Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ten Years Later

I wrote a letter when I was thirteen.

I wrote it to a stranger, someone whom I had never seen.  I had a cloudy understanding of her and a heartfelt wish that she would turn out to be everything I'd hoped.  She was accomplished, I was sure.  A published author.  A world traveler.

I drew a circle on a blank area and sprayed my mother's perfume on it.  I wondered if it would fade by the time she received it or if she could still detect its flowery scent across the uncharted distance.

I can't say that I loved the stranger, but I envied her.

I envied her freedom and her choices.  I envied her friends and her adventures.  I wanted to BE her.  But it was impossible.

I asked her a series of questions, knowing that the answers would come with much time and probable effort.  I was impatient.  I wanted the answers now.

"Have you written a novel?" I asked.  Surely, she had.  She was always writing - journals and letters, and counted scores of pen-pals among her friends.  She must have turned all of that into stories, and she must be famous.

Little did I know that letters are, in fact, obsolete to her, replaced by the instant gratification of a keyboard and the internet.  Whatever that is.

"Have you seen the pyramids?"  This was a dream of mine.  Did she share that dream?  She did, I would learn, and marveled at them the first moment that their time-worn peaks appeared in her airplane window.  She thought that she had found love in Cairo, only to be wounded by naivete and a carpet salesman that turned out to be married.

But, of course, I didn't know this yet because she hadn't answered me.

"Where do you live?"  I asked, a conundrum because I wouldn't know where to send it.  It must be in New York somewhere because surely she appeared onstage seven nights a week in the chorus of a Broadway musical.

She wouldn't tell me until later that she gave up on the theater in high school because the director gave the lead roles to the students that gave him "favors" in return.

"Are you beautiful?"  I hoped that she was.  I imagined her to have long blond hair like Rapunzel and the bosom of an opera singer.  Not like me, the skinny kid with braces who couldn't make Band-Aids look good.  She must have a dozen boyfriends and a dozen more waiting in the wings.

I continued with my innocent interrogations and sealed the envelope with I when I was finished.  I slipped it into the bookshelves next to my yearbook until I could find her.

She told me later that I had asked the wrong questions.  I had asked about career and money and men and all sorts of things that label a person but don't define them.

I had neglected to ask if a person is worth more than a certificate on a wall, and talked about love as if it is an irrational, frenetic passion instead of a cozy commitment made daily for better or worse.  I hadn't known to ask if the first cry of a newborn baby makes the function of that coveted bosom infinitely more valuable than its cosmetic worth.

She opened the letter just when I'd hoped she would, ten years later, and she laughed.  The baby had just gone down for a nap and her husband was finishing the dishes.  She glanced sideways at the mirror, seeing the reflection of the idealistic teenager whittled into the wise smile of the adult, her dreams fulfilled in ways she'd never imagined.

Dear 23-year-old Self.....


  1. what a great post! think i will follow in your footsteps on the letter writing!

  2. I know who the baby is...MOI!!! Luv you, Claire xoxo

  3. I LOVED "Ten Years Later" written just a few days ago on 3 June! I can't believe something so short was SO good! I read it a few days ago then just re-read it again. To my surprise, I loved it just as much the second time around--just in a different way--now that I knew the "stranger" had finally opened her letter!

    It was so full of suspense, my eyes could hardly read fast enough as I wanted to know if this "stranger" was anything like the author had imagined. She was--& more. Lucky for her husband, children, friends,& clients--& me, someone who had no idea this neighbor that I rarely ever converse with, who lives just across the street, was so full of such wonderful ideas & had such a way with words! I want to now write my own letter & see if I, too, get to meet my "stranger" & if she's anything like I imagined!

  4. I'm not a writer, but I am a reader, and I loved reading this!
    Life couldn't be more fulfilling than being a mother, right?