I have a friend. A dear friend; the dearest possible friend. We met when I was in my early 30s; she was 25 years my senior. We were (are) both writers.
When I moved away from the town in which we both lived, we began a correspondence. An almost-daily correspondence. At first it was letters via snail mail (which would cross in the mail), then fax, then email. We were quite intimate with our conversations, covering the whole emotional ranges of our very different lives.
Thirty Years of Correspondence
We talked very eloquently about our divorces, our marriages. We talked about infidelity. We talked about our children and various problems we had with them, their illnesses, their marriages, both successful and failed. We talked about ourselves, our histories, our futures, our feelings, in excruciating detail, because that’s what writers do. We talked about our glory moments and our devastations. There was nothing off limits for us to discuss with sometimes brutal honesty. As we saw it at the time.
Imagine my astonishment when about three years ago she mentioned that she had kept–was keeping–all that correspondence. It was all boxed up, in her office closet.
This is stuff that could wound, hurt, devastate her children, my children, my husband. This was personal, very confidential stuff between two people. It never occurred to me, not once in all these years, that what we had written to each other had been saved. I assumed she let it drift into the ether as I had.
But her reasoning, she said, was that one day she would cull through it, excerpting it, writing the book of our friendship.
She is elderly now, and doesn’t remember the tortuous times we wrote about. She doesn’t remember the emotional firestorms we went through that we dissected, how we helped each other through rough patches, how we helped each other understand the motivations of those who slashed us to the core.
Needless to say, since this revelation of the existence of these papers, I have been far more judicious in things I say to her. I mourn the loss of that intimacy, and am a little bit resentful that I have to edit myself in this way.
When I asked for these papers, her caretaker (a family member) said she wanted to go through it for family history. When I told her it was private communication not meant for others’ eyes, she was unmoved.
I had terrible thoughts of my friend’s children reading our letters and having their worlds rocked by what they read—the truth about their mother’s most intimate inner musings–and her friend’s unabashed opinions.
So I became determined, absolutely resolute, that this material would be shredded. I began to get insistent. I may have hurt some feelings in the process.
Yesterday, seven boxes were delivered to me by FedEx.
I breathed a sigh of relief that it is now in my hands, and no one will ever read it.
I do not regret baring my soul, naked, with both beauty and ugliness, to my dearest friend in all the world, but I’m sorry that we did not have an agreement beforehand about the disposal of our correspondence.
This is a cautionary tale.