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The Letter Never Sent by Anthony Pacioni

I found a letter in a trunk. We had just moved into a recently purchased old house. One evening shortly after we were settled, I went up to look around. I paused at the top of the stairs to see a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, giving off a dim light. My eyes surveyed the emptiness of the space before me. In a dark corner, however there was a trunk. I approached it slowly but with a great deal of anticipation, hoping that it would contain some great romantic mystery. It was filled with books which I subsequently sold. I did keep one titled One Hundred and One Famous Poems. It contained many of the poems I had in high school. Reading them over again gave me a kind of nostalgic pleasure. Turning the pages, I came upon a letter. The book and letter are now a part of my library. I moved to a spot below the naked bulb and began to read.....

Dear Frank: Sorting my mail this morning and finding a letter from you was a pleasant surprise. Some sixty years of life flashed before me in the blink of an eye. As kids we had some wonderful times together. But the ‘good time’ is not what I want to write about. I want to share with you what getting older means to me. You have been my best friend, even though we have not seen each other for many years, I owe you an explanation and know that you will understand.

Your were always a friendly outgoing person. You never argued, you never held a grudge, you never spoke ill of anyone. Is it any wonder that others liked you and sought out your company? I was the opposite: hostile and aggressive. I was quick to judge and ready to find fault with people in order to prove I was right and knew best. I often criticized your behavior and was quick to point out where and how you should have changed. How often did I tell you that you were too friendly. Someday people will take advantage of you, I said, and you will be sorry. I spoke as if I knew the answer to everything but now I know that it is only the insecure person who has a need to tell others how to live! I remember terminating our friendship in anger many times. You always managed a reconciliation, much to my satisfaction. I never told you that. I should have.

While we both came from poor families, you were an only child but I was one of nine. I’m sure I was more emotionally and physically deprived because you looked well fed and physically fit while I saw myself as puny. Indeed I was often hungry. I was so aware of my plight and often had no one to turn to for help. Having you in my life was a great consolation.

Your mother and father spent quality time with you. They took you to visit friends and relatives while my father ignored me. I was envious. My mother had no time for me. The poor woman was too busy cooking and cleaning and washing for a family of eleven. My father seldom spoke to me and when he did, he’d call me stupid or jackass. I was afraid of him. He was a stranger in whose house I temporarily lived and who at any moment might kick me out. Then what would become of me? In those days fear walked besides me demanding its due of suffering but very often the suffering was delayed by the kindness of your friendship.

The day came when I went off to college. You said that you wanted to go to work and not continue your education. I thought you were a fool. If you remember, I pleaded with you to change your mind but you did not. Now, I know that you knew what you wanted.

Then the war came. I don’t remember exactly what happened after the war and after we returned home. I know we saw each other a few times. Then I heard you had married and moved to Idaho. I never married. Just as well, I guess. I was still an angry young man with an attitude problem toward the whole world. If I had married, I’m sure I would have ended up in divorce court. I figured that there was no need in messing up some woman’s life.

I still had my senior year to complete so I decided to do that when I got home from the Army. I graduated with a degree in business administration. I was not only angry but serious enough to want to get what I believed life owed me. Professional success did come my way but it didn’t always bring me happiness. I knew that I was struggling for something but could not identify it by name. Each time I was promoted, I thought that it would give me what I wanted but it did not.

I enjoyed my work and was satisfied with what I was doing. Away from work it was something else. At times in the dark stillness of a sleepless night my brooding mind took over. Very often I waited the approaching dawn for relief from my painful feelings. It was during this painful waiting that I realized that something was missing from my life. Still I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Many years went by in a kind of limbo of personal dissatisfaction and suddenly I was of retirement age. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue working. I no longer enjoyed my job. I didn’t need much money and I felt that my pension would be enough to live on. The question nagged me for weeks. On the one hand I wanted so much to quit but on the other hand, I was afraid to make such a drastic change. I finally took the plunge. Thus began an inward journey that led to an understanding of my life.

Retirement gave me plenty of time to reflect on my life. Many were the hours spent in reviewing and recording on paper childhood memories. With much sincerity I tried to feel into and come to terms with those experiences.

Slowly I began to realize that my father wasn’t the ogre I made him out to be, even though I felt much hurt at his hands. I had badly misjudged him. It was difficult for him to show affection. Maybe the heavy responsibility he had to support a large family was too daunting for him. He had to have been aware of my belligerent attitude. It probably even upset him greatly. He may have feared that my behavior would get me into trouble and placed restraints on me and did what many parents of his generation did and that was to be very directive. He really did try to steer me in the right direction. His way was to TELL me to behave, not to smoke, not to drink, to be careful of the people with whom I associated and to always go to school. It’s clear to me now that he always had my interest at heart and some of his messages actually got through. At the time, however I thought he was harassing me and pushing me around because it gave him pleasure to do so. I certainly didn’t understand, but then what child does? This was especially true for me not only because of my father’s less than effective measures but because of everything else I was experiencing. There seemed to be no relief from all the needs and demands I had and when they were not met, my response was anger and a desire to hurt. As a child, I pushed the hostility button very hard.

Now I’m older and wiser. Now I see life as presenting many challenges along to road to maturity. We all want to understand and be understood. And now, I mean no harm to anyone.

Everyone has to deal with problems and difficulties. They come in my stripes and many colors. We each have to find some way to handle them. Jobs can be lost and financial security threatened; sickness can enter our lives or we can loose someone we love and become lonely. It is easy to suddenly become vulnerable and feel helpless in what can seem a hostile world. That was the way I felt as a child.

With maturity comes the understanding that helplessness is experienced only when there are no skills to solve problems and when one only sees one desired end rather than a multitude of alternatives.

Life can be difficult for all of us. I’ve discovered that I haven’t been on this journey alone. Each of us has challenges and we work through them, in our own way. It is best to find a working relationship with people and enjoy each other along the way.

This is another way of saying to you Frank, that you were right. You took time to be happy; you didn’t criticize, didn’t judge people, you accepted them as they were. You certainly accepted me. Whatever challenges you may have had, did not spill out on others. I admire that about you.

From time to time I still get angry and upset because events don’t go my way. Now, it’s different. I see these feelings as annoying visitors who soon leave and I am again at peace.

This is a long letter and I am tired. I must rest awhile.

The letter ends here. Apparently it was never finished and never mailed. There is no signature. The letter was written in a firm hand except for the last two lines. They are written in a scrawl as if by a faltering hand struggling to put his thoughts on paper before it was too late.

Originally Posted (Jul 01, 2002)

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