More Lost Letters

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I didn’t technically lose the letters. Did I already say this? I can’t remember. There came a point in time when I was ready to move on and I didn’t feel the need to hold onto to the words. I had convinced myself that I didn’t need them anymore. I knew the words by heart- not all of them, but the ones that had the biggest impact on me.

Most of his letters were filled with his own delusional beliefs of how his sentence was going to be overturned and about how he was watching inmates around him being released every day. In these letters, I was instructed to call the warden, and I guess what you would call the clergyman, and beg for his early release. I did this every day for a long while, left messages that is. Apparently wardens and clergymen in prisons are busy people.

His dad used to call me sometimes. He had such a kind voice on the phone. He would ask me how I was holding up and if I needed anything. I always told him I didn’t even though I knew he knew I was having financial troubles- all because of the collect calls. He used to ask me often when I was going to relocate from Florida to Texas. I avoided the subject best I could. After all, there are no oceans in Texas, not in this part anyways. He paid my phone bill a couple of times.

I used to take pictures with disposable cameras. Dozens of pictures and I would send these a few at a time in my letters to him. I used to spritz my letters with perfume- a cheap spray I bought from Walmart and never actually wore because I never used to enjoy perfume back then. Sometimes I would tear out the fragrance flip-up advertisements from magazines and create envelopes out of them, never any fragrances that I ever actually wore.

I used to send him books of stamps, sometimes half-books, sometimes full ones. Oftentimes I would lose full books of stamps and find them much later when my bank balance was below zero. In times like this, finding those stamps made me happy. Except for the occasional letter to friends in other countries, I can’t remember the last time I used a stamp but I know it’s been nearly fourteen years since I’ve bought a book of stamps.

The envelopes his letters came in were always stamped “SENT FROM AN INMATE IN X CORRECTIONAL FACILITY.” I was still living with my parents, well I had moved back in with them, and it seemed that the letters stopped coming. I did my best to get to the mailbox before they did but when I was pregnant and working full-time, it wasn’t always quite that easy. I was exhausted often. Exhausted and depressed.

I’m sure more than a few of the letters he sent to me were thrown out by my parents before I could see them. Finally, I went and paid for a post office box. I felt so accomplished for having done such an adult thing. I checked that box religiously. I think my parents had thought the letters had stopped coming and I’m sure they were happy.

I kept his letters neatly filed away in the top drawer of a small nightstand that I had had for all of my life. It was white with yellow flowers on the front of the two drawers. It was the same dresser that I used to hide my cigarettes in when I first started smoking. I never in my life- before or after that period of time- used that nightstand for anything else, and after I threw out all of his letters, that little, white, two-drawer dresser with the yellow flowers painted on it remained empty.

Lost Letters

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He used to write to me every day while he was in prison. Prison the first time, not prison this time. This time he is writing letters from his cell to someone else. Or maybe he writes letters in the rec room. Most likely he writes them from solitary confinement. He locks himself away in there by choice to save himself from the unspeakable horrors he endures because of the crimes he committed. He doesn’t have to tell me this. I already know it’s true.

In another lifetime he used to write me poems and draw me beautiful pictures with colored pencils. I saved every piece he sent me. I tucked the art away carefully inside sheet protectors inside a large, black, three-ring binder. I never read back over the letters, although sometimes I would sit and flip through his artwork and tell myself it was such a shame that he was wasting his life away in prison when he could be making a profit from his art, not to mention a name for himself. He never did like what was good for him.

He used to call me collect two, three, four, five times a day. When he was in county the calls were cheap, only sixty cents but once he got to prison the calls were $5.60 for fifteen minutes. Twice my phone was turned off because I owed over a thousand dollars from collect calls alone. I went out of town twice to visit him. It was depressing to have to take my shoes off at the check point and to be patted down. I brought along a ziplock bag full of twenty dollars worth of quarters so we could eat food from the little vending machines. He used to complain that he was always so hungry, that not only did they not feed the inmates enough in prison but the food they served wasn’t fit for stray dogs. These visits were different than in county. In county we were separated by plexiglass and spoke to each other on phones that made the other’s voice sound a million lightyears away when in reality we were maybe five feet away. Maybe less. At the prison, we were allowed one hug when we first saw each other and one before we parted ways.

Some days I would sit on my bed and stare anxiously at my answering machine and listen as he left ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty messages in a row. Most times all I heard was the recording that always preceeded his calls- “You have a collect call from, Q, an inmate at <insert correctional facility name here.> (Because it changed a few times, he moved around a bit.) To accept the call, press one. To decline, press two or simply hang up.”

Sometimes I would sit with my hands over my ears because even the sound of his voice sent me into a state of terror. Sometimes I would lie down and press my pillow tightly over my head. I never simply left the room. This was before anything violent had happened in our relationship, yet his voice sent fear vibrating straight through every last one of my nerve endings.

Sometimes weeks would go by before I received a letter from him. When I finally did receive one, it would be angry and full of insults, truly hurtful words about what he assumed I was doing when I wasn’t answering his calls. I used to write to him five days a week and I sent three letters on Thursdays so he would have one to read on Saturdays and Sundays. I told myself my letters helped him. It was so hard to write those letters. I struggled with what to say. I knew he expected me to tell him how much I loved him and missed him, how excited I was for plans for the future.

I never wrote anything during those three years other than letters to him. In a way, it was still practice at writing fiction. I told him what he wanted to hear because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. He used to tell me that he had people watching me, keeping tabs on me and his retellings of my whereabouts and activities were usually pretty accurate. It frightened me. He frightened me.

When I moved on, two years into his prison sentence, I threw out every last one of his letters. Over a hundred and twenty total. I’m guessing. I don’t really remember. When I moved to Texas to be with him, I saw that he had kept all of mine. He had them neatly banded together and tucked safely away in a shoebox. Throughout all of the horrifying years I spent with him, all of the times he broke my heart, he never threw out those letters and now that he’s found himself in the same predicament as he was in when we started those letters all those years ago, I wonder if he misses my handwriting, my words. I wonder if he wishes he had never taken them for granted. I wish I would’ve kept them and had them printed into a book so I could remind myself more often that I was a good person, even back then.