Fading Away

          The address was correct — it is mine — but the name was not. It happens. Perhaps it's a problem of cramped, barely legible handwriting, or maybe it's the result of some glitch in a database that merges a name and an address that do not actually belong together.
           This one looked like a Chase credit card application. Before the financial collapse beginning in 2007, I received as many as two or three of these solicitation letters every week. And then suddenly no one received any of them anymore at all. Now, I see, they are making a comeback. It's once again all right, it appears, to overextend your credit.
           But this one, as I said, was not for me. Still, with mail like this, I make it a point always to take the time to carefully write something such as "DOES NOT LIVE HERE" above the address label, circle it, and then put it back in the box for collection the next day. I do not throw away even junk mail that is misaddressed.
           That was Monday. It was gone from my box on Tuesday, but on Wednesday evening, it was there again. My own message had been crossed off, and a larger, blacker circle had been drawn around the original address label.
           Immediately I knew it would have been pointless to write my message again. I could foresee this going nowhere quickly. Eventually, as this back and forth stretched out, I could envision the envelope becoming a black mass of crossed out messages and circles — a kind of picture of a does-does-not shouting match.
           Someone with the U.S. postal service seemed convinced that this stranger did live here.
           Thursday morning I left my house very early in order to speak personally to someone at my post office, the main Alakea branch. I waited patiently in a lengthy early morning line. When my turn finally came, I approached the window and spoke to a Ms. Gallipeau.
           "Hi, I received this letter on Monday, and I wrote on it–" I pointed to my crossed out note — "that the person with this name does not live at this address."
           "I see," said Ms. Gallipeau. "And you know this person doesn't live here because . . . ?"
           I finally realized this was a question, rather than a thoughtful pause.
           "Oh, because I live there. I've lived there for nearly sixty years." I pointed to the black circle. "See how someone has crossed out my message and had it redelivered? I think it must be someone here."
           Ms. Gallipeau gave me another appraising look. "We wouldn't do anything like that."
           I nodded appreciatively. "Ah, well, would you mind just asking in back if anyone knows anything about this."
           She gave me a hard look. I smiled back, shrugging my shoulders.
           "Sure," she said. "I'll ask in back."
           After five minutes or so she returned, smelling like it had been a quick smoke break for her. "Sorry, but no one in back knows anything about this." She handed the letter back to me. "Here's what I'd do," she continued. "You should write a new message saying, 'RETURN TO SENDER.' That's the way I deal with junk mail. Then they have to pay for the postage both ways."
           "Will that really do it?" I asked. "Won't Chase just try resending it to this person at my address?"
           "Or just shred it, okay?" Ms. Gallipeau suggested.
           "Oh, I would never do that," I said. "I'll try returning it to Chase."
           She rolled her eyeballs. "Great. Have a nice day."

           By the time I came home Thursday evening, I'd all but forgotten the whole incident. I was dead tired after yet another grueling day and headed straight for an open bottle of wine in the refrigerator. Sitting down to look at my mail, I almost choked on my merlot. There were two pieces, and both were addressed to that same unknown person. The first looked like another credit card offer, this time from Discover. The second was a T-Mobile envelope, identical to the one I too receive each month.
           Now I've never been the kind of person who believes in tampering with the U.S. mail, but I was becoming not a little perturbed. The first thing I did was tear up and toss the Discover envelope, and then I tore open the phone bill.
           This stranger had made very few calls over the month, and there were only a few numbers listed. All but one had been called only once, the other twenty times or more.
           I downed the rest of my glass and dialed at random one number that had only been called once.
           "'Lo?" The voice sounded very familiar.
           "Hello, my name is –"
           "Eh Howzit? Tanks fo remembering."
           I did know this voice. It was . . . it was . . . "Ah, yes, how are you?"
           "Good good good. Nevah bettah. So you mus be coming Sunday, right?"
           I couldn't think what I was supposed to be doing Sunday. "Sunday for . . .? "
           "SUN-DAY, babooz! Canna forget dis Sunday. Sheez, you drunk awready o'wot?"
           "Oh, right, yes — I mean no — I'm — "
           "Eh, da sun ain't even down, yet. Serious kine, you gotta lay off da sauce. So you coming den?"
           "Okay, thanks. Yes. I — I'll see you Sunday."
           I hung up and still could not figure out whom it was I'd been talking to. But I definitely knew the voice. I looked at the number again. I pulled up my contact list. There was no match. I knew this person well enough to know his voice, to be invited to his house for something big that was happening on Sunday. Did I know him so well that I didn't need to have his number in my contact list? Was he such a close friend that I had his number memorized?
           I looked at the number again, running it through my mind over and over again. No bells rang. But that voice. I definitely knew that voice.
           "Dammit!" I dialed the number that had been called so many times.
           "Please enter your password." Lowering the phone from my ear, I stared at its face.
           I hit the hang-up button, reached for the bottle. My hand shook. As I poured the wine with care, my phone went off. I pulled it to my ear and the wine went everywhere. "Hello!" I roared.
           There was silence. "Hello!" I screamed again.
           Finally, "Oh, I'm sorry, I, uh, think I may have the wrong number." It was another voice I knew I recognized.
           Suddenly, calmly, I asked softly, "Who were you trying to call?"
           I was right, of course. I had actually guessed the answer to my question right while it was coming out of my mouth.

Mahalo for reading!

Talk story

  1. kristel says:

    Lanning! You have such a strong voice. I love it, I can almost hear you reading this aloud! Hehe

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