I've been reading old letters, dated 1991 to 1997. They're from my best high school friend, who was in the western parts of our native Croatia while I was a refugee east of the border, in Belgrade. In the first letters, she's a senior in high school, in the last ones she's an English teacher. I don't have copies of the letters I was sending her, but her responses remind me of certain details I'd forgotten. Here's an excerpt (in my hasty translation) from her letter from the fall of 1995, commenting on my letter from the summer of that year, when my brother was hiding in order not to get drafted and sent to the battlefields:
"Kudos to him for enduring and resisting all this time, I respect him so much because of that, and I admire his stance, but I know how much it cost. People like him give me strength to hope that things can improve. The shitty thing is that people like him have to hide, just like the little black creature sneaking around your building. Imagine that scenario: a man eligible for the draft wears a black mouse disguise and hides in the shelter of the night from Arkan's forces of darkness. A real Twilight Zone all around us."
Reading these letters after all these years bolsters my memory: I'd forgotten about the mouse that I saw scurrying past me one night when my grandma was visiting and I was sleeping on the floor. At times, when I read the letters, I feel transported to that time. My friend's handwriting helps. Even as I'm reading off the screen (the real letters are in my parents' apartment, I'm here reading the scans my dad made and sent me via the Internet), the lines of her pen capture the movements of her hand and I can picture us both as young chicks chronicling our lives in letters to each other, as a private act of civil disobedience against the nationalism and war.
Her last letter, from March 1997, ends with an announcement that she's about to sign up for an e-mail account at her university, and an optimistic thought about "a new media, a new era in our communication." Since 1997, I've had at least five e-mail accounts, and I have absolutely no access to any e-mails from the first three or more of those accounts (expired, nothing saved, hacked). Lately, no one has been writing any long e-mails. There's no need. Even if people live too far away from each other to call, Skyping or IM-ing is the medium of choice. And even if those "chats" don't disappear, they have no substance. When we gave up writing letters with pen and paper, we gave up more than we realized.