The Lisa Letters

“OPEN THIS FIRST” is scrawled on the back of a #9 envelope.

In the lower right corner are the words: “MONDAY NIGHT.” The postmark is blurred beyond recognition, and the return address reads only “Lisa Tepley” in soft-lead pencil.

My Aug. 5, 1977, diary entry reads: “…finished writing a letter to Lisa Tepley. I also sent her my poem ‘The 281st Day,’ revised version. I hope she writes me back.”

Well, write back she did—a whopping 14 handwritten, stamped, and mailed gems that I still have.

Which sort of begs the question: why have I kept them?

What do they contain that generates such affection?


After Camp Shamineau ended July 30, Lisa and I agreed to stay in touch. I received her response to my Aug. 5 letter just five days before the Family Project left on a 10-day vacation to Missouri and Indiana. A second letter was waiting for me on our return in the wee hours of Aug. 25.

Both letters are pure, unfiltered Lisa: “Boy, I guess I’ll have to admit that it more or less shocked the heck out of me when I got your letter today. I shouldn’t say that, though, because why wouldn’t you write?”

Reading Lisa’s letters is like talking with the wry, energetic, curious, expressive person she was. She’d pepper her letters with “Hey, kiddo,” or “Just think, kid…”—like some winking confidante who’d be your sidekick to the very end.

She had returned home to family and friends in Crystal, and to her newly graduated hockey player boyfriend, Craig, who was starting college in the fall.

Her humor emerged in full-force when she reported that my friend Steve had called her, anxiously hoping she’d join him with two other guys on a road trip down to Fairmont to see Joey and Biya—one girl on a road trip with three boys.

“I couldn’t go,” she wrote, “for various reasons which I’m sure you can see right off.”

However, by the end of August I received an ominous 12-page, two-sided letter from her. She’d just listened to Jackson Browne’s “Here Come Those Tears Again” and confessed she’d never felt lower in all her life. She and Craig were on the ropes.

She talked about waiting for Craig to call, then going to a party with her friend Mary with “a quart of beer” her sister’s boyfriend gave to her with “a big gunny sack to wrap it in,” in case the cops came by.

Later she joins a group of friends who cruise the Hopkins main drag, where she trenchantly reported: “I sat and drank my boiling hot beer by myself.”

That was the Lisa I adored—seriocomic and honest to the end.

The “Open This First” letter was the fourth, but number five (which I was supposed to read second) announced it was her “third letter to you in 3 days.” Apparently we were both night owls: I was working on my previous letter at 1:29 a.m. while she was up till 2 writing her last one.

If this were a movie scene, the montage would be, naturally, split-screen.

It was the end of August and I’d returned to Minnesota to get ready for my senior year, hopeful about the future. She noted it: “When you wrote ‘I wish you all the luck and love,’ it really made my day to think you feel like that. There is something very special between us two. Sometimes I think we are in our own little world ourselves. And Mike, I wish you all the luck and love in the world…”

This is why Lisa’s letters are still important: they remind me where I first learned about love in friendship—how one person with an open heart and mind can make a difference.

It wasn’t “playing boyfriend and girlfriend,” or dress and impress for dates and all.

It was the real deal.

By early September 1977 she’d hit bottom, sending a one-page, single-sided letter that confessed, “I guess you can say that me and Craig broke up tonight.”

They had been back and forth on the phone, she cried, and he canceled their date just before leaving for college. “I can’t even write about it,” she admitted. “But will you please call when you get this? I need you.”

She signed off, “Love, Lisa,” then added a terse postscript.

’Wasted Time’ is on the radio.”

~ by completelyinthedark on May 12, 2012.

4 Responses to “The Lisa Letters”

  1. And the questions is… did you call? I am in doubt if this fiction or real, but it’s amazingly written. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Brief hiatus from social media starting later today until Dec. 26. CITD, however, will still publish every Friday through the holidays. Cheers! Mike


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