Friends. Photography. Adventure.

A Date With My Past

LettersI revisited my past last weekend. Did I time travel? As near as feasibly possible I did, yes. I am moving house soon and am currently dismantling my home of 11 years, deciding what comes with me and what goes. Shoved at the back of a cupboard, untouched for the whole time I have lived here, and in reality much longer, was a box of letters. A very large box of letters. In fact, all of the letters I received from the point at which I went to university aged 18, to my mid-twenties.
I read every one of those letters. I read from 6pm on Friday evening until 1am on Saturday morning. I was on the sofa again by 7am and read through the day. I returned from the theatre at 11pm and folded the last letter away at about 2am on Sunday morning. I am sure those letters bought joy, comfort and some sadness when I received them, but reading them 20 years on in one intense sitting was a truly hilarious, heart-warming and eye-opening experience.
We all know teenagers and young adults are a seething mass of uncontrollable hormones, right? We probably all remember when the benchmark of a good night was whether we had ‘pulled’ or whether the current object of our infatuation was in the pub. But my God, I didn’t realise how ardently we articulated this. Sex, it turns out, was the constant topic of conversation.
There was the urgent and hilarious: “I am so horny I nearly crawled across the bar and asked the hot barman to give me an orgasm”, “I am such a seething mass of hormones that I want to rip the clothes off every man I see”, and one letter from a friend on the occasion of me losing my virginity, “now you know how amazing sex is you’ll be gagging for it all the time, eh?” Poetry they are not.
Battles born out of immature emotions colliding with maturing sexuality are faithfully charted. An 18-year-old friend casually drops into conversation that her ex is using her handcuffs with a new girlfriend, before describing in exhaustive detail a ‘he said, I said, I stared out the window and pretended not to hear him’ exchange. I recall being frequently annoyed (jealous?) at her bragging about her sex life. I expect when I read that letter 22 years ago I rolled my eyes at the mention of handcuffs before devouring the more familiar territory of drawn-out teenage drama. I read it with more compassion this weekend.
Then there’s my worried Mum writing during my first week at university, encouraging me to use my thick duvet, including recipes for “tasty but cheap” meals, and then at the very end casually dropping in the brand name of her pill – “better to be safe than sorry”. I didn’t grow up with my Mum so never had the period or first boyfriends chat with her. I imagine this sudden concern for the potential impact of a horny 18-year-old experiencing independence for the first time was deeply mortifying for me at the time.
And there were letters from boyfriends demonstrating such maturity that I would welcome them now. One received from a 20-year-old telling me what our relationship meant him, but also explaining that with the heartbreak of his first love still fresh in his mind he didn’t want anything very serious right now. I do remember receiving that one. I also remember my flouncing hysterical response and the look of hurt on his face as he rushed out of our favourite university haunt, and I am embarrassed. Reading it now I see integrity, kindness and respect and the subtle bear with me message. I have no idea how much time he took writing that letter but it has taken me 20 years to appreciate it.
I don’t know what made 18-year-old me squirrel away those first letters and then faithfully add to the pile for some seven years. And I don’t know how they then escaped the inevitable purges that have come as a result of living in eight flats in the intervening two decades. I am very glad they did.
Wicked Wednesday


  1. Molly

    Wow, what an amazing little slice of your own history. I wish I had something similar but I can not remember getting any letters in particular and I certainly did not keep them if I had. Also, isn’t it funny to think that the current youth of today won’t ever have any letters….. I wonder if after 20 years they will be trying to read back old lovers emails

  2. Marie Rebelle

    This is like finding a fabulous hidden treasure. It must have been amazing to go through all those memories. Like Molly, I have nothing left of those memories, partly due to emigrating and a jealous ex telling me if I want my stuff I have to come get it myself. I never did.
    Rebel xox

  3. mariasibylla

    This is wonderful! I save letters and cards too, (though now that I think of it, I’m not sure where all of them are…). One of my major regrets is letting my first email account (hotmail) expire and subsequently losing all the correspondence I had in there from my later college years. It’s a sad thing about the digital age, we no longer have boxes of written memories like this to pore over. Digging through an email history is not quite the same experience as folding open wrinkled paper and deciphering heartfelt handwriting.

  4. sub-Bee

    Good luck with your house move! I have recently moved into a new home with my partner and we both found it strange that even though we are often very similar we are also very different. I went through lots of my clutter not even giving it a second glance before throwing it away. Yet he spend ages reminiscing and re-packing all sort of bits and bobs (also known as crap) back into boxes. He also has a memory box where he puts lots of holiday souvenirs etc, which I find equally bizarre!

  5. Cousin Pons

    How lovely to have all those letters. Almost Proustian the way you read them all again, reliving the memories. The description of the last letter you mentioned and how it took you twenty years to appreciate it, is very powerful.
    I have no letters from my student days or even photos. In the mid seventies I studied theatre stage management at a London Drama School. Don’t even have any photos of the shows I worked on or the friends I had. I certainly didn’t have a girlfriend though I would have liked one and looking back I recall a certain frustration at the lack of female companionship.

    • Exposing40

      When I look at my photos of those days I realise that I have the same number of photos of the entire three years and most of us take on our smartphones in a week these days!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2022 Exposing40

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: