Sunday, March 9, 2008

A PenPal across Time

I face this morning with the bleary confusion of a person who spent most of her life living in a state that never changed their clocks and still isn't used to it. I also face it somewhat relaxed as I actually took last night off and sat at a bookstore, listening to a psychiatrist-guitarist play some of my favorite songs from the 60s and 70s.

I spent the time writing a 7 page letter to a friend of mine . . . long, long story but here's the condensed version: I started writing him in 1984. He was in prison and I was going through my penpal phase of life (reached more than 75 people at one time--now it's two, repeat, two and one is my mother in law). Somehow, over the years, we have maintained contact and become dear friends. I've learned his story, his crime, his prison life--and I"m still here. I'm the closest thing to family he has ever had. He has written to my kids, my husband. He has never once asked me for money or anything else. He wanted nothing other than having someone out here in the real world care about him. When I lived in Indiana, he transferred to PA to be closer to me. Then we moved to Oregon. Crap. Didn't think about this when we made those plans.

For a while, we lost touch (and yes, this still is the condensed version. I mean, it IS 24 years here) and then in January, I got my first letter in quite a while. He told me he has pancreatic cancer. It is fatal. He is dying. He has already lived 6 months longer than the doctors projected. He is not doing the meds or the chemo that they recommended because they also assured him that it would not extend his life by more than a few weeks at best.

He goes up for parole this month for the 6th time. If he is turned down, as he has been each time before, he will die in prison. After 24 years of writing, we will never meet. It makes me so very, very sad and I feel completley hopeless. There's a rule in his prison that if you are terminally ill and you come up for parole, it is automatically granted so you can die with your family. It must be a blood relative though, which I am not. His blood relatives, his parents who abused him in ways I didn't know existed, are dead. I'm it. He is sending his ashes to me when he dies--says he doesn't know what else he could ever give me to thank me enough for the years I've stood by him, loved him, advised him and made him laugh. I said, that's what family is for.

Right now all I am good for is long letters every chance I get (which is rare) and good thoughts. When someone is dying alone, someone who hasn't seen the sunshine in more than a decade or walked down a city street for three decades, that seems mighty insignificant.

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