Yesterday, I read and reviewed Maya Angelou’s Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie. It turns out I missed something in the blank pages the first time I read the book. Today, I was thumbing back through some of the poems I liked the best, when I noticed a letter inscribed on one of the back pages, written in red ink, to a man named Travis.
The inscription is over forty-five years old, dated January 27, 1972 (the year following the publication of the book). Also, there are no last names, and there is no name at all for the person who wrote the letter. I do know that the two people were in Ann Arbor, Michigan together back in 1971 or 1972, but that’s about all I know for certain. And even that is speculative; the author could conceivably be referring to some movie they watched together that took place in Ann Arbor. The reason I mention all of the uncertainties is that I want to make it clear that I don’t feel like I’m violating anybody’s privacy by publishing the letter. I definitely wouldn’t want to do that. Actually, I think it’s a rather poetic and beautiful letter, and I wanted share it along with my thoughts and speculation on it.
There are a couple of grammar errors in there but I won’t alter or tag the errors as such when I transcribe the letter below, in part because I think some of the errors may be indicative of the author’s mindset.
For you a birthday marks just another year of manhood. Perhaps during the ensuing years, you will develop your innate creativity – which you disavow – in addition to your dominant intellectualism.
Continue philosophizing and Loving – of course – Because unlike the woman on page 8, no one really loses.
And although you spent more than one night, like the dudes in the first poem, you, too, went Home.
But when you reminisce about your days in Ann Arbor, include me in your thoughts.
For a moment, reading that first paragraph, I thought maybe it was a letter from mother to son, maybe trying to encourage him to read more. It has that ring of adoration that mothers sometimes have for their sons. But the further along I read, and the more I started picking up on clues, the more I became certain that this was a love letter from a woman to a man, perhaps college-aged, and just perhaps the two had an illicit romance at the University of Michigan.
The first thing that’s easy to spot is that it’s written in red. The only people who write letters in red are teachers and lovers. And, trust me, I know a little bit about receiving letters in red ink from teachers. This isn’t what it looks like. So, since I think we can pretty safely rule out Travis’s teacher, his lover is the next best answer. The second clue (and it’s minor) is the word “Loving.” The author capitalized it, and I think that’s a bit of her unconscious self capitalizing an important word. Maybe she loved him but never told him? Of course, I’m speculating.
She also didn’t sign her name, which I think is telling as well in that a signature with a young lady’s name may have gotten Travis into trouble if his girlfriend back home had found it before he did.
But the most important piece of evidence is found in paragraph three, where she compares Travis to the young men in the first poem (They Went Home: below), and presumably she sees herself herself as the woman in the poem.
The men in this poem are seemingly visiting the woman for sex, but they eventually went home to their wives. So maybe Travis had a college fling with the author of the letter? And, maybe he headed home for the summer (where he had a girlfriend waiting for him?), that would seem to closely mirror the poem as far as I can tell.
Interestingly, for all of the clues that she loved and thought very highly of Travis, she doesn’t exactly blubber on about it. She shows quite a bit of restraint. She doesn’t explicitly say that she loves him. She doesn’t beg him to stay. I do feel like she wants him to stay with her, to choose her, but she seems unwilling to beg him.
The young woman who wrote this letter to Travis would certainly be a senior citizen by now. I have no idea if she ever wrote anything that was published in her life.
But I know she has now.
P.S. I reserve the right to be completely wrong in my interpretation of this letter. I’d love to know where you think I got it right or wrong in the comment section.
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself.