About two years ago, during a late summer afternoon in the San Francisco Public Library, I went looking for the Collected Works of Amy Hempel.
I found it and sat down in a cubicle between two homeless men to read. But then, wedged in the binding between pages 102 and 103, I found a small envelope:
The kind of envelope that accompanies wedding invitations—already addressed, stamped and ready for an RSVP. To a Ms. Carol M. Bustros, of New York’s Upper West Side. A bookmark pregnant with possibility. What could I do but take it? With the plan of sending a letter to this stranger who had once also read Amy Hempel. Or knew someone who did.
I still have the envelope, and am determined to send it off this summer.
What does one say to a woman named Carol, who may or may not still live in New York? What kind of letter would you like to receive from a strange girl in Colorado, who can’t resist a game of penpal?
“I have written letters that are failures, but I have written few, I think, that are lies. Trying to reach a person means asking the same question over and over again: Is this the truth, or not?” ~ Amy Hempel