I got your letter in the mail this afternoon. I read it aloud to my dogs while sipping an iced tea on my porch.
It was a nice surprise, receiving a handwritten letter. I don’t get many.
Even though we are strangers, I was glad to hear about your life. Your new job, your newborn son, and about how much you like Willie Nelson. You’re in good company, Willie Nelson is very special to me, too.
I am sorry your father died. I don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but I know what it’s like to lose a father. I know you will never be the same.
Not that it matters, but when I was fourteen, I found an ad in the back of a magazine, it advertised a pen pal agency. I responded to the ad, requesting a pen pal.
My assigned correspondent was from Atlanta—keep in mind, this was before the age of the internet. The most advanced form of communication in our day was homing pigeons.
My pen pal’s name was Bee Bee. She was fifteen and wrote in purple ink. She dotted her lowercase “I’s” with little hearts, and I accidentally fell in love with her.
We only wrote each other a handful of times, but we talked about our lives in our letters. She told me about her parent’s divorce. I told her about my father’s suicide.
We talked about how sad we felt. And about things that made us happy. She liked the Four Tops. I liked Willie. She wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I wanted to write for a newspaper.
She closed each of her letters with:
“Your forever-friend, Bee Bee.”
And well, I’d had never had a forever-friend. Especially not since my father’s death. In fact, I didn’t have many friends at all.
I wished I could end my letters in a sentimental way like she did, but I couldn’t bring myself to use mushy words to a girl.
After all, I didn’t want Bee Bee to think I was a complete toadstool who sat around eating Fritos and watching girly movies like Steel Magnolias, quoting movie dialogue with Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Sam Shepard, Daryl Hannah, Tom Skerritt, and the infallible Dolly Parton. That’s dumb.
So I ended my letters with:
“All the best, Sean.”
We wrote back and forth a couple times. Finally, she suggested we send pictures to each other. My heart sank.
I knew she would be repulsed by me. I was as ugly as homemade waffles. I was taller than my friends, and much chubbier. And freckled. And redheaded.
My friend Andrew took photos of me with a drugstore camera.
The pictures were awful. In these photos, I was trying to disguise my chubbiness by standing against a basketball goal. This, I hoped, would make it appear to untrained eyes that I was a point guard, relaxing on the axis of the Wheel of Life. I held a basketball for effect.
Instead, I looked like the official spokesperson for Pillsbury.
Along with the pictures, I wrote Bee Bee, saying I knew I wasn’t attractive, and I hoped the photos didn’t cause her any nausea or blurred vision.
A few weeks went by, I got a thick envelope in the mail from Atlanta. Bee Bee had sent photos of herself.
The photos were not what I’d expected. Bee Bee had long dreadlocks, and midnight skin. She was tall, broad shouldered, and and larger than her all her friends.
She told me she felt ugly when she looked in the mirror, and overweight, just like me. She finished her letter by telling me that I was very handsome. And she said, “You have a beautiful soul.”
Her words did something. They made me feel like I mattered—though she was a stranger. I wrote her back to tell her how lovely she was.
We only wrote two or three more times after that. Because kids get older and busier.
But, somewhere in my garage I still have a shoebox. Among its contents are pharmacy-developed photos of a young man holding a basketball. You should see him. Underneath his smile, you can see how lonely he is. He misses his father. He just needs someone to love him.
I wonder if that isn’t what everyone needs.
Also in this shoebox are letters—from special people. Some are from my wife. One is from my father. Some are from a fifteen-year-old in Atlanta, who wrote in purple ink.
Your letter will go in this same shoebox, Mary. Along with the Willie Nelson CD you sent.
It will get better, darling. You’ll see.
You have a beautiful soul.