Return to Sender
Return to Sender
Contrary to popular myth, rites of passage are not merely restricted to spinning the bottle at sweet sixteen and emptying it at twenty-one. They can occur at any time, at any age. And like baby’s first curse word or grandma’s last tooth, all are inevitable. Take for instance, the rite of changing address books. This watershed event in a woman’s lifetime, usually coincides with a dramatic drop in heel height and an insidious increase in pants size, but for those not prone to procrastination or predisposed to obsessive compulsion, it can happen sooner. Either way, make no mistake— eventually the time is going to come when the old address book has got to go.
I’d been putting it off for decades, and apparently without much consternation since I hadn’t sent anyone a card for several years running. But this year, I decided, things were going to be different. No more hollow e-mailed sentiments for me. No sir. This year, I was going to write out my store bought cards the old fashioned way—in long hand, affix them with a real, live stamp,seal them in an actual envelope I'd lick myself. All of which meant I'd be pulling out the old address book.
As I flipped through the dog-eared, ink-smeared pages of the decades old and bent up spiral bound book, I realized, sadly, that nearly half the names preserved therein were people who were now either dead, divorced or had moved- present whereabouts unknown.
In trying to keep things current, I'd actually gone so far as to “X” out the mortally deceased or maritally defunct, an act which at the time, hadn't seemed as cold as it did to me now. I was simply being organized, lest I forget those numbered amongst the departed and accidentally send them a greeting card.
I thumbed the pages, lingering over the names of old college friends I’d once sworn to party with until the end of time but whom, over time, had slowly broken rank to join that unfortunate fraternity populated by the crossed out victims of life’s changing priorities. How I missed those people. But did I miss them enough to send them a card? Or was it too late to go back in time, too silly to waste a stamp on a potentially dead letter to be returned with no forwarding address, as if the addressee joined the witness protection program and had been erased from existence?
Pondering and wandering, I noticed a persistent unwillingness on my part to file married friends under their newly appropriated letters, opting instead to keep them alphabetized under their maiden names (with their married names noted in parenthesis) an act which foreshadowed more than a few divorces.
The stragglers were sandwiched in between, mostly in the M’s and B’s: loyal friends who’d stood the test of time, aging relatives who’d lived well past their primes. Local pizza parlors. Dependable plumbers. There was a number for my old piano tuner, a gentleman whose services had doubtless grown as obsolete the hat he’d worn whenever he'd come calling, leather bag in hand like a country doctor, with his tuning forks and wedges of felt. I remembered how he always played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” when he was finished with the tuning. I really liked that old guy. But his name was crossed out too. It must have been the year I bought the digital piano. Either that, or he'd tweaked his last string long ago.
I was pleased to note that the O’s were well represented, a consequence, no doubt, of my having been brought up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. There was an entry in the T’s for a guy known simply as. ‘Tickets Kenny.’ He was a smooth talker who used to hook me up for all the Dead concerts so I never had to stand in line. His name was crossed out as well- probably after Jerry died. Or had he, too, taken that final, one-way long, strange trip?
The number of a lone hoagie shop was scratched across the terrible emptiness of Z, but the J,U,V and X sections were still bare as they’d been thirty years ago. I’d been saving those spaces for the plethora of yet unknown friends with exotic names I'd fully expected to someday know well enough to record their addresses. I’m still waiting.
Then there was the disturbing smattering of mysterious strangers, names preserved, faces long forgotten. Where had I met these people? How had I known them? What shared experience had so moved me as to commit their names, in ink, to a book I was to own for the next thirty years? But there's a type of amnesia that aids us in filtering out Those Who No Longer Matter, leaving them to inhabit someone else’s address book.
My new address book is much smaller, more modest. There are a few conspicuous omissions— namely my ex-husband. I toyed with the idea of adding him, but since I didn’t even have his full address, I wound up leaving the X section blank again. But I left enough room for a name or two. I figure between now and the time I become the latest cross out in someone else’s address book, I might meet an X or two yet.
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