I got a message from an old penpal a few days ago. Suddenly I was hit in the face with all of these memories of people I've known but never really known.
Because that's what having penpals usually means.
You start talking to them out of nowhere, you tell them your deepest darkest secrets, and then you never meet up and probably never get past the 6-months-mark of being acquaintances.
It's such a weird concept.
I was fifteen; lonely and misunderstood. I had this dream of escaping and becoming someone else. Moving to Japan. Writing a book. I talked to people who understood that. I talked to people who thought of travelling half-way across the globe as no biggie, as long as they had someone to connect with.
When I was 16 I had a friend who was around 23. He hopped on a plane from Australia and visited me on a weekend in the middle of the winter. He couldn't stand the cold and we never had anything to do, but he kept saying how much he appreciated talking to me. He seemed sad.
My parents had one rule and one rule only; Don't follow him up to his hotel room.
So of course that's where we spent all of our time.
"People don't travel to other countries just to rape people, mom!"
He visited me once more, and then on a sunday afternoon when we had to say goodbye he started crying and told me he loved me. "You don't understand," he said. "I do", I said. He held my hand and told me "Don't go".
I was 16.
I left and never contacted him again.
When I was 17 I talked to men who fancied themselves experts on human behaviour. One of them had grandiose plans of escaping the korean military and studying psychology in Canada. He loved sociopathy tests and took them over and over again to make sure he actually was cold-hearted. The other, an actual psychology student in Canada, only ever had plans of dismantling me like a special-edition-barbie. I told him his words had no effect on me, and then I took long, somber walks to try and analyze what he'd said. All he ever did was keep laughing at me, because he knew he'd won.
Not all of them were sociopaths. Not all of these acquaintances ended badly or dragged me down.
I remember having wonderful conversations. Learning. Teaching. Listening to complete strangers talk about their insecurities.
I remembered all of this when I got that email a few days ago. How the baseball cap I got as a gift once is still hanging in my closet; untouched.
I got that email a few days ago. It was made up of one sentence. I decided almost immediately that I couldn't answer it. Some things you simply have to leave in the past.
We live in a world where we tell our life stories to strangers we'll never meet, not knowing how we'll affect them in the future. It's all so simple and bizarre.
A weird concept, yes.