Corresponding with my husband, Michael, was a thread started in 2007 that almost broke during the pandemic. We had courted through a long-distance, three-month e-mail exchange. We didn’t meet on widowsorwidowers.com, but sent one another prolonged paragraphs about grief and the rough road of being single parents to our sons. Then one day we stood up from our desks, pushed in our chairs, and ran into each other’s arms.
We continued to send e-mails after we wed, which now included the necessary domestic discussions of who was going to deal with the ants in the silverware drawer, and when we should get our taxes done. As our work schedules kept us apart a few days a week in different cities for many years — Michael was a journalist in Baltimore and I taught in New York — our method of corresponding took new forms.
The night before or at 5 a.m. on the day of “the leaving time,” as we called it, we each penned the other a postcard. (We never let on if we saw the other person writing the card. That was part of the charm.) If my husband was leaving, he would sneak a postcard behind a pillow on our bed or in the refrigerator, even once — only once, because of obvious repercussions — in the toaster oven. And I would slip a card into his backpack, or the book he was reading.
The postcards came from places we’d been together, such as Alexander Graham Bell’s home in Nova Scotia or the Harriet Tubman Museum in Maryland. And if we didn’t have postcards, we used other paper mementos — Michael’s train ticket when he headed north the first time we met, or the back of the coat check from an exhibit of Emily Dickinson’s poems written on envelopes and recipes.
We also used to send each other birthday and anniversary cards in the “real” mail, even if we were together when the mail arrived.
But marriage is marriage and not a date. After years and losses and new electronic inventions, e-mails gave way to texts and occasionally we would forget to leave cards for each other when we parted, or perhaps if we had been arguing. The arguments always were repaired eventually and the cards continued. Until the forced intimacy of quarantine.
As days and space blurred during COVID-19, there has been no “leaving time,” for which we sometimes have forgotten to be grateful. The onslaught of disturbing events and lack of seeing faces without masks, covering both laughter and tears, took a toll.
Neither of us remembers the exact day we stopped leaving postcards. The challenges of lockdown, my mother’s death, not seeing two of our sons out West, and only meeting our new grandson on a small screen, made us numb. As we spent more time in a contained life, and as Michael watched endless news and every sport with a ball, I tidied too much, constantly asking if he was done with his newspapers. The grueling year of 2020 was the first time we did not mail each other birthday and anniversary cards, and barely paid heed to the dates.
This morning, as the world is tiptoeing into reopening, I got up before Michael. I sorted through my desk drawer and found a receipt from the now-shuttered Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina, where we’d stopped on our honeymoon, a road trip from Florida to New York. On that glorious evening, Michael had ordered a pecan whiting sandwich. I had meat loaf, black-eyed peas, and okra. Before Michael came downstairs for breakfast, I wrote a short note on the back of the receipt and slipped it under his tea mug.
When I opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of eggs to make an omelet for dinner, a honeymoon receipt from a waterfront meal in Savannah, Georgia, fell out. “Remember the guy with the trumpet playing the great Kinks song, ‘All Day and All of the Night?’” Michael had written.
Yes, I do.
Patty Dann’s most recent book is “The Wright Sister,” an epistolary novel. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.