I live for the mail.
My postal obsession started when I was about 5. John P., my babysitter’s son, was a mail thief and I was his accomplice. We would make the rounds of the houses on his block, taking anything that looked interesting. When we got caught, he got a whipping and I (having different parents) got a lecture. Being lectured to wasn’t much of a deterrent, but my new understanding of federal offence was enough to end that career.
When I was a bit older, I would answer the pen pal ads in the back of comic books and send away for samples of shampoo—anything to fill my mailbox. Well, except for those sinister chain letters that were so popular back then. Being Catholic, I was very superstitious, and those letters filled me with dread. Late at night (or at least long after my 9:00 bedtime) I would sit on my bedroom floor, wild-eyed and clutching a pencil, trying to get 10 copies of the letter ready to go before the deadline struck and my house burned down or my dog died or my leg fell off.
For a year during high school, I was engaged to a guy who lived thousands of miles away. I wonder now if I was in love with him or with the thought of getting mail from him. Not able to wait until 3:00, I would race home from school at lunch to see if he’d written to me. Because I didn’t have time to take the long, safe route, I had to sprint across a four-lane highway and scramble up a steep bank. The best moment of the day was just before I opened the mailbox, when there was still the possibility that a letter from him was in there. More often than not, there wasn’t.
But if I was lucky there would be a letter from my best friend, who had moved far away. The only good thing about her moving was that it gave us an excuse to send each other mail. And, boy, did we! For years I sent her rambling letters full of news and gossip once, twice, or even three times a week. I’ll be able to recognize her handwriting for the rest of my life and I’m still happy to find an envelope from her in my mailbox.
I have one friendship that is entirely dependent on mail. Of all my friends, Hayley knows the most about my day-to-day life and what goes on in my head (I’m not sure that’s a good thing from her point of view). We first met over four years ago at my brother’s house. I’ve seen her in person only four or five times and I’ve never, ever spoken to her on the phone but I have about 3000 messages to and from her saved on my computer. And she sends me the best mail. Her packages are covered with stamps and stickers and fancy tape, and as I open them I have no idea what to expect—sealing wax, a purple thong, spare change (which she sent when she found out how much my son’s clarinet cost)—who knows what will come next?
I no longer steal to get mail, but if I suspect that the letter carrier has messed up (which happens periodically), I dust off my skills and sneak along the street, looking in my neighbors’ boxes until I find my mail. A letter from a friend or a postcard from far away—the mail is still one of the highlights of my day.