Even though I live just a few hours away, I don’t get to the beach enough. I resolve every so often to change that, and keep failing to make it happen. So sometimes it takes a friend to get you where you want to be, and I was lucky enough to be invited by a lovely person to spend “Flotilla Weekend” at Wrightsville Beach. I went for just 24 hours, due to schedules, but it was a wonderful blend of old and new friends and surprisingly perfect weather.
The thing that really topped it all off was the mailboxes. My friend Bill is generous beyond what most of us can imagine, and opened his rental home to a large group of friends for Thanksgiving and the weekend after. While we were there, he told us about “the mailbox.” It’s north, he said, just keep walking on the beach until you find it. You see, there’s this mailbox, right on the beach, and people leave notes and the stories of their lives there. The mailbox has been there for a long time, and was once lost to storms and relocated slightly for safety. The museum in town is now home to many of the filled-up notebooks, because people keep coming, and they keep writing.
They write in the notebooks or on loose paper about their loves, their losses, their hopes, and their pain. Bill told us, when he caught up with us at the mailbox, that he’s read several suicide notes there before. There’s no way to tell what happened to the authors. We have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. Some notes are signed, some just left behind. Some are funny – one couple had each made lists of the annoying things the other did (“You talk too much.” “You’re always eating tacos.”) and ended each with an “I love you.” People leave their stories in the mailbox facing the water, no return address. They likely say things they haven’t said before and don’t want to say anyplace else.
I was so grateful that my traveling companions were more than willing to go on the way out of town. We found the mailbox, and they began to dive in to reading the notebooks while I waited a minute just inhaling the salt air. I am recharged by the beach, and sometimes just taken with the beauty of it all, and I tend to just stop like that sometimes when I’m there. A lovely older woman stopped to talk to me about my Maurice Sendak shirt. It’s from In the Night Kitchen, and every single time I wear it, I meet somebody interesting.
This woman told me that Maurice felt like an old friend because he’d helped her teach her daughter to read, and I said, yes, me too, my kids too. She told me her story, how her daughter in the 8th grade had vowed to go to college right there by the beach, and how it had come to pass, how she’d visited the area first in 1980 and decided she wanted to retire there. How she’d wisely invested then, thinking it would all be ready for her later that way. How her mother had moved in when she was still living in Raleigh “just for a couple of years” and had stayed for 27, delaying the beach by a lot. She’s been living at the beach for five years now, and she looks wonderful, at peace.
“There’s another,” she told me, another mailbox, just a little bit farther north up the beach. She wasn’t sure which came first. When she turned back around to tell me one more thing, she laughed and said “Can you tell this is my people time?” I laughed in delight and recognition. I was having my people time too, and enjoying it while I was there, even though I was already longing to get lost again inside my own thoughts.
I read the notebooks then, and wrote one sentence, and Bill showed up, and we all read together mostly quietly. It was almost anticlimactic for me, I’d just had a great story from a nice lady, and I was already feeling filled up. It was time to go and find the other mailbox, one that Bill wasn’t sure existed, but I was. I was absolutely sure it would be there.
And so it was.
Even after Google searches, I can’t really tell which came first, just that there have been iterations of mailboxes. There’s another, as well, somewhere on Bird Island to the south, called “Kindred Spirit.” At any rate, to me, this one was the “second” mailbox, and I loved it totally just for being there.
Sadly, it was mostly empty though, with just a simple card inside. It was a funeral card with pictures and a short wrap-up of a life well-lived. There were other notes scribbled on the card; it was the only paper in there. This mailbox needed paper. I remembered then that I’d told my friends on the drive to the beach that I carried a small notebook that I’d been sent as a gift after donating to NaNoWriMo, but I never wrote in it. I send myself emails instead, odd cryptic things often sent in the middle of the night, to remind me what to write about next, what matters. I’d been carrying this notebook unused for months. And so, of course, of course, I knew the notebook belonged here in this mailbox, facing the waves and collecting stories.
Sometimes I get caught up in telling my own story. I’d written almost 55,000 words in November, all my own story. I still have more to write, and someday it will be a book and that will be a great day. But in the frenzy of all this writing, I realized I’d been closed off from the stories of others. I had joked with my travelling companions, truthfully, that my counselor ordered me to socialize during that wild month of writing madly. She said I needed a “tether” to keep me from floating off into my own bubble. She was kinder than that in her phrasing of course, but that was the point – I need people, connection, to remind me that I’m on earth, to keep me grounded, at least a little bit.
So when I left that notebook, feeling very touched by serendipity, I felt more connected to everyone than I have in a good while. We are human beings, and we are made of stories. Sharing them is such a huge part of what makes us whole. So please, like the mailbox says, leave a note, and don’t worry if anybody reads it, because you are here, now, and you have a story to tell.
Thank you to the friends who keep me attached, albeit a bit loosely, to this crazy spinning marble. I am truly grateful to share so many stories with you.