In a strip mall in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, sandwiched between a 7-11 convenience store and a sushi restaurant I wouldn’t take my worst enemy to, I had a mailbox in a dingy postal annex. The year was 1997 and I was living the life of an actor (a vagabond); no permanent address, only pre-paid calling cards to contact home and a 1985 periwinkle blue Saab that on occasion, was where I would sleep at night. Oddly enough, it was one of the most exhilarating times of my life because I was pursuing my dreams. I guess that is sometimes an advantage of youth.
Like any kid trying to make it in a city so cold and cruel, I found myself at times feeling the pangs of disappointment and utter discouragement. I had recently called home on a pay phone (before the days of Purell, mind you) to vent my frustration to my mom. As always, she was compassionate and gave me the encouragement to carry on in my pursuit.
A week later I walked into that postal annex and had a note in my mailbox that said to please see the manager. Had I missed a payment? Had I bounced a check? Had someone died of massive food poisoning from the sushi place next door, forcing the entire strip mall to close?
I hate confrontation.
Reluctantly, I went up to the front desk. The manager informed me that a piece of my mail had been put in someone’s mailbox by mistake and that person wanted to give it to me directly because they had accidentally opened it. I took the person’s number from the manager and said I would arrange to pick up my mail. In retrospect, there were red flags ALL OVER this situation. Not once did I think this could be the plot of a serial killer. Being young and from the Midwest, I took this as a chance to make a new friend.
When I met the guy who had received my mail, we shared a lot of similarities. We were almost the same age, I was from Nebraska and he was from Kansas, we were both pursuing acting careers and our names were eerily similar; this fact causing the postal mix up. He told me he had ripped into the letter without reading the envelope, thinking it was a letter from HIS mom. It was actually a letter from my mom and the pages were filled with all of those amazing things only a mom could write her child. He said it wasn’t until the second page that he realized it wasn’t intended for him but he kept reading anyway because he too needed those words of encouragement. He wanted me to thank her and then he proceeded to tell me how lucky I was to have such a supportive mom. I got in my car and quickly read the letter. It was a long letter, something she has always been known for as she is a lover of words and correspondence. She wrote about hearing sadness in my voice during that last phone call, about always remembering to believe in myself, about mistakes she has made in her life and about how much she believes in me. I called to tell her the story and thank her and she was embarrassed someone else read her letter.
“It was just a bunch of babble”, she said, trying to draw attention away from herself.
To this day, it was the best letter I have ever received.
My love of correspondence came directly from my mom. Long before the Internet and emails, she taught me the importance of staying in touch with people and frequently reminded me that everyone loves “fun mail”.
Is letter writing officially dead? In a world where we are limited to a certain amount of “characters”, how can we properly communicate?