My 20th college reunion is right around the corner. Therefore it’s fitting that I stumbled upon an old spiral notebook that contained a draft of a letter (or you might call it an overwrought meditation) to my boyfriend at the time. He was living in another state. He was the love of my life then, which would explain why a letter to him needed a rough draft. And this was 20 years ago, which would explain why I was writing a letter at all.
I wrote him a lot of letters over the course of that relationship. (I was a senior in college. I had yet to encounter the internet. I was supposed to be writing my thesis. You understand.) When the relationship ended, predictably within weeks of my moving home to be with him, I lamented its loss.
Time passed. We both moved on to other relationships. Then I realized, predictably, that the relationship had meant more to me than it had meant to him. Then I realized that those letters–all of those letters!–had probably been discarded. (Recycled more likely. He was a neat freak. Also environmentally responsible. One of our bigger fights had been about wasting water.)
As much as I was able to let go of the relationship, I missed those letters. They were the product of so much energy and effort. They stood for not only what I was feeling at the time but for who I was then: someone at the beginning of adulthood, when I had yet to “do something” with my life, but when I could still “do anything.” (Except maybe that thesis.)
So imagine how pleased I was when I found this letter which ostensibly was about finding–or, rather, constructing–the perfect present for my boyfriend in 1995. It captures the essence of who I was then, hopeful, thoughtful, and a little self absorbed. (Sort of like who I am today. Exactly like who I am today.)
HERE IT IS. I pulled it from the pages of a CVS brand spiral notebook where it was nestled between jottings about legal realism, heart shaped doodles, and the contact information for my next babysitting job…
There was a blue box on my bookshelf that I thought would be the perfect container for the perfect present I was going to give to you when I found the perfect present. I wanted you to say, “My, what a perfect present in a perfect present box! What a perfect present giver the giver of this present is!”
So I looked around.
I went to the plaza near the Square where where rows of vendors lined up with their carts offering presents for sale: tropical fish wind chimes, jalepeño peanut brittle, and chia pets. None of these was the perfect present.
I went to the coffee shop to think, to make a list of ideas. I passed the old man in shiny trousers who spent days on his typewriter here clacking out pages of the same refrain. Today he was typing, “Suffice it to say…Suffice it to say…Suffice to say,” over and over.
At the top of my paper I wrote, “Ideas for the perfect present.”
I realized I had no ideas.
I wanted to be the one to give you a “perfect present”: the reassurance that things would work out. That you would be the one person who could say on his birthday, “I am so pleased to be me. I am so happy to be as old as I am, to have lived as I have lived, and to be headed where I am headed, and to be doing what I am doing right now, at present.”
I guess I can’t give you the perfect present. But I can give you a promise that I will love you. I think things are going to work out. I am pleased that you are you. I am so happy that you are as old as you are, having lived as you have lived, and are headed where you are headed. I wish you were doing whatever it is you are doing right now, with me.
So obviously, the present isn’t perfect. Our present may not ever be. But when I can read this to you in person, someday soon, our present is going to be a lot better.
Reading this now I see that the characters have changed. The intended recipient is no longer my old boyfriend (who is now married to a purse designer in California) or my current husband (who, not too into recycling anyway, merits a proper love letter of his own). This is a letter I wrote about finding the perfect present for myself.
I am reminded that the perfect present cannot be contained by a box (or an old spiral notebook). It is a mood, a state of mind, accompanied by a sense of satisfaction that inspires continued effort. (I am so pleased to me. Happy to have lived as I have lived, to be headed where I am headed, and to be doing what I am doing right now.)
No one can give it to us. We have to construct it for ourselves from the available moment. As for me, I don’t expect to find the perfect present. But I will keep looking.
Suffice it to say…this moment keeps repeating. Whether or not it ever takes a different shape is up to us.