, erin j bernard, unopened letter

On unopened letters and in-between places

I have spent the past week waiting anxiously for a package to come in the mail – my passport, stamped with the visa that will grant me entry into India in a few weeks’ time.


Things are down to the wire, for sure, owing to a string of bureaucratic nightmares that have cost me several hundred dollars, roughly 12 hours of unredeemable time, two small and very snively bouts of angry tears, and have further required the triple-last-minute-overtime sewing of extra pages into my passport at the National Passport Center in Philly. (Which I think I’d be gloating over if it weren’t so late in the day for such detours; despite having had my passport stolen several times during the last decade, I managed to fill it all the way up.)

I’ve been here before, waiting for some letter or package or other, and it’s always felt to me like the strangest kind of limbo.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be the guy who drives the FedEx delivery truck or the little post office truck. To be at the wheel of so many people’s hopes and confessions and expectations. All of it in there, yours alone to care for and to dole out, piece by piece. It’s a kind of power, and I always thought it would make every day feel important, to be the one who wielded it.

A few years back, I penned an ill-advised love letter to a man who had left me several years before for various and sundry reasons that mostly tracked back to me being 24, and an idiot. At the time, I was living in a small, mildewed cabin in a tiny, tiny town on the Oregon coast, and I was lonely. I’ll refrain from divulging the details of said sad missive, nor will I make any pretense to art with regards to its contents. It was pretty much your standard “Iwillalwaysloveyoupleasepleasetakemeback” confessional, and I mailed it to him one blustery November morning with great hope and great trepidation in my heart.

Two days later, I learned that I was being unexpectedly transferred to another newspaper in another Oregon town in two weeks’ time. Each evening until moving day, I returned home from the office and pulled open the little, rusted mailbox door with a pounding heart. But a return letter never came, and then it was time to leave.

I have always wondered if he ever wrote me back, and if so, what became of the letter. Did the cabin’s new resident open it up in my stead, overcome by curiosity, and then stuff it shamefacedly into the trash? Did it go to the Dead Letter Office with all the rest of the lost Christmas presents and misdirected checks and rogue packages whose recipients cannot be located? Did anybody read it at all? What did it say? That he hated me? That he loved me? That we would never, ever be together again? Did it even exist? It’s a strange kind of not knowing. I don’t think about it often. But sometimes I do.

Besides wanting to be a delivery driver, I also used to wish that if I didn’t become a writer, I could be a hairdresser, except I can barely cut or comb my own hair most days. Or that I’d sing, but my voice cracks and is really no good at all.

I can’t drive big trucks or cut a straight bang or sing a song that anybody would say was worth hearing, but man can I write a letter. It is one of my talents, and so I write letters often. Of course, your talents only get you so far. A talent won’t undo the past, or recorrelate the future, or bootstrap your tiny will into the good graces of an Indifferent Fate. A talent won’t stand in for a missing forward address.

But I think, too, that there’s this great, big chamber in some cloudy, high-up place inside of each one of us that connects all the things we wish we were with what we really turn out to be in the end. An in-between place. And in that great, big, cloudy high-up in-between place, there is a room where you can sit with all that not knowing and be at peace.

And once in every great while in your life, you’ll invite someone to join you there. Maybe just to sit and rest his bones awhile, you two just being still together in that strange and quiet chamber where all the secrets and questions live. All the unread letters. Maybe you’ll show him some of them, and he’ll hold them in his opened hands as delicately as if they were made of snow or sand, and he’ll see your good intentions and forgive you the ugly rest.

And maybe you never even touch each other at all before he leaves, or if you do, it’s only just a moment, so quick and soft that soon as it’s over, it will seem never to have been at all.

Some things happen, and some things don’t. Some letters never arrive, sucked up instead into the maw of all that Is Not, for large and mysterious and important reasons, To Be.

I’ve got till Dec. 29 for that passport to get here. It’s time enough still that I’m not yet panicked. But, ah, this waiting.


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