My girlfriend blessed me with her presence this winter break. With each of us living on opposite ends of the country, it’s become a rare and cherished thing to see one another again. Thanks to each of our life situations, both of us were in between semesters for our respective programs. This being the case, she bought a ticket out east the day after Christmas.
As I write this, it’s been a few days since I dropped her off at the airport. The spring semester’s begun for both of us. Her obligations took her back to Los Angeles. Mine took me to Atlanta. And yet, I still sense that she’s with me.
On nights when my apartment feels particularly empty, I reach inside my satchel which rests next to the desk I have in my room. Inside, a collection of letters lay pressed between the pages of a novel I’m reading. I flick through a couple of them before pulling out one which I haven’t read yet.
The funny thing with reading a handwritten letter is the fact that as you read the words written by the other person, it’s almost as if their unique handwriting stands in for their voice. And as you sit, reading that letter, it’s almost as good as having the person there.
The day after Christmas, I was late getting to the airport. Her flight had come in just before six in the morning. As such, it took me a bit longer to process where I could park my car to pick her up.
Walking into the baggage claim area of Logan, I looked around. Glancing at my watch, I felt my face heat up. Her flight had come in some time prior.
She was just inside, her luggage already picked up from the carousel. I grinned, sheepishly, hoping that she wouldn’t notice my embarrassment at being late.
She did. It didn’t matter.
She was here.
The forty-five minute drive back from the airport was filled with chatter as we caught up. It’s one thing to talk on the phone. It’s another to do so in person. The time simply flew by.
As I pulled the car into the driveway of my folks’ place, the conversation continued, spilling into the house as we walked inside. Perhaps it was the change in temperature from the outside New England air to the heat of the house, but the moment she crossed the threshold, there was a rush of warmth.
I couldn’t help but smile.
When she began unpacking her things, she paused for a moment and asked me to get some tape. The TSA has a policy to preemptively unwrap other people’s presents as a security measure, and the gifts she had brought had suffered the same fate as many others. She wasn’t too keen on having anyone miss out on the experience of unwrapping one of her gifts. It needed to look presentable.
“I swear,” she said, holding up a fist, “I’ll punch you if you look!”
Grinning, I held up my hands and slowly turned around to look for some tape to repair the damage done to the wrapping paper. I knew there was some on my mother’s desk down the hall, so I began to turn and walk out.
As I did, I felt some pages pushed into my hand. I raised my eyebrows, not sure what just materialized there on my way out the door. I looked down.
She had pushed her hand into mine, clutching several pieces of paper. On each, I could see her cursive script and a different date on each.
“I decided I wanted to write you a letter every day for half of December up until Christmas. I hope you like them!”
I turned back around to say something but before I could thank her, she planted a kiss on my cheek.
Laughing from surprise, I hugged her.
You see, there’s been an ongoing debate between the two of us about who’s the lucky one in the relationship. I think it’s me. My girlfriend and I have been writing letters to one another for the entirety of our one year, three month, and two day long relationship, in addition to calling, texting, sending Snapchats, and video calling. Yet, whenever I have to write a letter, it takes me ages. Prior to Christmas, I had drafted a letter, edited it, reviewed it, threw it out, wrote a second draft, sent it to my roommate to read over a section, threw that one out, and was on my fourth draft of my long-overdue letter when she arrived with twelve or so in tow.
The reason, I think, is because I still don’t like the fact that I’m in process. I kind of feel like a gift whose gift wrap the TSA has torn up. Still valuable, but really gritty-looking without tape, in theory. I need a finished draft to send to anyone of whom I think highly. Or at least, I thought I did.
Nowadays, I think I’ve arrived at more of a “I strongly prefer a finished draft” or maybe just “want”.
But as I’ve gone through undergraduate and onto seminary, my friends, family, and girlfriend have helped me realize that waiting around for a final draft of myself is pretty pointless. It’ll never happen. But, people are imperfectly perfect and still worthy of love. Moments of quality time, like unrequited, or rather, spontaneous letters, remind us of this fact.
It doesn’t matter what shape the draft is in. Or the gift. Or the person. To those who love another person, it doesn’t matter as long as they are there.
Olivia, with her letters, reminds me of what grace and love look like.
And I love her all the more for it.
(I should still probably send her my response soon though.)