It’s satisfying to take a personal piece of writing and tear it into tiny little pieces; to witness the disintegration of meaning as sentences are broken into their component parts, to let go of those pieces of paper, one at a time, leaving the words adrift, as they slowly lose whatever power we might have previously ascribed to them. Through this process, the internal and confidential become anonymous, the particular generic, and it’s in that anonymity that we find the comfort to let go and move on. But tearing up a letter doesn’t really destroy it’s meaning, it’s merely a complication. If someone curious enough were to look for and find all the pieces, putting a page back together wouldn’t be much trouble at all.
Yesterday I was walking down a suburban street. I’d never been there before. Every time I take a walk by myself I go down a different street to see what I might find. I was listening to music as the sun was coming down. It was quite windy. The next street over was hevaily transited, busy with shops and cars, so this was a bit of a backstreet, wide and with more warehouses, parking and storage spaces than living spaces. There was almost nobody in sight. Suddenly, my phone died. I was looking at the screen when it happened, the battery was at 12%. I’ve had this phone for about six months, but it’s second hand, so maybe the battery needs to be replaced. Anyway. I stopped for a second, took off my headphones and put my phone in my pocket. I noticed a piece of paper on the ground. It looked particular because it was torn and folded in the middle, one side sticking up from the ground. I picked it up and opened it. Only two words, ending two different lines, were readable.
I looked up and I saw another piece of paper some distance away. I walked over to it and picked it up. It was another piece of the same kind, one of those notebooks with very thin red and blue grid lines. It was a letter. It took me a second to get used to the person’s handwriting style. I could only understand a fragment.
This was definitely a love letter. I put the two folded pieces of paper in the left chest pocket of my industrial orange denim jacket. I looked around. Still nobody in sight. My phone was dead. I was supposed to meet this girl at a bar nearby in about an hour, but she would probably be late or not show up at all. I started to look around. Earlier this year I had taken care of a dog for the first time; the way I was walking now -attentively scanning the surface area in the immediate side of the road, turning my head back and forth, constantly interrupting my walk to check something or turn a piece of trash over- reminded me of how the dog seemed to experience the world. It was not at all mundane, it was attentive, like every object and every being encountered had the potential to flip the world upside down. The wind was blowing quite strongly down the street, and the sunlight was getting dimmer and dimmer. I took my sunglasses off to see better.
I retraced my steps a couple blocks back, walking against the wind. There were no more pieces behind me. I wondered how much time had passed since the letter was scattered. I had found a couple of them together, it couldn’t have been that long ago; maybe it was just minutes before I came by; maybe the car had driven past me and I would have seen the letter fly out if I hadn’t been absorbed in the music and the movies going on in my head. I wondered who wrote the letter, and how long it could be. I thought I had at least two pages, but maybe it was just one page which had been folded a few times. I decided I wouldn’t try to decipher it’s contents until I had gathered as many pieces as possible. I hoped it would be good. Nobody tears up a letter like that unthinkingly; it’s an attempt to prove something, either to yourself or to someone else. The paper had been torn in big curvy shapes, which indicated dramatic arm movements accompanying the hand; it wasn’t merely efficient, it had sentiment and purpose.
Maybe it was the trope that the man is the one to write love letters to the lady, or the stereotype that men have sloppier handwriting than women; I don’t know, but I decided in my head the writer had been a man. Two distinct possibilities seemed most intuitive to me. Number one, the man had written the letter, and was thinking of giving it to her, but an event or something she said made it obvious to him that she wasn’t interested, and would not reciprocate those feelings, and so he tore it up in resignation and disappointment, the words therein never to reach their intended recipient. Number two, he had given her the letter, and she had kept it, but she had turned him down, and at the first opportunity, maybe riding in the car with her friends, the letter being meaningless to her, she had torn it up and thrown it out in hilarious celebration. A third option, more dramatic, arose. Maybe both the writer and the recipient were in the same car. Maybe there had been some problems in the relationship and the letter was meant to clear the air and reconcile the couple, but she didn’t buy it, and in the middle of an argument, him driving and her on the passenger seat, she pulled out the letter, tore it up, and threw it out as he looked in disbelief. Man, they must have been angry!
There was quite a bit of wind now; the pieces of paper had been scattered far and wide. I made my way up and down both sides of the street, carefully checking every little object on the ground. There was plenty of miscellaneous debris, which made the process rather slow. I would walk a fair distance, squinting at plastic wrappers, napkins and old receipts. I would grow tired and start thinking the trail was getting cold, when suddenly I would have a little eureka moment as I found one more piece, and that made me double check the area I had just walked and then a bit further, wondering how far it would go. I decided the pieces of paper had to have been thrown of a car, or from a certain height, with force; they separated in the air, going in different directions before touching the ground, and then getting further separated as they were pushed by different gusts of wind and cars going by. Some of them were embedded in patches of grass, or hanging in a fence, or under the wheels of a car.
