I couldn’t bring myself to just throw away the rest of the bag of letters, there was just too many of them. I sorted some of them into stacks and put them all in a bag to take home and go through one by one. I don’t think there is necessarily anything important in them but there may be something or someone worth writing about.
Later, at home, in front of the TV I take another look. Past the layer of grade school notes I find several letters postmarked from various countries. In the eighties in an attempt to make contact with the outside world I became a penpal. For a dollar you could get a letter through a service from the back of a newspaper. The letters were all on very thin paper and in the airmail envelopes that used to be necessary for lower rates on international letters. The notes are actually pretty boring accounts of of the lives of people. The only one that I remember sticking out was a Russian that asked me about a lot of the political strife of the time. He had some strange ideas of Americans and how we went about our daily lives. Sadly his letter isn’t among these so I guess I haven’t been perfect at saving notes. The stamps are interesting though. Maybe I’ll save those. How much room can a stamp take up in a suitcase?
When I graduated high school I moved too much to keep track of penpals and when I look at what they wrote I probably got bored pretty fast. I don’t remember ever writing anyone and not getting a letter back but I remember getting letters and not replying. Not the best ambassador of international relations. Maybe when I put this in a book I’ll make a few changes to make me look like a better person.
The next pile of letters is from family and former high school classmates. These were letters actually sent to me after I moved. I realize now it’s a big deal to leave a small town with no intention of coming back. There are a lot of “I will never forget you”s and a few “friends forever”s as well. I didn’t keep up with these people over the years but thanks to the internet and Facebook it’s come back full circle and I’m back in touch with nearly all of the authors of these notes. None of them are famous so their signatures haven’t gone up in value and the letters though obviously heartfelt aren’t very interesting. ... trash.
The next letters I find are a pleasant surprise and really get me thinking. Four letters with envelopes postmarked from Washington state. They’re from Joseph. Joseph was a boy that stayed with me a little while back in the early 90‘s.
As I try to remember the details of our relationship I try to classify it. I think I must have been like a mentor for him or maybe like a father figure. I entertain this idea for a while until I do the math and remember I was only 23 at the time. Besides that I don’t actually remember giving him any advice or guidance. Maybe a big brother figure then. Did I buy him alcohol?
I read the notes and realize I have to find him. I suddenly want to know what’s happened to him. The story of him staying with me in Florida is still in my head but I’m a little fuzzy on a few of the details. I’m learning, too, that another witness of an era in my life always adds something to a memory.
After two hours online I finally have a partial clue. A question on an online forum asking about post hurricane situations where we met in Florida. With that e-mail address I find a four year old ad for a roommate in what looks like some funky commune situation. In the ad it says one of the roommates is gay. I guess Joseph could be gay if not then he’s at least gay friendly. Either way I guess his stay with me didn’t scar him. More searching shows nothing in Washington or Oregon less than a few years old. If it’s him he’s probably not there anymore or may have just gone off the grid.
An hour or so later I find another clue. Photographs of carpentry. No pictures of him but on this website it shows where the pictures were taken. The most recent ones were taken in Los Angeles. This was a great find. It meant that I could search his name associated with LA. It also meant that, unless he’s already moved, he was only an hour away.
I found him in only a few minutes. As a matter of fact I had already seen is profile on Facebook and dismissed it as being too old to be him. I also didn’t originally think the picture looked like him. I kept thinking of him as the “boy” and had a perfect memory of what he looked like. Of course that memory was what he looked like seventeen years ago. I should have checked my Iphone for an age progression application.
I was sure it was him (his brother was on his friends list) but would he even remember me? I decide to be short with my message to him and philosophical about getting a response so I sent the following: Are you now, or have you ever been an imaginary friend? A few days passed before I got the response. Florida. We made arrangements to meet before I moved to Atlanta.