In the event that my house goes up in flames, the three items I will refuse to leave behind: include my phone, my Adidas sneakers and my letterbox — in that order.
The first is so I can make the necessary emergency calls in the wake of the tragedy and figure out my next move. The second, because they’re the only pair of shoes I ever wear, no matter how formal an event may be. However, the last item is by far the most important to me, despite how hard it would be to lug out of the burning building. A cherry- red shoebox with golden accents, it once belonged to a Starbucks travel mug but now houses eight years worth of handwritten letters. My collection includes birthday cards from my aunts written in almost illegible scrawls; awkward confessional letters from equally awkward boys; postcards my friends sent from Europe; and funny pencil drawings, as well as Christmas gift tags and refrigerator Post-Its with Bible verses my mom lovingly leaves on my Tupperware containers. Every note that I’ve ever received goes in the shoebox, filling it to the brim with words of encouragement, sorrow, trinkets bearing great sentimental value and more.
As a child, I’d rush to the mailbox every day in the hopes of seeing if I was fortunate enough to find something, anything addressed to me, as I had pen pals a few cities over and others in distant countries. My earliest memory of receiving letters was from the tooth fairy, Flossie, who took my teeth in exchange for a dollar and a Hallmark card. Those were truly momentous occasions.
Letters became the backbone of my existence. Between battling bouts of depression in high school, I coped through letter- writing, telling friends what I saw and admired in them. I even wrote to people I didn’t know well, spilling my heart out and neatly pressing my emotions within my signature folded envelope. I’d scribble the name of the recipient in calligraphy and slip it inside lockers, between closed textbooks and into backpacks. As you may have understood from my previous columns, writing is essential to my wellbeing — in the same way that writing an article for my high school newspaper and blasting it out to the entire student body was a way of connecting to others, composing these letters became a more intimate form of mass communication.
For me, letter writing was the safest risk. I was able to tell someone how I truly felt, while also letting them read and interpret it at their leisure. As a result, I seldom received responses — probably because people were so taken aback by the strange formality of it all or because I was a stranger to them — but that didn’t matter to me. What really counted was that I was able to put myself out there.
In retrospect, it was a weird, desperate attempt to get through to people and share tidbits of my heart with them, even if they weren’t interested. I never held back in these letters, and in my immaturity I think I burdened people by brain dumping my issues in an unwarranted manner. I felt painfully misunderstood, which was the combined product of teenage angst and a deeply cynical worldview that prevented me from fully connecting with my peers. Any time I tried to speak, I’d fumble with my words and turn bright red, punctuating my speech with strange mannerisms. Through my writing, I was able to push aside the first few hurdles of warming up to someone and allowed my words to make a first impression for me.
Nowadays I turn to my phone to stay in contact with my friends out of convenience. Occasionally I send emails because I’m too cheap to pay for postage and ask people for their college P.O. boxes, but regardless, my messages still hold the same sentiments true. In a way, all my writing echoes the collection of love letters I hold close to my heart, no matter what form I choose to convey it in. Whether it’s a letter, a text, this column or even a news article, I hope to form a connection that resonates with the people who read what I have to say.
Bonnie Wong is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Her column, “Plan B,” runs every other Thursday.