Bulky Envelopes

After studying each piece of paper, I folded them back into the envelope and went to bed. I slept with the whole packet under my pillow.  I wanted to keep it close — the glossy brochure with pictures of the legendary Midway and the gigantic library, as well as all the forms I had to return by June 1.

Every time I woke up, I re-read the letter.

I read the letter 40 times that night.

Each time, I rubbed my finger over my favorite three words: Dear, Christie, and Congratulations. I have always loved them best when they appear consecutively.

My throat ached from screaming at the sight of the envelope in my mailbox.  I was home on my 60-minute lunch break from managing the Gap at the Post Oak Mall.  It wasn’t really enough time to go all the way home, but every day that spring I did it anyway. I had to check the mail, because that’s where my horizon was.

When I first saw the bulky envelope, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  Maybe it was the graduation packet from school or some newspaper clippings of obituaries from my dad.  But that envelope did have some heft, so maybe . . .

Maybe it was one of my “safety” schools writing with good news.  I willed myself to be stoic, especially since most of my safety schools had already sent anemic envelopes, bearing only two of my favorite words: Dear and Christie.

As each skinny envelope arrived, I had lost more hope about leaving Texas for graduate school.  In my darkest panic, I begged myself to fall in love with the retail life that the Gap Inc. could offer me.

You could become a manager and then move to Houston where the flagship store is. 

You could hone your sales skills and then start selling bigger ticket items, like computers or cocaine.

There are Gaps all over the world! You could go to Singapore.

You can always read great literature even if you are an hourly stiff at the Gap.

But with that envelope, the future saw fit to pluck me out of Texas and summon me out of the mall.  There was a school waiting for me in a state I had never stepped foot in, in a city that was famous for a climate I suspected might kill me.

The morning after the envelope came, I crackled with adrenaline as I wondered where I could buy a coat warm enough or which books I should read over the summer.  I borrowed my boyfriend’s copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, because I wanted the words of a masterpiece to keep me company as I counted back change or folded hooded sweatshirts at work.

Almost late for my shift, I shoved my keys and the book into my purse, along with the lunch I prepared since I no longer needed to come home to check the mail.

My neighbor Chad, an affable fraternity guy enjoying his seventh year of collegiate studies, called to me as I walked to my car.

“Hey, Christie! I heard you screaming yesterday. What was that all about? Did you get engaged?”  I squinted up at him and saw him lounging on his balcony in his signature baseball hat (always worn backwards), while thumping his can of Copenhagen dip.

“Nope. I’m moving to Chicago.”

Chicago: Where I Met My Future (image from Chicago Postcard Museum)

Chicago: Where I Met My Future (image from Chicago Postcard Museum)

* * *

[This post is for the lovely writers/bloggers at Yeah Write.  Here's me to Yeah Write: "I just can't quit you."  Here's you: "Hey, I should check it out and post over there too."  Here's me: "Yes, you should.  Come join the fun." Here's Yeah Write to both of us: "Sure, come post.  But don't blog about your family, because it was a long, family-filled summer and we need a break.  Write about Charlie Sheen.  Unless he's your uncle.  Then don't."]

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48 thoughts on “Bulky Envelopes

  1. It’s amazing to remember these moments — the start of something big. At the time you don’t know all the ways your life will be forever changed, but you tangibly feel yourself on the precipice of change and can recall every detail. Perfect timing for this post – summer ending, school starting, Sadie’s first day (though I won’t mention the amily-fay) – and I loved it.

  2. Best line: borrowed my boyfriend’s copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, because I wanted the words of a masterpiece to keep me company as I counted back change or folded hooded sweatshirts at work.
    I could RT this all day.

  3. I love the “Dear” and “Christie” and “Congratulations” bit — such a clever way to illustrate your relationship with words. I love that feeling of possibility and think it is my absolute favorite part of Life Changes. Congratulations, dear Christie, on your big, fat envelope!

  4. “Did you get engaged?” I love that as it shows the limits of the frat guy’s dreams. And I love the Human Bondage (great book!) line as well. You captured well the thrill of yearning for adventure, for knowledge, for life. Nicely done, I enjoyed it!

  5. Oh Christie. I just love the crap out of you. Your writing is so pure and honest, I have to stop everything I’m doing to read it (don’t tell my boss). This was my favorite line: “I had to check the mail, because that’s where my horizon was.” Ahh, love that. Also? Your footnote about YW made me pee the couch. Just a little bit.

    • I won’t tell your boss you had to stop working to read, but can I tell Boss that you peed the couch a little? It would be good for BOSS to know you are human.

      Thanks for the love!!! It’s like a hug from a friend to read this comment. Gracias.

  6. I was going to say I still find myself liking the Gap until I read your comment about Express, ha! If this is a rut, I’d love to be in one of yours. Your writing is always so incredible. I didn’t get into my first choice grad school and was so bummed at the time but now I realize that it just sent me on a different path. Sounds like that sort of happened to you too. Congrats for landing where you did!

  7. I had a feeling when you said that you needed to buy a warm coat you meant you were headed to MY town! I have lived here my whole life and love it! Great story. I felt your tentativeness to open those “skinny” we all know what they mean, envelopes. And then the excitement that meant you had a a horizon in your future. Loved it!

  8. I love the last line – You could have said so many things to frat boy, but one simple sentence. I picture you smiling and calm as you said it, even if the day before you were screaming. I really enjoyed the details and the rationalizations you made while waiting for the envelopes. Well done.

  9. So my school was tricky and sent me a skinny envelope first. My excitement was actually tempered by annoyance at their little mind game.

    “My neighbor Chad, an affable fraternity guy enjoying his seventh year of collegiate studies…” Ah yes, I knew many a Chad. What happens to those guys?

    I love everything about this because it is so familiar and yet better than I remember because you have told it so well.

    • It’s the new crack, right? It stinks on those weeks I don’t love my post– like this week’s I honestly think is a little safe and boring. But since I can’t quit, here I am!

      • Sometimes safe is good – lets you focus on phrasing, rhythm, craft. All that critical stuff. I think no one would thank us if every post was about Serious Stuff. Your post is sweet and has wonderful moments – like Chad!

  10. I remember those days, waiting for the acceptance letters. I traveled a total of three miles from my house to live on campus at college…..Thankfully, I got the nerve to later move to Boston. Great recount and you really built up the anticipation.

  11. Love the “did you get engaged” bit. I grew up in a small town where most people graduated from high school (or didn’t), and then got married (or didn’t) and had babies. If someone heard a woman screaming with joy, they’d assume it was either an engagement or a pregnancy. So that one line really brought a sense of place to your piece. Lovely writing!

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