Letters Never Sent (Part 2)
This is the last of a two-part post.
Well, that’s when you started writing a letter that ended up at 16 pages when you finished it the following Monday.
In that letter, IX by your count, you tell me that you’re “doing something different,” that you’re going back to June 1974 to write about the summer camp week of that year. You said, “The reason I feel that week was so important is because it will never happen again.”
Letter IX brims with loving details about Camp Kingswood, retold in a day-by-day format, as if you were an archaeologist unearthing a relic that solved a mystery that had forever dogged you. You did a magnificent job.
You took me back to a long-forgotten place. “Little did I know,” you wrote, “it would be for the last time, or at least a long, long time. Kingswood had become a home, and I had to leave.”
Here’s what I’ve only now discovered: You wrote that letter to me the very day after you were suspended for smoking pot at school. You chose not to write about that incident in all its gory detail: how Dad reacted, how Mom reacted, where they heard about the news, what they were wearing, what, if anything, you had for dinner that night … still, you chose to write about anything other than that—maybe a happier time, realizing you’d crossed some kind of threshold, never to return.
You stayed with that letter for nearly a week, churning over the details of two summers before.
Over 35 years later, I’m here to tell you that you made a realization unaware to you at the time: you had left home.
And you were never to return. Ever.
Then you wrote two final letters.
Letter X, written on May 15, 1977, was a half-hearted update of life in high school. Gee, thanks. Could’ve done without that letter. We both know you’re better than that.
Oddly, nearly 12 years later, you wrote me one letter, Letter XI, begun Friday, Oct. 27, 1989 at 8:24 p.m.
You had a plan. You’d left home, been on your own for a while, through three colleges and two jobs. You’d written a draft of your first screenplay and you were flying to London to do more research. It being 1989, you wanted to recap the entire decade, which you did in a lovely 7-page single-spaced typewritten letter—the only letter to be written in such a way.
Reading that letter, I wished you would have been more upfront. Your tone was arch, yet mannered, but still admitted that you wanted to write me a letter “with the same courage I had as a child.” I didn’t feel you were writing so much to me as to yourself, which is an entirely different thing. But, still, you sent it to me, putting it in an envelope and posting it from London—the only letter you actually sent.
But when you started asking questions, you had me—I was putty in your hands again.
“What were the purposes of those old letters?” you wrote. “I said I wanted to talk to myself—not myself then, but someone different, someone I knew I would be in the future. The interesting thing about this idea is I had the concept of change firmly planted in my head—IT WAS CERTAIN TO ME that I would be someone other than I was when I first wrote the letters.”
Well, my 29-year-old friend, huffing toward a finish line, above which a banner screams: “30!”—you were, you are, and yet you … haven’t.
Was your letter intended for someone else? The perfect reader? Why would you do that? Did you need to please that reader? If so, why?
What could they give you that you didn’t already have?
But of course at 30 you knew it all. You couldn’t wait to diminish that earnest, optimistic yet questioning lad of 13. You were ditching any hope of becoming a “diplomat, a helper of mankind,” in exchange for a corporate-bound, post-college career that had no regard for your values, your history, or your goddamn talents.
So I’m writing this letter to you in the hope that you receive it and read it immediately.
There’s no time to waste.