Other Peoples’ Letters

Day Five is a real challenge for me and it’s not for the reason you’re thinking:

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

I can be brief, really I can. My work requires me to be able to distill complex topics into very succinct forms like a single page white paper or two Power Point slides or three minutes of audio explanation. Brief I can do, it’s the invasion of privacy that the prompt is asking you to consider that bothers me.

Like my notebooks, I would hate for someone else to read my letters. Even though they’re usually not all that personal, just sort of a rundown of what’s going on in my life or the life of whomever is writing me. I hate knowing someone else has read something that’s supposed to be private, no matter how small.

Like when Mike, the kid who sat next to me in 8th grade science class, found and read my journal, one with sunflowers on a bright blue background (really, brain, you remember this and yet can’t remember to take out the trash each Tuesday morning). At one level, I was mortified because he would now know that I liked him; this secret was already blatantly obvious to everyone, with the way I fawned all over him in class. At another, it was that he knew everything else I’d bothered to write down. I spent the week he held onto my journal – why I never complained to an adult to make him give it back, I will never understand – not being able to sleep, worried what other revelations he would reveal. He never did say anything other than that he already knew I liked him. We went to different high schools and I ran into him at a football game in eleventh grade, both of us drinking cool, made-from-powder lemonade after performing in our schools’ halftime shows. I asked him why he never said anything to anyone about what he’d learned; his response “Who would have cared?”

There is a narcissism there, that someone else would care about what I wrote in a letter or had written to me. For most people, my letters would be banal, beyond boring. Little notes about what new tricks Squirms had learned or how our (pathetic) attempt at gardening was growing. (Like, you know, the sort of thing I write about here. Heh.)

That letter, the letter I find on the path. I don’t try to return it to its owner, not because I don’t care about my fellow human beings, but because returning the letter means the correct recipient (or sender) would know that someone else did read it. They now know that I know whatever that very private thing is. And who wants that?

3 thoughts on “Other Peoples’ Letters”

  1. I find it interesting that he didn’t share his knowledge but he held on to the notebook for a week reading it. A true testament to how interested he was.


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