I'm not sure if anyone writes letters anymore. I just did. Sort of. I typed up a letter and printed it out, then put it in an envelope and mailed it. I went one step farther, too, by printing pictures onto actual photo paper and putting them in the envelope. Electrons writ large. That's all just a little archaic these days, and is the domain of bill collectors and solicitors. I actually used to get mad at my dad when he would send me typed letters while I was in the Army. Too impersonal. Something was off-putting about it, and reading some typed missive with his hand-wrung signature in blue ink at the bottom made it feel like a form letter from the home office. Like it came from someone who only met me once, during the interview process, but as a matter of business has been kept apprised of my doings:
"You're due for a letter to the Ft. Bragg hire, sir."
"Very well, brief me on his status and bring up my last. We'll append it with the necessary updates, and get it a fresh signature"
I came to realize that it was simply the way of things, then I got on board. I suppose the nobler spirits among us will fight it to the end, and die under a pile of one-cent stamps, in the midst of a web search for the current postal rate. Now everyone has computers and other mo-bile devices, so the emails and text messages and .jpg attachments fly, and putting paper in envelopes is a thing of the past. Except for some people, who don't have the luxury. I know two such people in particular, in those dire technological straits for two extremely different reasons. They don't even know each other. I write to one about the other, because I don't know how to write to either of them about himself:
Boy, where to start. I have a friend who has been in prison in Boise for some five years now, and I haven’t written him a letter in over three. I am somehow particularly bad at massaging this kind of tragic significance. I see things too cynically, I guess:
“Hey, lovely day! How’s the crushing incarceration coming along? Any day you don’t get shivved is a good one! Am I right? Huh? Hang on, gotta go check the tenderloin, and I think my cursed iPod has gone into sleep mode again. I swear I set it for 30 minutes! What about you? Been allowed to see the sky this week?”
So yes, it seems odd to me to come out of nowhere and just be politely conversational after years of staying detached from your struggles. But hey, we need this. Both of us.
Remember being in school, and having summer vacation? Every time you came back for the next school year in the fall, all the people you didn’t see over the summer looked completely different. You didn’t think your friends changed, because you were right there while it was happening, and the changes were so gradual and small. Because I live away from home, and only see my folks a few times a year, I get that feeling a little bit with them. They seem a little older to me every time I get back there. It is kind of a little sadness I get right up front of the visit when I spy a slightly gaunter cheek or a clumsier exit from the car. Then it passes after a few seconds and we get on about our business. If I lived down the street and saw them all the time, I probably wouldn’t notice. But if that were the case, then it would blindside me all of a sudden one day. One of them will be down with some kind of old person’s ailment, and all I would be able to say is “I didn’t see this coming.” They are still very young, very healthy, have a couple of good decades left ahead of them, and this is all kind of over-morose to be saying. But in a way I do see it coming, and I don’t know if that’s better or worse, because I won’t have the luxury of being able to say, “I didn’t see this coming.” Instead it will be a much more impotent “I don’t know what to say.”
Because I never do know what to say.
All things have their cycles, and when you start shooting out children you realize that names are no different. Most generations seem to reach back to a previous one, and declare their creativity by naming their children Esther or Rupert. One day “Andy” will be novel and interesting again. But nowadays everyone wants to claim the ethnicity that has not actually existed in their families for at least a couple of generations, and so they name their kids Bronwyn and Jacques. I don’t get it. Some names require an accent and a destiny that includes riding Vespas with the suffocatingly bouncy soundtrack from 10 years of iPod commercials forever in their heads. Parents are giving those names to their bland American children now, and hoping for the best, but getting what they are asking for. I suppose we got kind of weird with our kid's name, and sometimes I wish we would have just gone with Catherine, but I have gotten quite used to the name that she has grown into.
I hope I have not depressed him.