I was twelve years old when part of my family moved away. Deidre and Alan weren’t blood related. They had different parents and lived in the house right across the street from ours, but I couldn’t remember them not being there. Deidre was a year older than me, Alan a year younger. Our games rambled from house to house on a daily basis. But then their dad got a job in Missouri, far away from California. I didn’t even get to give them a grand goodbye because their departure coincided with our family vacation. I just returned home to someone else living in that house.
We wrote letters of course. I kept mine in tied in a bundle the way I’d seen in historical movies. At first I heard of their cross country trip, then their new house, then… the letters slowed down. I wrote two letters, then three. I wanted to get letters back. It was fun to have mail. It wasn’t fair that I sent letters and got silence in return. So I decided to be clever. I wrote a letter and tore it in half. At the bottom I wrote a note stating that I’d send them the other half when I got a letter in return. I walked that half a letter to the local mailbox and sent it on its way.
I did get a letter in return, a letter filled with fury. Later Deidre’s mom told me that it was a second draft, kinder than the first, for which I was grateful considering what the letter contained. Deidre was not amused by my trick. She regaled me with the fact that the moment they arrived in Missouri, their father had abandoned them, that they didn’t know where he was or if he would ever come back. Their life was uncertain and she was generally angry with the whole world about it. There I was in my secure house with my intact family, demanding a return when they really had nothing left to give and didn’t know how to tell what had happened. I will never forget the sinking feeling I had in my stomach on reading her letter. Guilt filled my heart.
Ever since that day I have treated every letter I write as a gift. I send it off with no strings attached, no expectation or requirement of a letter in return. I give the gift because I want to and if the other person decides to gift me with a letter in return, that is cause for happiness. Deidre forgave me, and in later years apologized, because it wasn’t really me that she was so angry with. We continued to write letters for years afterward with me sending about four letters for each one I received.
Through the years I’ve written lots of letters to people I care about who are not letter writers. They mention that they enjoy the letters when I next see them, so I know that my gifts are well received. I find my happiness in the act of writing, in thinking about the person to whom I’m addressing the letter, in the short trip to the mailbox. And on the days when my mailbox has a letter for me, I rejoice for the gift I’ve been given of another person’s time and attention.
*Names have been changed