That’s me, circa 1988 or 89. It was my 8th grade year and I had just entered into the era of thinking I was super cool. I mean, check out the black mock turtleneck and the silver chain. I know I don’t need to draw attention to the awesome hair, that speaks for itself. I don’t think I look that much different today if you can get past the hair color and style, the dark circles that have become a permanent fixture under my eyes, the teeth which have been veneered (twice) and as my daughter pointed out, I’m wearing different earrings. That was Missy’s (my nickname for her) reason as to why she didn’t know who this person was.
If I think back to my 8th grade year at St. Lawrence, I can almost agree with Missy. I don’t know that girl either. I did something that year that I think about every once and awhile and when I do, my heart beats faster, my face gets flushed and I am ashamed. In fact, it almost makes me nervous to post about it, but I’m hoping it will be therapeutic. There is only a small number of people that know this story – I may have shared it with my bookclub in a wine induced confession.
In 8th grade, we were given the names and addresses of kids that wanted pen pals. I always thought having a pen pal would be the best thing ever. I had this fantasy of exchanging letters for years and then meeting face to face one day and being just the best of friends. I sent 2 letters. One to a boy named Pedro in Spain and another to (let the shame begin) a girl, whose name I can’t remember in France. Pedro never responded. I gave up on any hopes of a European romance after about a month. The girl from France however, did respond. She asked that I send her a picture and she would do the same. I replied with all kinds of questions for her and my most recent picture. I was completely fascinated with their school system for some reason. A few weeks later, I got her response. Not only did she enthusiastically answer all of my questions, but she told me I was pretty and that she loved my hair.
Enclosed in that foreign envelope, with stationary that looked like purple graph paper, covered in writing that had a slightly different cursive script and ink that looked like it was from a fountain pen, was a photo. She had very thin, mousy brown hair. It was straight, parted in the middle and cut in a bob to her chin. Her face was round with red, full cheeks. She wore glasses with thick brown rims. I stared at that photo for a really long time and the thought that entered my mind was I can’t be pen pals with this girl! She isn’t pretty! In my small, 13 year old, conceited mind, she had ruined my pen pal fantasy. How dare she! I was actually mad! I could have responded and told her that our long distance friendship was over before it even really started, but I did not. Instead, I never responded to the letter. Ever. I got one more letter from her and I must have blocked its contents from my mind because I knew what I did was horrible and I was embarrassed.
Here I sit, over 20 years later, and I still feel like an ass. I have children who I would be mortified if they ever treated another person like I treated the little girl in France. And I’m sure my own parents would be equally disappointed had they known what I did. What I wouldn’t do to be able to find that girl today and apologize. I’m sure she doesn’t even remember the rude American that never responded to her letters and would probably think I was crazy. She obviously moved on – it’s not like she was sending me letter after letter begging for my friendship.
No wonder the French hate us.