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  • A letter arrived at our house the other day. Though relatively small it had a gazillion stamps on it. Excited, I looked to see which one of us had received this handwritten note from a foreign country, I realized that it was not for anyone in my house. It wasn’t even for my house. The number was ours but to an apartment on a street about a mile away.

    I’m used to getting mail for people who don’t live here, who moved away four years ago when we moved in, or moved away when the previous owners moved in, or who had never lived here at all. And I’m used to getting mail that’s delivered to the wrong house number or the wrong street. One time we got mail delivered that was addressed to the wrong town. Go figure. Usually, I just write return to sender wrong address or addressee unknown. I’m not interested.

    But this misguided mail came from Poland. And the handwriting was so neat and slightly shaky and also so old school old world: all the 1’s had slow dramatic elevations before the vertical drop, each letter was carefully connected to the next with big loops and curls. It reminded me of my great-grandmother’s handwriting, learned in a time when penmanship was an important school subject. What if it was someone’s Polish great-grandmother sending a note of love and maybe goodbye to her great-granddaughter? Or maybe it was a sister who’d stayed in Poland writing to the sister who’d made her way to California, sharing childhood memories. This letter I didn’t have the heart to return to sender.

    So after an errand to the bank and with time to spare before dinner, I pulled up a little courage and I sought out the wrong address. I imagined I’d find the intended recipient, and I’d say this letter came to my house and I just wanted to make sure you got it. And the recipient would be so grateful she’d invite me in for a cup of tea, into a house filled with old photographs and lace doilies. And when she opened the letter, she’d put a hand to her heart and maybe tear up a little. And I’d be so glad that I got over my dislike of human contact. A good deed and a quaint story would be the reward for my intrepidness.

    What I found when I got to the apartment building was me overwhelmed by my own sense of propriety and privacy. The New Yorker in me whispered, this is none of your business. And started filling my head with tales of gangsters or meth labs or cranky men in wife beaters lurking behind the door. And too I took it as a sign that some of the apartments were missing numbers. In fact, I didn’t make it past a couple of steps. Instead I left the letter poking out of the mailbox.
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