(photography by Liz Cooper)
I received a letter over Christmas, but it looked and felt familiar in my hands as I turned it over, and then I noticed the bright red stamp – returned to sender. It was a letter I had written a pen pal I had from two years ago. He’s a middle aged, married man from New York state – we met on a penpal website and he would send me boxes of odd and fun things he found, and in return I would send train ticket stubs, postcards, pieces of maps, and long winded letters about my pre-20s struggles. We corresponded for over a year and a half before he sent what now appears to be his last package to me. I opened up my rejected letter and read back fragments of my former self – and I’ve decided to permit you entrance into this collection of very honest snippets from my life at that point. Honesty seems to be my new thing.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible person for taking so long to respond to your last letter/package. I’m on summer break now, so I’m no longer at my school address. I’m back to couch surfing at my parents’ house until the school year starts up again.
I agree with what you wrote in your letter, that I’m actually fairly close to NY! Most of my penpals are overseas or on the west coast of Canada. It’s funny to think that I’m writing to you in another country, and you’re closer than someone I write to in my own country! Distance and geography are weird.
To answer you question about visiting my parents, when I’m at school I try to visit once a month but my life at Trent University is very busy so I often go months without seeing my family. My father came to visit me once during the school year. I try to bus or take the train home, but it’s so expensive. I don’t mind not seeing them that much, we keep in touch over facebook and text and I call my mom every few days. I’m a fairly independent person regardless and when I don’t live close to people I’m often bad at keeping in touch because I put all my energy into the place that I’m in. I’ve lost a lot of friends that way from falling out of touch, but like I said, as an independent person I don’t particularly care. I’m selfish, I’m driven to focus on myself and my goals and don’t require friends to make me feel good about what I’m doing in the moment. I’m a very social person however and wherever I am I do have friends, they’re just not always the deep, heartfelt connections that most people carry throughout their lives.
I think it would be nice to travel with a partner but to be perfectly honest I’ve always preferred traveling by myself. I like the time to think and process what’s going on around me, I do a lot of writing and reading and I don’t like to be disturbed. I feel more outgoing when I travel on my own. I’m much more likely to talk to strangers, find adventures, and truly experience a culture when I’m solo.
I haven’t done much reading lately and I feel ashamed of that. I was always known through elementary school and high school, and my first college, as the girl who always had a book. Lately I just haven’t found the time to sit down and read for pleasure. It’s a shame because that used to be so intrinsic to who I was. There wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t at least attempt to read. School readings don’t count of course since I’m required to look into them for the course, although this year I wound up reading a lot of interesting philosophy material that I could learn to enjoy as an act of leisure. Socrates (and by that I mean Plato of course) really piqued my interest this year and I finished reading Plato’s 5 Dialogues very quickly. Even though I just spent 8 months immersed in philosophical culture I know I have still barely even scratched the surface. It just makes me more excited to tackle the following years of my degree.
I think we’re all a little lonely, to be honest. Pen paling for me is about searching for connections. I feel similar to you in the sense that I feel all too often that I don’t make meaningful connections or conversations with people in real life, and that I lie to impress in person. I’ve been writing as a means of coping and freedom for a really long time and I find it hard to lie through my writing. It’s always been a product of raw honesty. So when I write to other people I find myself relinquishing the truer bits of who I am more easily. So pen paling is how I keep myself honest, as well as having the privilege of seeing snippets of other people; whether they be lying or truthful.
I too, am clinically depressed with general anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and mild/manageable OCD. I’m on medications to help out with these disorders and to keep myself balanced. Recently my psychiatrist assessed my progress and we both assumed it would be alright for me to test the waters of life without medication. It went terribly. After only two months of countless mental breakdowns, anxiety and panic attacks, a resurfacing eating disorder, and my fall into becoming a borderline recluse, I was put back onto meds. I feel much better again. The medication keeps me balanced and makes me feel more like myself. So I’ve never been shy about admitting that I need it to be functional. Maybe someday I’ll move away from medicine but for now I need it, and there’s no shame in knowing it.
My summer to date has been mostly a boring one consisting of way too much work and not enough backpacking or adventure in general. I hope this letter finds you well, happy, and focused on something greater.
I hope to hear from you soon, although I understand if you wait 6 months so you can fathom a sense of justice.