My first pen pal – that is a person whom I never met except through letters – was the sister of an Air Force friend. He saw letters I wrote home and to friends and thought his sister would enjoy them.
Meg was a naive girl from Fond du Lac, WI. From my first letter, she seized on them as though they were important communications from another planet. And, I suppose if you were from Fond du Lac, they probably were.
Pen Pals Around the World
I wrote about travel and excitement – letters from all corners of the world full of tales of foreign intrigue (some of them probably even true). She wrote back about life on the farm – letters full of stories about her partial ownership of a pig that she and her partners eventually hoped to sell.
As I read that last sentence it sounds mean but, in fact, her letters were quite warm and heartfelt and (subject matter aside) quite nice in their midwestern earnestness. Time went on and letters went back and forth.
There were occasional phone calls and I sent flowers on special occasions. It was all quite fun and harmless, so I thought. Looking back I understand that may have not been her view.
She wrote a series of letters in which she complained about the stresses of her life, about how Fond du Lac wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Mostly it was petty bitching about common things that happen to anyone…boredom mostly.
For the first few installments I offered simple platitudes we all offer when confronted with a person having a bad day. “There, there…it’ll be all right and pass soon enough.” The one or two irritable installments dragged into a month-long tale of extreme woe. The petty complaints began to grow and she wrote that she was sick and tired of the everyday struggle of getting out of bed. Somehow the naive farm girl was turning into a depressed shrew.
Her last letter rubbed me wrong in a very big way. To this day I’m not sure why. I suspect it was the irritation I often feel when people complain about petty problems on the order of a bad hair day. I struggle so hard to face my depression, sometimes it’s hard to hear others’.
‘Get a Grip Meg’
I replied with a snippy letter and gave her a piece of friendly advice, “Get a grip Meg. It’s a big world out there and if the overwhelming pressures of the Fond du Lac farm are too much, you need help.”
She didn’t take it well. There was silence at the mailbox for an inordinate amount of time. I waited it out and finally a letter came from her. She hated me she said. She said she turned to me for comfort and support because no one in Fond du Lac understood. It was as bleak and depressing a letter as I could imagine and it made me feel like a worm.
I wrote back, carefully apologizing, but nothing returned. I tried to call, but she never answered the phone. I sent flowers and got a message from the florist saying she refused delivery.
I never heard from her again. I never found out what became of the pig or how the 4H projects came out. I never felt the little pick-me-up that her wonderfully naive letters gave me, though I did convince myself it was better that she never developed anything more than a platonic crush.
While I was out playing the international traveler she represented a part of me very long submerged. She represented that part of me where a little boy still played on Granddaddy’s farm. A little boy whose biggest care was what flavor ice cream we would make or whose lap I would fall asleep on in front of the pot-bellied stove.
As I get older I wish that I’d been able to see it, but I can’t take it back now. Instead, I file it with many other things I should have done differently and try to salvage something useful from the whole wretched affair.
- Complaints (poemsforkush.com)
- How to Deal with Chronic Complainers (lifehacker.com)
- Do You Complain? Do You Complain About Others? Do You Gossip? (fggam.org)