To read a letter from the past, however near or distant, a letter not written to you personally, becomes an experience of entering into another’s most intimate and private space. The intentions, what is written, can seem obscure and impossible to penetrate to an outsider, the narrative details don’t necessarily resonate, or they do, more often the communication is stripped to it’s essentials, hopelessly dull, humorous, or in this instance emotionally charged.
Letters are/were typically formal. Intimate but often formal. There’s no formality here.
From the first line, “I was half asleep when you called and so did not properly explain Grandpa’s spaz attack.”
From there the letter descends into a scathing attack, a mother writing her distant son about day to day life with a father who both loved and abused her all their lives.
“I’d get those letters at the 92nd Street Y where I lived then, I knew, like this one, they could be wired to explode. I’d read them quickly and then stuff them in a drawer and try to forget about it. Somehow I saved them all. And after she died and even now, I read them all the time, I didn’t know it then, real time, present time can be deceptive. But what she sent to me was nothing more or less than herself, all the shards of her broken up all over, to think of it now it's a rare gift. In my late teens I was lecturing her in the car one day, and she got quiet then said, “Kid, you don’t get me.” She was right. I’m trying now. Better late than never, better to try then not bother at all, better to know I didn’t know, don't know, than assume I did or do.” - TR Ericsson
Frederick Douglass: Embers of Freedom, The SCAD Museum of Art, 2019