When I was at Earlham College, my mail was delivered to box #628. In the decades since graduation, I’ve had occasional dreams, variations of something like this: I’m on campus, having forgotten to pick up my mail for days, or even weeks. I go to the basement of the student union, find box #628, and try to recall the combination of letters (I think it was letters and not numbers) that open the sweet, old-fashioned window-door and release letters and postcards. In some dreams, I get the combination quickly, when I let my hands (and not my brain) do the work of remembering, of unlocking, and then I find what awaits.
These dreams have ranged from nostalgic to mildly anxious-making, depending on whether I can remember the combination, and how long it’s been since I checked. Sometimes I have a vague nag of expecting something important that might be lost. Often, I’m semi-lucid in the dream, my waking mind wondering how that could still possibly be my mailbox, and what mail I might have received in the long interim between 1988 and the present.
(And peripheral questions tap at my door: Have they changed the combination? Have they renovated the entire place? Is box#628 even still there?)
Last night, I had that dream again. I found box #628 at the end of all the boxes, which, in dream logic, made sense: either there were only 628 students on campus, or they rearranged the boxes so that mine–which had been held the longest, because surely the rest were all reserved for current students–was moved to the end of the line. I had a certain amount of pride as I went to my decades-old mail drop, aware in the dream of my current age, old enough to be mother to the other students.
Then when I woke, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a letter to the current inhabitant of box #628? Would she or he write back?” So here’s what I’m going to send.
Dear Earlham Student who gets mail at box #628,
My name is Rebecca and I graduated in 1988. When I was at Earlham, I got mail at box #628. It’s probably impossible for you to imagine or understand this, but ever since college, I’ve occasionally had dreams about going back to get my mail again from box #628. I’d love to know who currently inhabits that mailbox. I’m sure you’re very busy with college life, doughnut runs, theatre productions, humanities classes, and much more interesting diversions and political action than a graduate from the 1980s can fathom, but if you have time, I’d love to hear who you are, where you’re from, what you’re studying, anything else you’d like to tell me. You can email me if that’s easier than writing a real letter. With your permission, I could even post your message on my blog at http://www.rebeccakuder.com. You could be famous! If nothing else, and you have neither the interest nor time to respond, you should know that there’s someone out here in the world who thinks about box #628 in some of the same ways that you might, as a useful place in the world, and remembers it very fondly, back through the years.
If I’d gotten a letter like this when I was using box #628, would I have written back? Would I have been creeped out by the image of a forty-something stalker who hadn’t moved on from her golden days? I like to think I’d be amused, and might humor the old person. Send a postcard.
For me, now, it would not be the same to pick up this fictional postcard from my current mailbox as from box #628. But somehow it would make a line into a circle.