Handwritten letters have become a bittersweet form of communication. In the age of email and text messages, letters and even handwriting has become outdated.
As someone who grew up during the technology boom, I can recall a time when people weren’t obsessed with computers and cell phones. I remember passing notes to friends during class and being sent to the principal’s office. I remember keeping those notes, reading them with friends later on and laughing about our younger selves. I remember writing big stories and drawing silly pictures of inside jokes and past year recollections in our friends’ yearbooks.
Now all these notes lost and yearbooks collecting dust like friends gone and some forgotten.
However one letter, perhaps the only handwritten letter I have ever recieved by mail, is one that is still very clear in my mind.
It was from my stepdad, several years ago, while he was in jail.
My stepdad came into my life when I was 3 years old. My mother had raised my sister and I up to this point as a single mother. She and my stepdad had 2 children together, my second sister and my brother, before all four of us ended up in fostercare when I was 7 years old.
A few years later, my mom and stepdad divorced. I had visitation with him for a short while before becoming busy with teenage activities: friends, work, school. And honestly, he wasn’t my biological father so I didn’t really feel obligated to keep in touch.
While incarcerated, my stepdad decided to write me this letter as an explanation. He told me about his lifelong drug addiction to cocaine and other drugs. This addiction was primarily the reason we ended up in fostercare. He told me how his addiction had controlled his life, causing him to spend a lot of time in and out of jail, including during my childhood. No matter how many times he would try to get better, he eventually relapsed. He told me about how hard he and my mom fought to get us out of fostercare but were overcome by the obstacles and ultimately lost custody of us.
A lot of this I already knew but I think he wrote this letter so I would know his side of the story. To confess his shortcomings and appeal to me for understanding.
Sadly, the letter was kept from me for some time. When I finally recieved it, I felt it was too late to respond. My sister and brother still see their father on occasion so I am still updated on his life and continued struggle with drugs and law enforcement. They also keep him updated with my life.
In retrospect, I feel guilty about not responding. He reached out to me and I should have at least acknowledged him. Perhaps having my forgiveness would have given him some peace of mind for the guilt he clearly felt regarding his role in my life.
As someone who has always been a sensitive and empathetic person, I never blamed him for his addictions or for how my life was affected by it; though I guess he should hold some responsibility. Nevertheless, there are no hard feelings between us. In fact, having first hand experience of the struggle with addiction has probably contributed to making me the compassionate person I am today.
Life is full of struggles and while some memories can cause pain, it’s revealing our vulnerabilities which truly connect us. Which is why we feel a pang of sadness when we reminisce on handwritten letters: we’ve lost something that allowed us to peek into each other’s souls.