I remember standing in front of one of those big blue mailboxes with a letter in my hand. I was seventeen years old, and really I was a lot younger than that, and I had sat down the day before to hand write a letter to the girl I loved. There was no way I could express my feeling other than through someone else’s work so I had laboriously copied the lyric to a song on a piece of notebook paper. The song was “Say Hello” by Heart and I wasn’t sure I had them right at all, but what I had written sounded good, at least to me. But now I had to send it. I felt as if I stood upon a precipice and looked down a thousand miles to craggy rocks awash on cold cruel water.
Quasimodo had better people skills than I. A man being attacked by hornets in a phone booth during a sandstorm at midnight had more legible handwriting than I could have produced in a month’s time. Someone on a ten day drinking binge with multiple personality disorder with a meth IV drip was more decisive. My hands shook. I mouth was dry. My knees felt as if they might buckle at any moment. There were some real issues here.
After all, she lived twenty-five miles away. I didn’t have access to a car but I had already figured out that if I walked four miles an hour I could get there by lunch if I started at sunrise. But what if she didn’t get the letter? What if this was the one mailbox that never was checked? What if the envelope opened after I dropped it in and what if the stamp fell off and what if she threw it away when she got it?
“What cha doing?”
Damn. Wouldn’t you know it? Here I am trying to write during my lunch hour and someone has snuck up on me. I parked my truck a million miles from anything else to write on my laptop and now there’s someone who wants to talk.
“Writing my mother an email, she’s not feeling well.” That’s what I usually say. People tend to leave me alone after that. But this is a man who really wants someone to talk to during his lunch hour and I was the only one around.
“She okay?” He asks. “She ain’t dying or nothing like that is she?”
He means well. Really, you have to take it in the spirit is was given. I assure him that everyone will live through this event.
“How come you’re always writing at lunch? How come you don’t do nothing else?” And I realize that I’ve been watched. I had no idea people knew I wrote at lunch.
“It’s the most effective form of communication that I have.” I tell him. “And I really have to get back to it before lunch is over with.”
“How come you listen to elevator music?” He asks, ignoring the fact that I’m trying to disengage.
“It’s soothing.” I reply and begin to roll the window up. I’ve given up explaining classical music to the masses.
“Ain’t you got a light?” he asks and produces a cigarette.
“Sorry, no” and I look down at my laptop. I check my peripheral vision. He’s still there but he’s looking around. I turn the radio up a notch and he retreats.
I couldn’t mail the letter. I decided to tear it up into a billion pieces so no one could read it, because there are people out there sorting through bits of paper alongside the road who do that sort of thing, and just forget about it. I walked a couple of blocks and then walked back. The mailbox sat there silently mocking me. It refused to be of any use to me at all, except passively. Either stick it in or walk away. I was horrified at the metaphor when I made it so many years ago. Really, this was a spiritual journey.
Tap, tap, tap!
I roll the window down again.
“My mama died of cancer, it was ten year ago March, will you tell your mama I said get well soon?”
I sigh. “Yeah, I will, thanks. But she’s just got a bad cold, it’s not the flu or anything like that.” And I realize this might be it. But he turns around and walks away. I watch him as he makes his way back to his truck and I wonder what all of this was about.
I stood there in front of the mail box and wondered how long it would take the letter to get to her. I knew that now it was inside that damn blue box the die was cast. A sudden jolt of fear hit me when I thought that her mother, or worse, her father might read it. I would die if her father read it. He would kill me. How long could it take to get there? What if she threw it away? What if it never arrived? What if, months from this day, I asked her about it and she said she threw it away? How long would I hope that she read it before I gave up? If it took three days to get there, couldn’t count the weekend, then by Tuesday at the latest, and she might write me back, another three days, so maybe a week from Friday, but what if she didn’t read it?
I was writing this down and realized that my people skills were terrible back then. I was so afraid of that girl and considering all things, she should have been afraid of me, too. But that was what it was all about, is trying to get over the fear and everything else, and trying to figure it all out. We never did that. I never really got that much better with people.
Tap, tap, tap!
“What kind of cancer?”
“You mama died of cancer, what kind?” I asked.
He’s just sitting in his truck looking off into space and I get in.
“It wasn’t bad, was it, I mean, what kind was it?” It’s all I can think to say.
“It was lung cancer,” he said, “I know I ought not smoke but it’s been hard as hell since they cut back my hours, you know, and my wife, she smokes, we’re trying to quit but it’s harder for two people to quit than one, ain’t it?”
“I think so, yeah, really.” And it’s true.
“But mama hung on for a while, after the chemo took everything from her, and she losted her hair…”
“That’s Garth Brooks, right?”
“Yeah,” he turns the music up, “but mama hung in there…”