Two weeks ago I ordered a few used books from AwesomeBooks and inside A History of Fashion by J. Anderson Black & Madge Garland I found four letters from 1992. This was not one of those amazing discoveries that sometimes happens in the wonderful world of second-hand books. They are letters written to Gemma by friends that seem to have met her during a summer course in France while sharing a dorm and, most probably, a few giggling nights in a chatêau. I remember this kind of experience when I was a teenager sharing a room with Monica from Cugat del Valles at Cathy and Howard’s house in Cheltenham. In our minds, our friendship was forever. We also wrote letters to each other planning visits and other adventures. They never happened and we never met each other again. I wonder if Gemma and her friends kept in touch.
The first letter to Gemma was written on December 26. Her friend, whose birthday was December 2, got clothes, chocolate, a “very nice new desk” and soft toys, for her collection, as Christmas gifts. Maybe Gemma got A History of Fashion as a seasonal token of affection. In another letter, another friend writes about her mother who is a teacher and even though she looks like one, she is actually not that boring. But she swears quite a lot at home. In public, she assumes a “pompous” persona. Her dad is a vicar described in short and rather unpleasant words. She really hopes Gemma won’t be “put off” by her family. The other two letters are about boys. There’s Tristan, the knight in shining armour, with whom the girl is so smitten that she even talked to her mother about him. She didn’t tell her mum everything… There’s also Bob, fancied by another one of Gemma’s friends. Bob doesn’t seem very interested in going out with her. Maybe they could have one of those “open relationships, as they say”.
After the first excitement of finding these letters ( I do love all kinds of surprises and most especially if they are of the written kind), it took me a week to decide whether I should read them or not. I suppose the answer to this would always have to be no. These are, after all, personal stories traveling between Lincolnshire and Essex and I still read them. And even decided to share what I’ve read.
I remember C. telling me that he wished he would have the time to get rid of all his notes and letters before he died so no one would get to invade what was only his. We had this conversation again a few weeks ago. He has now given up on that sort of absolute control. Maybe it doesn’t make much sense to fight for privacy anymore. It does, however still bother me that I did not resist the temptation to invade someone’s else’s life.
There’s a full name and address (I didn’t Google them) on the envelopes; maybe you could just return them, J. suggests. What’s the chance that Gemma is still living in the same place? What’s the chance that twenty-five years later she is actually interested in getting some loose pieces of her life back? Would you want your adolescence to come back to you?