To the gorgeous girl with the cool love letter tattoo:
That is, I’m assuming it’s a love letter: an elegant envelope stamped with a heart-shaped seal, held aloft by willowy fingers. I spotted it for just a moment as you darted in front of me at Sather Gate, but I feel as if it’s now been tattooed behind my own eyes as well.
How fitting for my column, I thought to myself. Though it probably has a far deeper meaning to you.
Perhaps you like to write letters too, shaping your thoughts and dreams in swirling ink. Maybe you’ve received a special letter instead, one so important that it stained your skin and soul for all of eternity. Then again, it could’ve just been a design you liked.
In any case, you loved something so much that it left a mark on you.
My horrible fear of needles obstructs me from getting a love letter tattoo of my own. But my love of writing shows itself through the thick calluses on my left thumb and middle finger, rubbed rosy from hours of scribbling into tattered notebooks. My love for citrus slathers itself over me in the form of mandarin-scented lip balm. My love of color always seems to weave its way into my outfits through mismatched Converse sneakers or vibrant hair accessories.
Here’s one more thing I love that isn’t as immediately noticeable: snow. Freshly-fallen, cloud-fluffy snow in particular, which my 5-year-old self encountered for the very first time on a family vacation in New York City. My California-raised eyes flickered wildly about Washington Square Park, completely dazzled by the winter wonderland it had become. Even through the annoyingly thick gloves my mother had insisted I wear, I could feel how soft the snow was in my hands, as gentle and sweet as a whispered truth. “Hey, I love you.”
I fell so hopelessly in love that I lost all common sense. But, to be fair, kindergarten had only taught me that snow melted in the sun. So, I shoveled as much snow as I could into my pockets to protect it from that cruel yellow disc in the sky. I planned to bring it with me all the way back home, tuck it into my fairy-patterned jewelry box alongside the rest of my treasures and take it out to admire whenever I wanted.
All of it melted before we’d even reached our hotel room, leaving me with nothing but uncomfortably wet pockets and a broken heart.
Of course, melted snow wouldn’t be my last heartbreak. There are loves even more fleeting than snow, things and people who burn too bright and too fast. The kindest teacher I’ve ever known suddenly passed away halfway through my second grade. At the beginning of fifth grade, my father’s promotion forced me to leave my school and my childhood city behind. My grandmother passed away on the same day I moved into my new house. There are loves so brief that they don’t even stick around to see the ashes they leave in their wake.
Maybe this is where the human tendency to mark ourselves with the things we love comes from. It was where my enthusiasm for writing once came from. More than a dozen of those aforementioned childhood notebooks still sit on my shelves, filled with descriptions of the soldier-like sunflowers that stood at perpetual attention around my old elementary school’s playground, the cheerful jangle of Ms. Bryant’s jewelry as she bustled about and that enchanting, moon-shaped wrinkle by my grandmother’s right eye. We attempt to combat the evanescence of love by creating physical records of it, telling ourselves that a bit of ink can make something last forever.
There’s a vast difference, however, between love itself and reminders of love that have been lost. We only succeed in preserving the jagged shells of the passion that was once there — such as empty, miserably-damp pockets. Or the mangled envelope of an opened letter, its heart-shaped seal already broken in half.
But the tattered folds of that envelope once protected important content, arduously carrying it through wind or sea or even worse wear all the way to its proper destination. It reminds us that there is one aspect of love that does stay with us forever, even after every other gleaming part has melted away — the journey. Shredded edges mean that the love a letter once contained has now reached its recipient.
So, our love marks don’t always have to be scars, ugly reminders of love we couldn’t keep. They can also remind us of how that love has become a part of our journey of growth.
We will always keep discovering new things and new people to love with the same or even greater fervor. And once those vanish as well, we will add them to our constellation of marks, then start the process all over again. We love and lose and learn and love and lose and learn until we find ourselves with entire maps that keep us from ever becoming truly lost.
Please continue to boldly wear your heart on your sleeve, Letter-lover. I hope that your love always finds its way to its recipients and that once in a while, someone remembers to send some back to you.