Pen Pals

When I was seven years old, my family went on vacation to a farm in Pennsylvania. While there, I met a girl named Rebecca, though the farm was not named Sunnybrook. She had long brown hair, and humored me by playing my verbal games. We spent hours on “When silly Aunt Tillie packed for her trip, these are the things she put in her grip.” Starting with A, apples for example, and so on. The idea was to complete the list from memory, all while repeating the rhyme that threatened to erase your memory with its incessant repeating. Rebecca played that game with me as though it was cool as Atari; I knew I’d found a true friend, and we became pen pals for a year or so afterwards. It didn’t matter that we lived states away; we were friends.

When I was 10 years old, I went to Kentucky for a family reunion for people I’d mostly never met. That’s where my grandfather was from, and where I just learned he was a self-proclaimed hillbilly! Holler to dirt floors; I understand myself so much better now. Anyway, I met one of my second cousins named Jennifer. She was older than me, and I found her to be very wise and very cool. When I got back to the hotel we were staying at that night, I promptly proceeded to write her a letter on the hotel stationery. I was obsessed with stationery, and free stationery was even better. It came with an envelope! That I addressed before I could lose her info, then I started to write.

Dear Jennifer,

Hi! How are you? I am fine. It was great to meet you today.

I got interrupted, and was going to finish the letter later, but when I went to look for it, it was missing. I asked my mother about it. “I mailed that for you!” she said, happy to be a helpful mom. And oh, the humiliation. I had a complete embarrassment meltdown right then and there, and told my mom I had only written the intro. She laughed and laughed. If you want to get mad at me for appreciating obnoxious humor, that’s your right, but blame my mother, who found hilarity in my abject mortification on that dark day. I was already younger than Jennifer, now I was going to seem simple as well!

She wrote back to me. Told me that it was great to hear from me, but hoped for a longer letter next time. In retrospect, awesomeness. I wrote back full of apologies, and we became pen pals!

When I was 12 years old, I found my BFF. I’d met her and was friends with her, but one time I had a sleepover party. She was shy and I was loud and obnoxious, so we’d never really bonded. The day after our intense partying of movies and cheese doodles, we literally passed notes around my room. We were in seventh grade; it was fun; I have no further explanation. But I’m grateful for it. That day, Shannon became my best friend, because for all our differences, in writing, we clicked and we got each other. I have one tattoo, on my back, and I consider it my blood sister mark for life. Wherever life takes us, we are bonded, always. Were it not for that day of passing notes, although we had the option to do anything else involving human interaction, I don’t know if I could say that.

When I was 16 years old, I wrote innocent love letters back and forth with my boyfriend. We were going to get married and have seven children. We were also chaste Christians who spent prom night at a comedy club, not in a hotel room. That I got heckled at by the comedian for being a priss, but point is, my high school boyfriend was a good person, and I feel very blessed to have spent my time in life that I could have been getting into such trouble and woe that I was not ready for, with a kind person who treated me with the utmost of respect.

When I was 19 years old, I was no longer with aforementioned boyfriend, and it was sad, but I’d become full of hippie spirit, at least as full of hippie spirit as a 19-year-old conservative Christian virgin can get, and I’d met some people at Smuggler’s Notch, because my parents didn’t see Kentucky and Pennsylvania farms as the only places to party. Smuggler’s Notch ruled in a major way, and I met some amazing people there that I’m sad I can’t find on Myspace or Facebook.

But it was before the Internet was used by most people, and we exchanged addresses. I wrote to long after, and received letters from, people that I never would have known, except for one random week our parents decided to go to the same place. Some of us, we just shot the breeze: Hi, how are you, etc. A couple of people, we used to send poems back and forth. Sometimes our own, but mostly official poetry. I knew I might only see some of these kids for one week, once a year, but there was something really good about knowing, as a terrified-by-the-world-at-large college kid, that I could copy by hand “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” mail it to someone, and know that s/he’d understand.

When I was 28 years old, I wrote letter after letter to my ex who’d decided our marriage was no longer a good idea. “If only I’d thought of the right words, I could have held onto your heart.” And I learned that sometimes letters were exercises in futility. But I’m grateful for the diary I kept of that time, the one my mom suggested I start. I read it again sometimes as a reminder, that as excruciating the pain can be, if we’re lucky, that pain leads to new life. And I’m reminded that sometimes it’s not my business to hold onto people’s hearts with my words.

