A Letter to Alma García

Dear Alma García,

I start like this, because you started like this, and oh, it was lovely. Will you be my professor of English, show me how to delight in the language that we’ve spoken all our lives? Teach me how to turn a phrase like “yellow hair” from simple to rich. How to make a voice become a story, a character, a twisting sadness.

I think of other letter-stories I’ve read. To Philander. Pamela, my dearest daughter. Le Vicomte de Valmont à la Marquise de Merteuil. My dear Victor, My dear Dr. Van Helsing, My dear Wormwood, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Ada: those steady, distinctive, epistolary voices—Lourdes’s included—seem to me one of the clearest means by which we, the readers, can get to know the jumble of characters that a writer hears in her mind.

I think of letters I’ve received, and letters I’ve sent. How you try your hardest in a letter, how unlike many other personal interactions in life, a letter lets you weigh each phrase, each sentiment. I imagine Lourdes weighing her words even more carefully than I would, struggling with English, spending five minutes scouring her mind for soccer before settling on fútbol. I imagine you weighing Lourdes’s words even more carefully than she, adding and erasing an s here, a verb there, scraping an image to its bare essentials, and forcing it to go exactly where it belongs.

This story makes me want to write letters, read books, call my mother.


—Caitlin McKenna