I had a pen pal. This is one of those vaguely quaint childhood stories, fair warning.
It was the awkward years- middle school- my first experience of rotating classrooms for each period of the day.
The desks were heavy laminate, hard, smooth, and pale faux bois, with built in chairs attached on one side. The covers lifted up, and there was a deep grey metal compartment underneath the writing surface.
I can't remember the beginning, nor can I really remember the middle or the end, I just remember the connection, the pleasure.
We wrote notes in pencil on the desk top, drew each other pictures, and put them inside the desk. Sometimes it was a conversation that continued on a single note within the desk, back and forth. I looked forward to slipping into my place, third row on the far right near the window, for English, and later in the day into the same spot for Drama.
I think they were always simple, innocuous- how is your day? What should I draw for you? And my responses similarly benign.
The teacher was aware; she must have thought us sweet because she washed our desk down only at the end of the week- and I knew that the others were wiped clean daily. I didn't mind that she saw our notes, and appreciated the tact and care it cost her to never comment on it- because she never did.
I tried hard to not know who sat there after/ before me- I didn't want to know. I knew it was a boy- only boys wrote like that, drew like that. But the mystery was thrilling, and also liberating- he was my dream boy, my fantasy boy, the pretend version, the virtual version of himself.
I knew though, and so did he. And we never ever mentioned it. Our correspondence continued until he graduated from eighth grade- he was a year ahead. I missed him.
There is something special and different about a pen pal- about the way we interpret and connect through the written word. How we see ourselves, and how we perceive others, and the extra added dimension it reveals. It's precious.
I appreciate and value it now too.