Victoria’s Secret


Some years ago – it must have been after she died in 2000 – I inherited from my mother a box of letters. In a white cardboard carton with ‘Victoria’s Secret’ on the lid. The name of a lingerie shop in London I believe. They are my letters, written over a period of about 20 years. 1968-1987 to be precise. From university, from various farms I worked on, from periods spent on the road at home and abroad, from the States, from Australia – all over the place. Though many are addressed collectively, whether to her and my father together, or simply to The Family, they are all essentially to her. Possibly every letter I ever wrote her – I don’t know – is there. I’ve always been leery of looking at them but this week, for reasons I won’t go into, it seemed time to bite that particular bullet. I spent an afternoon with them on Wednesday and then read the rest today. Whew. So strange. There are I am, in all my gaucherie, my optimism, my frailty, my need. You can trace the onset, crescendo and aftermath of a breakdown I had in 1973; see me trying out styles and attitudes, strategies and dreams. So many wrong directions! So much angst and fear, allied with a kind of insouciance that is probably just a characteristic of youth. The oddest thing is how intimately I recognise the person I am now in those beginnings; the most valuable, the detail that I have long since forgotten. After the first stint, on Wednesday, I felt a kind of buzzing in my mind, as if some alien had taken up residence there; today it is more a sense of completion, as if my memories of those years – which are anyway acute – had been given some sort of ineluctable validation. I could burn the letters now and it wouldn’t matter. Together, they constitute a narrative of the decline of a relationship, from unhealthy closeness to cruel though perhaps necessary rejection. And yet she kept them! For why? So I could read them now? The other fascinating thing, not unrelated, is the omissions, which increase in volume and scope over the years: it is always a carefully manufactured account of myself I give her, which might explain both my reluctance to re-visit them and the sudden cessation of the correspondence in 1987. Again, I don’t know. Anyway, in amongst it all I found this, written from a Lands and Survey block I worked on out the back of Taranaki in the summer of 1972-3; it gives a flavour: ‘I seem at the centre of the world here, an empty centre, breeding a fat contentment – a contentment coming from good food and a lot of it, enough tobacco, strength, independence, exercise. I had to jump over a gate very quickly yesterday, because of a bull (they’re randy and fighting mad this time of year) and I cut myself on the leg; my blood seemed magnificent, bright red, strong and clean on brown skin. I didn’t wipe it away or clean it up until later; and that seemed good too. However, this is not Paradise . . .’


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