In the same year, I got an IM from an Unknown User. “I’m starting an online game of ‘Survivor.’ Would you like to play?” was the gist of it. WTF I thought, and any other time in my life, would have likely discarded it. But what did I have to lose, I wondered. I was squatting in the computer room of my parents’ house with my kittens, while pondering the failures of my life. I could use a harmless yet sociopathic online game.

That game was so much fun, but I was still hurt to lose the AIM friendship of a woman named Barbara who blocked me after I voted her off, even though we were playing a game and she was not in my alliance. Because she’d become a friend — a new pen pal for the ages, where the words are less on paper, more on screen, but still so important.

And so I’m especially grateful today, to be friends with Ben. He was my alliance’s first blindside, and will still make fun of me for backstabbing him. But at the end of the day, we didn’t become friends because we were playing the same game, with end goals in mind. We became friends because we got along, and loved “Degrassi.” And we kept writing to each other.

When I was 29 years old, I found a kindred spirit through Sars at Tomato Nation. Sars was already my hero. However, I’d read everything at TN, and all about my shows at the site she founded, Television Without Pity, and I needed new reading material. She always links to people in her Cherry Tomatoes section, and one day, linked to Jersey Girl. Jersey Girl had a personal blog on Diary-X. I clicked the link, and it changed my life forever.

Around the same time, I’d read from Pamie, another TWoP family member, blogger, and writer who inspires me, that when Pamie was stressing over her second novel, her agent reminded her that people were not looking to Pamie to write the next Great American Novel; Pamie’s readers just wanted to “hang out with her in her living room,” in terms of writing.

So when I was 29 years old, I started writing online. Jersey Girl, Pamie, and Sars all reminded me of Cindy Lubbock, voices in the night to people who were lonely. It wasn’t night when I read them, but I was lonely. The dream I’d built my life around had crashed and dissolved. What now, then? As I trudged to and from my desk, day in and day out.

What now was an Internet full of pen pals. They maybe didn’t write back to me about their day, or send Christina Rossetti repost poems my way. But they wrote unabashedly, and now I wanted to do it too. So I joined Diary-X, the place where Jersey Girl wrote.

And through Diary-X, when I was 30 years old, I found a diary by someone who touched my heart, and who put up his IM, and one night I talked to him, and now we are friends on Myspace and Facebook.

And when I was 30 years old, I joined Myspace against my better judgment. Oh, how I mocked my friend Babz for being on such a silly, narcissistic site. And the rest is history. I started copying all my Diary-X entries to Myspace, and felt like such a traitor.

Later that year, Diary-X suffered a massive drive failure, and the entire site crashed completely. Jersey Girl’s entries, all gone. The other person I’d made friends with through the site, who seriously wrote some of the most thoughtful, intellectual, sociological blogs — his stuff was gone too. My essays were also gone from the site, and that is the moment I fully gave it up for Myspace, because thanks to it, all my writing minus, strangely, the entry I wrote after the ex left, was still there on the Internet.

I didn’t feel triumphant. I felt relieved for my own writing, but so sad for those who’d lost theirs. For them, mainly, but also for myself. I’d love to link to them. I’d gotten to read the writing of people who did the one thing I’d ever wanted to do — make people feel less lonely. I wish their words were still out there.

When I was 31, I was waitressing at Boulder Creek, and I felt so shy. I don’t know how to make friends IRL, unless they came up to me. I was friends with a lot of them on Myspace though, and some people read my blog, and started talking to me about it. I made friends at that job that I don’t think I would have, were it not for Myspace.

When I was 32, I met a bunch of people in the Myspace blogosphere. I was welcomed into a den of writers, so many people who spent their days writing and breaking up the ennui for others, helping people feel less lonely every time they wrote. I became friends with many of them, and my life has been a richer place since.

When I was 33, I spent my first-ever Christmas with my family across the country, and oh man, it hurt. But on the computer, I saw family there too. People whom I’d mostly never met in real life, some of whom I’d met for only a brief night, but their faces were familiar to me.

I’m 34 now. And if I had to talk about my life now in the past, I would say that when I was 34, I stayed friends with most of the online friends I spent last Christmas with, and am even more grateful for them now that my life doesn’t feel quite so traumatic. Some of these friends have saved my life in the past year, in various ways, and I never would have had that were it not for Myspace.