I reached an area where two camper vans were parked, surrounded by auto parts and other garbage their owner had collected. I had found a piece of the letter in a fence just a few foot away, so it was likely another piece might be behind the van. I listened. It seemed like there was nobody there. I quietly snuck between the vans and looked around. No letter scraps. I came back out and looked at the other side of the road; another piece! I corssed the street and picked it up. As I was putting it in my pocket with the others, a man’s head popped out from behind the fence right in front of me. “Do you need help?” -He looked concerned. “No, thanks”, I answered, dryly, and kept walking, looking at the ground. He must have been watching me for a while… He definitely saw me pick up the piece of paper. I had been so focused on my improptu scavenger hunt, I probably looked a bit intimidating. I relaxed my posture and overall attitude, now walking like I were having a stroll in the woods picking flowers, but the damage had been done; when I was a block away I looked back, and the man was still there in the same spot in his yard, staring at me with the same concerned expression. The thought of forgetting about it and moving on crossed my mind, but by now I was too excited about what the letter might contain to give up. One or two more scraps could make the difference between a rare beautiful find and complete nonsense. I had to keep going, I had to see it through.
The next intersection was a big one. The perpendicular street ahead had a grassy wooded isle crossing through the middle with two lanes of one-direction traffic on each side. There was a pedestrian crossing through it, but cars were forced to turn right. The wind also blew in that direction. If there were more pieces to be found further ahead, they would be that way. But first I had to check the grass land on the isle. This area was full of little pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection, they were mostly fast food napkins that had been in the sun so long they were in the slow process of disintegrating. I looked back. The man who was observing me before crossed the street, took a dog out of another house’s yard, and seemed to be taking it on a walk. I wondered if it was a ploy to have an excuse to approach me again. It was. I turned my back on him, but he shouted at me from the other side of the road, anyway. “Hey! What are you looking for?” I ignored him. He asked again, louder. I didn’t have an answer ready, and I was sure I didn’t want to tell him the truth. “Nothing in particular!” is what came out, along with a weak attempt at a comforting smile. He was clearly not satisfied with the answer, but it did cut the conversation short. He stared at me for a while. I started scratching my head and making slight sudden movements. There are many homeless people and drug addicts walking around in this area, but mostly they aren’t white, and they definitely aren’t wearing Doc Martens shoes. Still, I tried to channel their nervous tics; maybe if I appeared neurotic and unpredictable he would leave me alone. After a while, I glanced back, and he wasn’t there anymore.
I wondered how soon he would be back. The light was quite dim, but the street lights weren’t on yet. The discovery of new pieces was certainly slowing down, and the last couple ones had been blank, so I was starting to get discouraged. For a moment, I wondered about the morality of what I was doing. After all, whatever I was collecting seemed to be a deeply personal object, something meant for one person alone. Yet, if it was a moral crime, it was at least a victimless moral crime, for I didn’t know these people and I most likely never will. But what if it contained a superbly evocative poem? or a secret never divulged elsewhere? The possibilities were endless, and like with any treasure hunt, I had convinced myself I might strike gold. I couldn’t let it go. I turned the street as the car would have done. I found one more piece right around the corner. I hoped they had thrown the letter out the window in one move, and not slowly or in batches, because after the next block, the car could have gone anywhere. I explored a few nearby streets, but there was nothing there. These were more residential streets, they had been cleaned recently, so there was much less trash lying around. I started finding unrelated stuff that was interesting in itself. Some pictures of what seemed to be a children’s Halloween party, a yellow sheet of paper that said:
But these were mysteries for another day, I had no time to get distracted. If the letter scraps had eneded up there, I would have seen them. I turned around and started making my way back to where I started. One last sweep, just in case.
I was still looking at the ground when I head his voice again; “Hey! That’s the guy!” I looked up for a second. He was back in his yard, the dog was nowhere to be seen. Three guys stood near the camper vans I had looked at earlier. The smallest of the guys, muscly, wearing a sleevles shirt, shouted at me as I walked by, pushing his shoulders forward. “What the fuck, man? You the one that’s been snooping around our stuff?”. I kept walking, not making eye contact at all, keeping my sight in a fixed point somewhere in front of me. I doubled down on my neurotic persona. “Oh! No! it’s!… it’s my thing! (I opened my eyes very wide and raised my eyebrows) I’m… uhh… looking for something of mine!”. “Huh”, said the man, taking one step back. I walked past them and immediately resumed my searching, even more intensively now, murmuring to myself, overacting my curiosity. They stood in place and said nothing else that I could hear. I was pretty sure there weren’t any pieces left, but I kept going. I turned the corner as soon as I could. When I was at the end of that street, I looked back. They were in the middle of the road, still staring at me.
