Monday, April 21, 2008

My Pen Pal

When I was 12 years old, I used to read Tiger Beat Magazine. I loved the articles on all the cutest boy idols, but I also enjoyed other features. In one issue, they advertised a pen pal exchange. All you had to do was send in your name and address and they would hook you up with a pen pal! Seemed like a great idea and as it turns out, it really was. A couple of weeks later I received a note in the mail with a name and address on new pen pal was Jill Drew of Allegany, New York. My memories tend towards fuzziness at the best of times and I really can't remember who wrote to who first. All I know is that once we began writing, we were the most devoted of pen pals. I loved hearing about her life all the way across the country. This was, duh, pre-computer age and it was even kind of a bigger, more expensive deal to make long distance phone calls, so it was all about the snail mail for us. It was so exciting to get her letters and to be able to send my thoughts back to her. Like the online friendships of today, perhaps our friendship was both more and less honest than real life, day-to-day relationships. We had no reason not to be very open and honest, but it is sometimes appealing to paint a slightly prettier picture of your life when there isn't going to be any onsite verification :-)
Anyway, we wrote for several years. Through Jr. High and High School. We sent pictures and exchanged our hopes and fears and ideas. By the time we were 18, we began to grow apart a bit. At that time, you could drink at 18 in New York and it seemed to me (judgemental little brat) that Jill was making some poor choices, or maybe simply being an awful show-off. We began writing less often as we moved toward adulthood, but did manage to stay in touch with holiday greetings.
One Christmas I sent out my cards, including one to Jill. At the time I was living in an apartment with my husband and two toddler sons. Jill was still living at her parents home, where I continued to send her these occasional greetings. On this particular Christmas I was surprised when my card elicited a letter sent to me by Jill's mother. In it, she told me that only a couple of months earlier Jill had been killed under very unclear circumstances. Apparently she was drinking with some friends at their apartment, someone brought out a gun, and the story was that Jill had taken it and shot herself. I believe she died almost immediately. Jill's mom felt that Jill wouldn't shot herself and that there was something being hidden, but indicated that the police were treating it as a suicide. It was one of the most horrible things I've ever think of this happening, under any circumstances, to this girl whom I had shared so much with.
I so appreciated that Jill's mom took the time to write back to me when my card came to their house. Of course, she knew how long we had been pen pals. She was sweet in the letter, telling me she was so glad to know that I had a family around me. I wrote back with sincere condolences. And that was the end of my pen pal days.
Whenever I think of the "lost art" of letter writing, I think of Jill Drew...and in my heart she lives on as a sort of alternate part of me living her parallel life on the other side of the country forever.


evil-e said...

Though you can send thoughts and words in the blink of an eye these days I know that hand written letters through the mail are always more personal and meaningful.

That was a bummer of a story. That was not the ending I was anticipating.

AlienCG said...

I've always enjoyed the idea of letter writing. It's more personal and there is a uniqueness to the written word.

I am truly to sorry to hear about your pen pal.

MrManuel said...

Wow, that didn't end the way I expected it. Sorry to hear about that. We truly have lost the art of letters though haven't we?

Tara said...

I am so sorry, Laura!
Sometimes I miss the days before the internet when we expressed ourselves not only through written words but through print rather than typing.

Anonymous said...

That was certainly a sobering read. Certainly makes you think though doesn't it. About lives and about choices.
I still letter write, through the blogs I have five girls I write to. We send eachother cards, little gifts like bookmarks and notelets. I see it as a extension to the interenet as opposed to a step back in time. It's like a deeper connection. I now have an idea of life in Philidelphia, California and Canada and I also share tales of what we have in common, the children, the teenage years (arghhhh) etc.
This was a really thought provoking entry Laura.

Mrs. Hairy Woman said...

That is so sad to hear.. I had friend when I was a kid.. my parents and her folks were friends and she went and got pregnant a couple of times and did drugs... and now has HIV...I'm glad you still took the time to send Jill a card.. I'm sure her Mother really appreciated it..

Viki said...

Yes, writing letters is out of fashion these days. I love receiving letters more than any number of emails or text messages - letters are fun.

laura b. said...

Evil-E: I was sort of surprised when I realized I'd never written about this.

AlienCG: Thank you. We were just about 24 when this happened, so I sometimes wonder what her life could have been like.

MrManuel: For me, letter writing is connected forever in my mind with this person and this time in my life.

Tara: Thanks for that. Sometimes I wish I were more inclined to still write letters, but in spite of my affection for them, I seldom do.

Daffy: Having a little group to send things round to is a really nice idea. It is a deeper way to connect somehow.
But, ah, don't get me started on teenagers right now! haha!

MrsBHW: It is always startling how one wrong choice can change everything forever.

Viki: There is something special about a personal envelope in the mail. Nowadays they are even encouraging people to send ecards instead of paper cards as an environmental effort, which is kind of reaching, isn't it?

Churlita said...

That was pretty poignant. What a great post.

laura b. said...

Churlita: In some ways it gets sadder as I get older and realize from my perspective how much life she missed out on.

NoRegrets said...

Wow... shocking. And really nice for her mom to write back, but likely also therapeutic for her.