Yeah, Facebook is fun; it’s grown on me, and I’m a sucker for Farmville. But part of the reason it’s grown on me is that I love looking down my status updates and seeing half “real life” friends, half Myspace friends.

I like my friends here. I write because of people I’ve found while having “no life” on the Internet. Step by step, I’ve gotten to here. I like it, and I’m staying. Through trying to pay it forward and help others feel less lonely, I’ve found a true community of people who have made me feel less lonely, and I thank every one of you guys for that.

This blog repost tonight, is in honor of one of the friends I met on Myspace, through the blogosphere. He remained a loyal and extremely fun, upbeat friend on Facebook. He lost his life today, and while he and I were never close, he was a pen pal, and I will miss him very much, though I am sure not nearly as much as those who were lucky enough to be close to him. Rest in peace, Deleeta Catcher, and I plan to see you on the other side — hold down the fort; make sure things are cool. Love to you, always.

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4 Responses to Pen Pals

  1. Anonymous says:

    Judi this was interesting to read, reminds me too of the day’s we wrote letters,and all the people I met on my life journey,kind of miss it!
    thank you

  2. Jcm Manuel says:

    You’re a good writer, and a funny one too. Funny in a good way, mind you. Not funny as in “you told a good joke there” or as in “you sound like an entertainer”, more funny like in “you’re making life more fun”, or as in “the word is already a better place with you being in it”. It seems like we share (at least) one thing here: we greatly value our memories. I could tell about how much I’ve been hurt by my best friend who unfriended me a few years ago for having made a mistake, and then blocked me. So apparently a mistake really does turn a friend into villain, just like that. I’m still not over it.

    But, just like you (so I guess), I have been revisiting my memories, and although it’s hurtful to, for instance, re-read the many writes and chats that I had with my friend, it also somehow makes the pain more bearable. Because I feel like I can believe that she would normally have forgiven me my mistake – if just she has not been lashing out so hard on me and throw me out of 3 social networks where we were connected (and took 3 other of my best friends with her). She made it almost impossible to get back to normal without losing her face (well, not in my eyes – I would have been delighted – but in her own eyes I can see how difficult it is to realize what you’ve done). So I try to always remember her the way she was. There is hurt in it, but also some kind of ointment for the wound. And yes, I always think “Oh, back in 2010, how lovely that friendship was”. In my memories she’s never changed. Even while in reality, it’s like another person took her place – someone I could not recognize anymore. Does that make sense? I’m not sure. But reading your blog, this is the sort of feeling I got. Memories never die.

    PS. You seem to be a Christian isn’t it? Saw that on your facebook page. But you look more human than some other Christians that I’ve known 😉

    Thanks for (re)posting this. It was like soul wax to me.

    • judisunshine says:

      Thank you so, so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them. I’m sorry your friend did that to you. Personally, I think defriending and blocking someone who doesn’t pose a threat to you? Is cowardly and rude. And while it stings, you’re probably better off without someone so immature in your life, because I mean really — how old are we?

      But I’m glad that you were able to put a positive spin on it — that is awesome. I’m still sorry though. I hope things work out for you in the future with her, but it sounds like you deserve friends who are less flaky!

      As far as being a Christian, I don’t know what I am anymore. I’m not religious, but I still care about God, if God exists. I’ve had a crisis of faith in the last decade. I haven’t lost all hope though.

      Thank you again, I really appreciate your comments and I love hearing your stories, as well. Hope you have a great day 🙂

      • Jcm Manuel says:

        Sounds like other friends (the “not knowing who I am” thing, yet still caring about God). I think it’s a common phenomenon that we can’t believe anymore in any “bookish” kind of way – we need to be more reasonable, dare to look at thinks the way they are, e.g. religion is what we made of it, we create Christianity. Having said that, looking our fears right in the face, we may discover we can care just the same and have faith in life and hope upon god no matter whether or not we know who exactly he (or she or “it” is) – we just know it’s bigger than life. And I have some trust in it, that if we feel like life is bigger than us, it’s for a good reason. Essentially we need to be daring to keep the faith that in the end Love will win, no matter what.

        It was nice talking with you. Take care my friend.

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