The impossibility of the letters themselves makes writing them an almost impossibly steep uphill drag. If your words have no chance of being heard by the other person, that’s literally all she wrote.
If it’s already been demonstrated over and over that the other person will not listen to you, why would writing those same words on paper and mailing them have a better effect? If you know your words will never be read, or, if read, never acknowledged, or, if acknowledged, never responded to, clearly you are attempting the impossible.
Still, there are times when the letter may begin to form itself in your mind, seem like the best idea on the subject, impossible as it also is. One benefit of exerting yourself to write an impossible letter, of course, is setting the issues out as clearly as possible for yourself as you write.
You hit on a new angle for presenting resolution of the conflict that disrupted a long, loving relationship, say the idea of introducing death, our inevitable fate in our declining years, as a way of playing a poignant chord. To the person who will not hear, that is merely a crude emotional ploy for undeserved sympathy. Now you are pathetically playing the violin to try to move them to feel sorry for you, even though you don’t deserve even a hearing after the unforgivable crimes you’ve committed.
Tender memories you offer as proof of affection are cast aside as manipulation. A factual point you make is more proof that you are a joyless reciter of biased facts to support your insane lawyerly arguments. A gift you send need not be acknowledged to be another offensive example of this kind of dirty emotional game.
The facts won’t work, no agreement is possible about the scope or nature of the conflict, no softening of a rigidly defended position, no acknowledgment of a mutual problem — and no appeals to caring, sharing, love and sentiment.
Add those restrictions up and you get one impossible letter. The letter itself, no matter how well you craft it, has zero chance of persuading that person of something they are programmed to reject, if you can even get the letter read. If these letters ever are actually read, you will almost never get any acknowledgment. In the rare case that you do, it will be to use the letter as a stick to poke you in the eye with.
A few months back I sent a letter, a last attempt to make peace, during the ten days after the Jewish New Year, days set aside for settling debts, seeking forgiveness, making amends. I wrote this letter after my old friend, a Jew who prays at dawn every day, in the manner of the most orthodox Jews, stormed out of a restaurant a few days before Yom Kippur (the day religious Jews believe that God inscribes the future for every human for the coming year) when I “blindsided” him with a conversation about forgiveness that he didn’t want to hear, was not able to think about without becoming indignant.
A few days later I sat down and wrote him a letter I somehow didn’t yet understand was impossible. I felt better once I’d set the thoughts and feelings down on a page. I actually slept better right after I mailed it, the burden of fixing a long friendship suddenly turned to senseless, total war off of my shoulders. The issues were clear enough, the letter was simple and short. The next move now belonged to my friend and his wife (I’d written and mailed a short note to her, assuring her of my love). I had three or four nights of untroubled sleep for the first time in a year, since our sudden, traumatic falling out.
2:45 a.m, a few days later, my phone rings. My friend was very upset, he’d received my letter and he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t going to talk about anything in the letter, or what particularly upset him, but I was apparently again unfairly using my power to express myself clearly as a way to oppress him. Close to tears he told me he’d sat down and written me long letters on at least six occasions, letters he never sent me, or even mentioned to me. He was very hurt that I didn’t seem to appreciate that at all. And so on.
What do these impossible letters have in common? They ask the reader to be fair, to consider another point of view, and the mutual hurt and damage involved, when the reader believes he has already been more than fucking fair. Impossible letters require that the recipient hold a letter they feel is written by Hitler and read it dispassionately, calmly, open to being persuaded by Hitler’s golden words.
The common factor, I realize at my advanced age, is that all these letters involve an attempt to counter the determined narratives of people bent on never feeling humiliated again. If terror of shame and humiliation causes a person to build and cling to a persona that can never be wrong, all perceived criticism is a deadly attack that must be repelled with overwhelming force. An untrue statement they make is not a lie, and it is humiliating to be called a liar, they are merely defending themselves reflexively and if the truth is a sharp, deadly weapon they parry it by first denying it. Narcissism 101, baby.
Take any story insisted on in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is not true. The lie that Biden stole the 2020 election, with the help of many powerful traitorous Republicans, debunked 1,000 times, thrown out of every court, the fairness of the election confirmed with broad bipartisan acknowledgement. Can a political party continue to insist that the election was stolen, that rioters were fully justified to attack police and stop the joint session of Congress to prevent the certification of a rigged election?
They can if they’re mad as hell, and if you’re mad enough to assault police you have to believe you’re right, and if you’re right, how can you listen to fucking assholes who tell you you’re wrong? You know what you do to them? Bash them in the fucking face. Take away their right to vote. Those who assaulted the cops were right to do so, the ones convicted of violence are viciously persecuted political prisoners, etc.
If you find yourself on the other side of a narcissist’s visceral terror of shame, watch your ass. In the end, the best you will be able to do is write an impossible letter to their children, trying to explain that they sre not alone, weighed down with deep, vaguely understood hurt it will take them decades to begin to understand, if ever, but that there are adults out here, willing to listen and talk, who do not share their parent’s maniacal determination to blame them for everyone’s unhappiness.