I got to the bar. I was late but it didn’t matter, because the girl wasn’t there and she was never going to be there. I got a beer and sat in the booth at the back, where there was less noise. I took all the pieces I had collected out of my pocket and put them on the table. As it turned out, it was a one page jigsaw puzzle, and I had twelve out of fifteen pieces. For clarity, I will now transcribe the letter as accurately as I’m able:
— I remember first seeing you
— high school. I knew then
— will be my wife, and
—e my kids one day. Writers (?)
— everyday and having
puppy love. I never thought
I will lose you then.
I lost you again when we
grew up. I can’t let this happen
again too. I promise you
I can & will do better
onesall (?) where you can be
proud to have me as a man.
I promise we can get back
to the love we had
reconnected in San Leandro &
on 94th, I promise. I want
Kasten (?) to grow up with in a
household and you be proud
— a man. I’mma 31
— mature. I promise I got you.
And if we flip that around…
I had this case with this guy. He really fucked up. He was violent, he got drunk before the cops came, so they had to restrain him. He was violent at the hospital, they gave him a bill for the things that he destroyed, it was over one thousand dollars! And you know, he had almost killed a woman in the highway. He had this attitude about him, my first impression was: “This guy is a player”.
It was on me, I had to make the choice; do I believe in rehab or do I believe in punishment?
[…] therapy yesterday. I was crying. I can’t describe the part that’s missing but it is. He unpacked it really well.
I asked her, “Is it true? Only 40 hours of jail time?” and she said yes.
I asked her if they had read it to him, the letter that the woman wrote… It was never read to him. He showed up to the next hearing with a super high alcohol blood level, and so now he’s in jail. But in that moment, I was…
I want whatever is gonna help him being a better person. Is it gonna be long jail time? Or is it gonna be being in a fishing boat in Alaska? I don’t know, it’s out of my hands now. But they assure me the letter is going to be read to him, which is relaxing, I’m glad about that.
His attorney showed us his, his Facebook posts, that he had been posting before the incident. In those he talked about trying to get better, about doing something with his life… but of course he didn’t mention the drugs or the alcohol or any of that stuff. That’s not like the real version of a person. But it made me wonder… Who is this guy? … What is he capable of?
I didnt like the idea of him being in a fishing boat in Alaska, because *I* want to be in a fishing boat in Alaska! You’re gonna be there in a retreat in nature with no drugs? After almost having killed a woman? No! Even I can’t afford to go and do that in Alaska!
And there was something that really tipped the balance for me. He was reading this statement, sort of apologizing, and he said “…and I know i could have killed her… or myself”; I really raised my eyebrows at that, I was like “Ooh, you shouldn’t have said that buddy”; who cares about yourself? that’s not what this is about… He was completely selfish, it was sad, he felt like a little kid… but now he’s in jail! and there’s nothing i can do!
For the first time I think I’m starting to feel it…
I think about wanting that person to change, accountability for what they’ve done. That’s what really came out of that Me Too thing. That guy from the coffee shop, Charlie, I told him, ages ago, “You’re going to get in trouble some day”, because he had his hands all over women and stuff. I don’t think he was a bad man, Charlie. I went there the other day, and they’d made this giant sign, calling him a predator, with his home address, and stuff… He has kids! I didn’t think that was right, and I took it down.
But nothing happened to him really. He wrote that letter… He wasn’t really sorry, it was a beautiful letter but he wasn’t really sorry, he was just doing it because… and then he just opened up another restaurant, elsewhere, with a different name.
That’s why think this is good, anyway, because if not, people who make mistakes, the chances of them actually transforming are much lower.
That thing with that guy… There was a moment where I really froze, and it’s only just now I’m starting to process that.
It’s very disconcerting to not feel like myself. There’s things that used to make me, me; like writing a song, or deep connections with people, and now it’s just…
And you know, as much as I don’t like my job, last two weekends, just doing the things that are familiar; coming in, turning on the computer, making tea… those things help.
Fun times! Having fun!
I just kept wondering; Where are my friends? …Who are my friends?
- I’m your friend!
Thank you! […] Anyway, what’s up with you, what’s up with you life?