Dyan Mabunga Rodriguezwrites letters to survive, to cope with loss, and to light a path of hope for her young son.
“Writing is just as important as breathing.”
I live to write letters. I have lived because of letters.
As a child, my father left our family. When a parent decides to leave, there is an infinity of questions. Inside my head was an avalanche of thoughts.
I remember, when I was five, the black jar, a familiar fixture in our living room, accidentally got broken, spilling my brokenness in scraps of paper scribbled with love letters to a father who decided to leave. This memory resurfaces in conversations with my mother, and in spite of its heartbreaking backstory, she uses it to lovingly remind me that writing is just as important as breathing. I must live.
I wrote letters to express my love for family and friends because certain moments merit not only non-verbal expression, they also deserve to be documented, reconstructed, and reread. Writing is my human attempt to immortalize fleeting moments of happiness.
My passion to write and my stubborn impulse to document my thoughts are evidenced in various notebooks I have collected over the years. I write notes to my past, present, and future self. When I accidentally come across these old letters, I often find myself smiling, as if reading a letter from another who writes with raw and shameless honesty. It is overwhelming at times. I find that the letters to my younger self are the most difficult to write. Because she has been through a labyrinth of thorns, she deserves good letters.
I have written countless letters to my mother; many of these I have given to her, the others I kept somewhere. There are infinite words and a number of people who deserve my letters. There are infinite words, but humans have a finite number of days. The freedom to write must not be wasted. Words must be written.
Sometimes when I write my letters my heart bleeds just as the ink from my pen bleeds. Pain, the breaking, must be transformed in written form.
My mother once told me that she loves my letters but could not find the words to respond. I told her that my letters demand no answers and require no affirmation.
Tucked in between the pages of my notebooks, I come across my letters to God on a spectrum of topics. I write Him philosophical inquiries and mundane questions, prayers that could change the world, shallow pleas, cries of disappointment, and cries for forgiveness.
My prayers, albeit short of poetry, remind me of King David’s passionate and reckless abandon when conveying his feelings to an almighty being. My dream has always been that when this lifetime ends, God will have kept all my letters and He will show them to me.
Writing letters does not require an accurate memory but one chiseled down to a defining moment. If of love, the defining moment transcends the memory of the emerald tinge in another’s eyes and lands on that moment when staring at their eyes made one feel less alone, and then protected.
If of pain, it is not the heavy breathing of an abuser or their abrasive palms, but the horrendous feeling of being defenseless. It is that moment that is so inescapable you would never want another soul to be subjected to it.
Letters as testaments to overcoming injustice need to be written. There is an African proverb that states, “Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best stories.” For many who suffer from painful memories, the voice of the hunter, or the monster, echoes in their heads. Writing letters is a tool to defeat the hunter. It is a way of overcoming and a way of letting other survivors know that they, too, can survive. They, too, can live.
In 2013, I entered into motherhood with a slew of hormones. I realized that my memories had become more vivid than usual, inflicting anxiety about whether I would be able to fulfill the most important role of my life—that of being a mother to my son Kaleb. Amidst the dust of old things and with a heavy bump, I struggled to find an exquisitely bound leather notebook I had bought in an antique shop in Lithuania. In the crisp, brown pages, I began writing letters to Kaleb.
While I used to write and immerse myself in memories too painful to forget, and found indulging pain therapeutic, motherhood has transformed the aching. The aching must be transformed. I began writing of pain, and then hope. I described the dark years and then spoke of the bright moments. I wrote of rejection and unrequited love and then voraciously wrote about my own mother’s unconditional love.
Using thehashtagreadmekaleb, I leave online tracks for my son. I leave virtual notes and letters that I pray he will find when the time is right.
May the letters, the scars, the living wounds, of his grandmother, of his mother, and of the women and men in my letters, strengthen him when days are dark and inspire him to become a good man.
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