graduations, and one heartbreak, all marked by the sending of cards. Marking milestones in a stack of scrap paper and the occasional fancy writing set. After the first few letters that I pored over for hours like a lonely wartime wife, we began to write back and forth, constantly.
As our Facebook messenger chat became sparser, dedicating itself only to photos and memes, handwritten letters became our main point of contact. We’d save any big news or much needed conversation for a slower medium. By relaxing our mode of sharing and listening, describing situations and surroundings in paragraphs as long as our wrists would allow, our friendship began to flow perpetually between two post boxes. It’s patient and delayed, but turning our friendship into a ritual has taught me how to be better at it.
I’m so sorry to hear that [redacted] ended up proving himself to be a piece of shit…“
I love the grandeur we’ve added to our lives. Like Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf sharing small updates or large declarations, or Marilyn Monroe penning her darkest secrets, some small part of our letters on crushes or fall-outs feels like being part of a lineage, rejoicing over the creation of my own history, enamoured with the artefacts of myself.
I find myself wanting to publish them all, a rising excitement filling my stomach when I think of the way our words could be loud and public, rebelling against the history of hushed women’s voices confined to paper.
But then I remind myself that I like it how it is now. I like the pink paper that Holly writes on. Labouring over the perfect lilac wax seal on my envelopes, donning my best handwriting and inscribing little hearts brings me joy. I love the delicacy of the thing that holds our friendship, the duality of the cute paper that so often holds things heavier than anyone would imagine. I love the secrecy of it, the things only we know.
Ripping open a new letter stamped with a personalised inky cat, I love the world Holly creates. Sending me long descriptive paragraphs painting scenes of her days in Edinburgh, attempting to explain her PhD and work with American officials, her new findings in physics and the opportunities she’s getting – Holly’s world merges science and art in a way I’ve never known.
I picture Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, but I imagine Holly wandering through in a lab coat, or a jumper, or thick eyeliner and a dress. Her words are pastoral and soft as they tell me about her investigations. I’ve never known anything so beautifully multifaceted.
Thinking it of her, I can start to wonder if people think it of me too, of all women. I want to know all of their inner thoughts, have every woman’s daily scenes described to me in prose, letting their magic shine through their word choices and admiring them more for each selection.
…your words hold your quirks and phrasings. Auden said, “your letter comes speaking as you”, I love that…“
Years into our pen pal relationship, my mum bought me a book of letters sent between artists. The introduction described letters as a ‘token of presence’, finally managing to describe the feeling of ripping open an envelope and bringing your friend to life, or pausing a part of yourself as you seal up feelings and wait for them to be heard. From her ‘Dear Lucy,‘ to her sprawling Xs, I read in Holly’s voice, trading my Northern accent for her Southern one. Whilst I always hear her, something in the lack of voice makes me recognise so many different ones.
From long sentences describing the seasons changing in Durham to her short factual explanations of the day to day trials of studying, I sense Holly’s voice changing in her handwriting. Letting each change lead into their own monologues, I know each part of her as a friend now, as intriguing up close as they are beautiful in the big picture. Holly’s letters come speaking as her; containing multitudes and always changing, smart and creative, soft and strong, made magical by their layers.
Traversing to far corners of ourselves between greetings and goodbyes, I’ve realised how many sides of Holly I would never have gotten to learn over our all too occasional real life catch-ups. And so, thank God for our incessant need for more, for the lists of questions we’ve sent with a stamp for years, for the Royal Mail, for the voice in my head that’s getting better at mimicking her accent, and for the way writing to her makes me see myself better. We’re both so alive on these pages. I won’t let real life shrink us down.
Lucy is a Manchester based writer working across music, lifestyle and dipping in and out of poetry. She has bylines in places like Clash, NME and Salty. @lucyharbron
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