My first love letter

I had just met the man of my dreams. But how could I tell him how I felt?

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Brandon and Kate

By Kathryn Oates


Hugging each other tightly, I pressed my cheek against the soft leather of his jacket, breathing in the faint scent of sandalwood cologne. This was supposed to be our goodbye to each other, the end of the most wonderful weekend of our lives. But as we stood there, my friends waiting in the car behind us, neither of us let go. How could we say farewell now that we’d finally found each other?

“I really should go, I don’t want to keep everyone waiting,” I tried to convince myself.

“You’re right, you all have a long drive ahead of you,” he agreed reluctantly. We only hugged each other tighter.

The “long drive” was the problem. My friends and I had driven to Atlanta for the weekend to enjoy a Japanese culture convention. We had just arrived at the hotel on Friday when I first saw him. A few words, and the two of us had drawn together like long-lost best friends, reunited after a literal lifetime apart.

We’d talked through the night, spilling our souls to each other at a gold-lit fountain outside the hotel, stopping only when the sky lightened to herald dawn. It was as if we’d needed to catch up on everything we’d missed in each other’s lives. But now, as the weekend came to a close, I had to leave Atlanta and go back to my college, six hours away from his.

“OK, I’m really going now,” I decided.

“OK,” he nodded. Neither of us moved. After a moment, we both burst out laughing. Still hugging him, I closed my eyes and prayed: God, thank You for creating such an amazing person, and thank You even more for leading us to each other. I understand if we’re just meant to be distanced friends. But please, if you show me the way, I want nothing more than to make this work.

Suddenly I had an idea. We’d pledged to call and e-mail each other whenever we could, but these methods were rather intangible. A handwritten letter was something else entirely.

We hugged one last time, and I climbed into the car with my friends. On the drive back to school, I started to compose a letter to him in my mind. I’d never written a love letter to anyone, and wasn’t sure where to begin. I decided to start with the basics: What was I physically going to write the letter on?

At that time, I had begun reading “The Tale of Genji,” a classic work that details life in the 11th century Japanese imperial court. Courtiers of every rank took great care in the appearance of their handwriting, even the delicate way in which they shaded the brush strokes of their letters. Everyone had an assortment of small paper squares in various colors, textures, and transparencies to choose from. Private poems were composed on these carefully selected slips and trusted servants delivered the intimate notes, which usually contained poetic reflections on nature to convey emotions.

Inspired, I went to a craft store and bought a few sheets of handmade paper and a Japanese-themed packet of paper scraps. Inside were pictures of geisha, flowing hiragana script, prints of samurai, cranes, and other pieces.

Back in my dorm I cut a copper rectangle from the handmade paper, then another slightly smaller one from a pale pine green sheet. Gluing the green rectangle on top of the copper one gave my letter a copper accent. Wondering if the Heian Court would approve of my modern approach, I began gluing on bits of the flowery hiragana script. In the upper left hand corner I also pasted a picture of a lovely geisha gazing gently over her sleeve.

At first debating how to begin the letter and what to write, I finally decided that I shouldn’t worry about the letter’s structure. I was writing from the heart, not typing up a term paper. I even decided to break out my rarely used cursive script, to enrich the presentation of the words.

After composing a small three-line haiku at the top, I opened the letter with “my beloved” and then poured my honest feelings onto the page. I missed him, I still couldn’t believe how wonderful he was, I treasured our time together, especially talking by the fountain until the sunrise stopped us. I missed the secret smiles he’d give me, the way his eyes managed to catch mine from across the chaotically crowded room.

Never having written anything like this, especially to another person, I found the experience both freeing and uplifting. Writing a love letter is a refreshing form of honesty, of being truthful to yourself about your feelings, as well as to the other person. Writing what I felt also made our love more tangible, more defined. When I was finished I signed it “forever yours,” spritzed it with my cherry blossom perfume, and placed it in the mail.

Four years of happiness and a shoebox full of envelopes later, my letters to my beloved, my boyfriend, have gone through many artistic themes. Each letter that arrives from him is a delight, and I’ll never forget the thrill of receiving the first response he mailed back. The entire world stopped while I carefully opened the envelope to reveal the words that my love scripted to me.

When I have the time, I still craft the letters by hand. Often I’ll find a unique card that jumps out at me instead, and decorate the envelope. I can write three letters in a week, or have a month pass between my messages. Of course we visit when we can, talk daily on the phone, text and e-mail, but our handwritten letters are always a treasure, chronicling our feelings and experiences together.

Given, the letters aren’t always deep. They can feature funny stories, silly thoughts, random dreams, or even a description of where I am while I’m writing and thinking of him. Sometimes I’ll tuck in pressed leaves, articles of interest, photographs, or even a feather I’ve found outside. I also shop for unique stamps or stickers to decorate the envelopes with, or use a metallic pen to write his address. I always open and close the letters the same way, and I’ve learned not to be impatient with the mail.

The one thing that never changes is my love for him, the joy that comes from putting it in words, and thanking God for the opportunity to do so.

A letter is a timeless way to say, simply or in detail, the things we should be telling our friends and loved ones all the time: that we’re thinking about them, we’re grateful for them, and above all else, that we love them. CD

Assistant Editor Kathryn Oates

Kathryn joined Catholic Digest in 2008. Kate earned a B.A. in Journalism from Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution in Mobile, Alabama. She also spent a summer abroad studying at King's College in London.