Lately I’ve been playing with a project, looking back on my experience living in Thailand as an exchange student. I’ve come to realise that I did some pretty unusual things, and that it might be interesting to write about it. (????) I’ve been surprised how strong my memories are 28 years on, but have also reverted to my diaries kept that year to clarify details.
I've realised I was a crap diary writer. Whilst I recorded some of my inner-most feelings, more usually and much like George Orwell, I often merely listed a few lines, usually consisting of what I had for lunch that day.
I suspect I was not inclined to record the details of my day because I was doing a lot of letter writing at the time, especially in the first few months of my time in Thailand, when I had not yet begun school, was still struggling to learn the language, and was quite lonely. I wrote detailed, descriptive letters, trying to help my family and friends at home see, feel, hear and smell what my exotic life in Thailand was like, to help them feel as if they were there too, sharing the experience.
So I was thrilled when my mother said to me years later that she had kept all my letters from Thailand. Some time after, she gave me three shoe-boxes full of letters. “You never know,” she said, “someday you might want to write about your year.” I stored the boxes away without a glance, happy that I had them safe.
Years passed. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to dig out the boxes. I knew where they were, had never forgotten them, and opened the first box with excitement, a feeling of trepidation.
I pulled out the first envelope. But wait, that’s not what I want. I pulled out the next and next. With a growing sense of dread and horror, I rifled through the box, and the second box, and the third. I couldn’t believe it, and went through each box over and over again, as if through sheer persistence I would conjure up what I desperately wanted to be there. I went back to the cupboard where these boxes had been stored, and looked. No, these were the only boxes.
But they were not MY letters, the ones I’d written. They were letters written to me while I was in Thailand. The ones from my parents and sisters will be precious to keep. The rest – well frankly I couldn’t give a hoot. I felt sick. As if I’d lost a part of my history, through my own negligence. The worst thing was, I couldn’t phone my mother to ask her to check if she had the letters I had written, the ones which recorded my experiences, week by week. She was away for a month, helping my sister and bonding with her new grand-daughter.
After a day or two the sick feeling abated. D reminded me that my mother is a hoarder and wouldn’t have thrown them away. I knew that. But I couldn’t shake off the fear. What if she, like me, thought that those three boxes contained my year of letters? So finally, at the airport on Tuesday, as I met her from one flight and put her on the next, I told her. “Oh yes,” she said, very matter of fact. “I have YOUR letters at home!”
PS. I’ll believe it when I see them.