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  • Danielle Hayden

Updated: a day ago

I love sending and receiving letters. Those that are handwritten are especially precious, but every letter I've opened is dear to me. I have a small trunk that I lovingly store them in. I save a few cards here and there, but I keep all of my letters.


When I was a kid I used to sneak little "I love you" notes in my mom's lunchbox sometimes to surprise her when she was at work, or I'd leave funny phonetic notes for my dad when someone called and left him a message. I've been writing personalized thank you cards for many years and sending hellos "just because." This is my way. But I think my first actual full-length, heartfelt letter was to my eighth grade crush. It gets embarrassingly worse: inspired by Aaliyah, my favorite artist at the time, I wrote a fucking four-pager, man. Though I cringe at the memory (especially since I already knew he didn't reciprocate my feelings), I remember the vulnerability of that act; of putting [gel] pen to paper (remember gel pens? Oh, God.) and expressing my private thoughts to someone else.


I've sent other letters over the years. Some, like that one from 13-year-old me, have been confessional; others have been funny and lighthearted. Several were apologetic, some matter-of-fact. Some bore good news while others dispatched devastation. I express myself better through writing than verbally (which isn't saying much, seeing as I don't always display the level of finesse I hope for on paper either) so when I have something important to say, sometimes I turn to scribbling instead of speaking.


So, letters are not new to me, but in 2017 I set out on a personal mission: I made a list of everyone I wanted to write to and I set out to mail them letters. I started doing this in 2018, completed no letters in 2019 because it was such a shit year fo me, and then have resumed in 2020 with a great sense of purpose. The letters for this project are not the "just saying hello" kind that I've done before, nor do they contain the stuff of my pen pal correspondence. Instead, all are pages that contain something important I need to say to the recipients. Some of the letters I've sent have been apologies; others have been to let people know how much they matter to me; others have been to say thank you for something, or to express encouragement or understanding or admiration. One was to tell a friend how I had taken great offense to something he'd said (I am often hurt but rarely offended, so this was a big deal). I've sent emails like this before, and even a couple of Facebook messages (like the one apologizing to a girl I teased in second grade due to peer pressure) but those do not count for my project; only letters count.


My stepfather died right before Christmas in 2018. I had been meaning to write him even before his shocking diagnosis but I had been putting it off. Once I knew he was sick, I thought he had more time and I still tarried and never got to give him his letter. I'm ashamed to say I didn't even complete it. I will always regret that, so I'm going to get through this list in the next few months so that I don't miss anyone else. My goal moving forward is to work on a letter to someone every Sunday until the list is complete. I'm not dying any time soon (I hope) and I'm not in a 12-step program. It's just important to me that I do this.


I resigned to calling it "The Letter Project" because I couldn't really come up with any other name. I love the word "epistolary" but I wanted simplicity this time. So, The Letter Project it is.

  • Danielle Hayden

"You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men may mean when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is, that I am under the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resisted in vain, and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of my thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being the ruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer to my offer of myself in marriage, you could draw me to any goodevery goodwith equal force.


-Charles Dickens

© 2020 by Danielle Hayden.

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