• Mathura Hawley

penpal

Updated: Aug 1, 2021


She pushed to exchange photos, and she finally sent hers, cute with long hair, with a note that said, “Send yours or else no more letters from your favorite girl!” So I chose one of my high school class photos, cutting it out of the square of nine my mother had ordered. I waited for a reply. Nothing came "

When I was around the age of thirteen, I was reading a weekly newspaper my mother bought which was like the Enquirer only less about celebrities and more about exaggerated real life stories. In the back, there were classifieds, and in that era of the PennySaver and bulletin boards, it wasn’t unusual to peruse them. There was an ad for a “Pen-Pal Club” for kids, and all you had to do was clip out the ad and send in a few bucks, your age and interests and you would get an ad of your own and a newsletter of listings which you could then choose from. My mother approved, as she liked the idea of writing letters, and never questioned why I wasn’t more willing to make actual friends in person at school, rather than new ones I would never see. I chose a few different kids from various American towns from Tennessee, to Detroit, and all the way to Washington State. I wrote a little about myself, what grade I was in, about my dog, Puddles, and some things I liked to do, such as read and play kickball. My mom applied the stamps and into the mailbox went the notes. I waited. First came a letter from Chris, a boy from Tennessee, whose first letter was kind, yet pretentious, telling me that his father was best friends with Buford Pusser, the sheriff who became the subject of the movie Walking Tall, a very big story in the 1970’s. I already felt less cool after hearing about his life, and Chris was a boy, which intimidated me. Then came Tracey, a girl from the state of Washington. Her letter was sweet and friendly, describing her life in great detail, and was somewhat self-deprecating, which I related to. I wrote her back with an excess of exclamation points, and went on for page after page. Within a week, there was her reply, on pretty stationary and in a colorful envelope. I asked my Mom if I could get better stationary for my letters to Tracey, and she ordered fold-over notes from Current company, enough to maintain my long-distance friendship for months to come. A few more pen-pals came in response to my own ad, including a set of fraternal twins from North Carolina, and a kid from Detroit. Their letters were sparse and on the “I’m fine, how are you?” level, and I wasn’t very excited by them, especially when Tracey and I were getting to know each other so intimately, writing about school, our families, and our dreams. This relationship went on for a couple of years, and was in full swing when Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in Washington, not far from where she lived. The next month, in my mailbox, was a small plastic envelope with ash from the exploding volcano, which I showed to all the neighbors and to everyone at school. Around this time, Tracey asked to exchange phone numbers, and I nervously agreed, wanting to talk with her but reluctant to jeopardize what we had built so far. The first call went very well, but something changed. She sounded flirtatious on the phone, and giggled in a girlish way I hadn’t expected, and now, at 15, I had retreated from the idea of being close to anyone, covering my abuse and protecting my confusion with pounds of extra weight. But we talked. A couple of times a month she would call, or I would call her, my mother keeping tabs on how many minutes the call would cost, giving me a five minute warning at around the 25 minute mark. Tracey and I joked and laughed, and I ignored all the innuendo and remarks about how cute I must be. She pushed to exchange photos, and she finally sent hers, cute with long hair, with a note that said, “Send yours or else no more letters from your favorite girl!” So I chose one of my high school class photos, cutting it out of the square of nine my mother had ordered. I waited for a reply. Nothing came. A month went by and still no reply or call. Finally, a letter from Tracey, with no colorful underlines or hearts over my name and address. I opened it. ”I feel bad writing this letter, but I have a boyfriend now who is really jealous that I talk to you, so I am going to have to stop our calls and letters. Sorry. Tracey.” A few years later, I found her address in an old journal, and I wrote to her, saying that I had since lost one hundred and forty pounds, probably wanting her approval since I wasn’t so ugly anymore. It came back with an “X” over the address, stamped: “Moved: forwarding address unknown.” So Tracey, now you know. I understand how disappointed you must have been that the man whose soul you loved didn’t live up to the man as he appeared on the outside. I felt the same way about me. And it’s taken a lifetime to bring the two together. I forgive the 16 year old you. And I hope you found someone wonderful to love. Your pen-pal, Scott.



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