A dead letter

Written after my father’s death–February, 2007

A dead letter is a letter, or other form of communication sent via the mail that for some reason is undeliverable or unclaimed.




“Here’s the letter I promised. I know it comes a little late, but you have to give me credit, I have finally done it.”



The phone number remains programmed into my cell phone despite the fact that it’s disconnected. Or maybe the phone company has re-assigned it to another.

I’m afraid to call it, though I know one day I will.

Every time I would call my father, he would tell me to write; that is, put pen to paper and write a letter and send it through the postal system. I would tell him he needs to get a computer and email.


            I think the reason I dislike writing real letters so much is because it requires time and consideration, both are things of commodity today. The time we have is not usually well spent because we’re spending so much of it online or watching television (according to statistics, people spend an average of four hours per day watching television).


He liked letters. During my teen years I wrote to him religiously. There were at least two a week, but after email and no cost long-distance, I would call to catch up.

“It’s not the same,” he said, referring to the calls.


            Consideration. Now that’s something to consider. Yes, pun intended. I think most of us don’t have time to think anymore. Okay, we don’t make the time to think. Given my previous statement, I will concede. Perhaps it’s easier not to really think about the more important things, because we live in a society that tells us we need to be bright, shiny people. We need to be positive at all times and to achieve that, we must not think too much. That’s why we have television and don’t write letters so much anymore.


I knew what he meant. On the phone there were no ruminations of the new book I had read, or a question concerning some area of politics. He couldn’t know from the voice on the line, what I thought, because there is something lost between spoken and written word.

I miss talking to him and occasionally look at the phone number in the cell and wonder what would happen if I called it. Would a recording system take the call and tell me the phone number is no longer in use? What if another person answers? What could I say?

I would ask why they have my father’s phone number. No one has that right. To take the number he had for twenty years. He earned it—it’s his. I think I would say that if someone were to answer the phone.

The last time I visited his home I looked through some of his dresser drawers, because he asked me to find something for him. I found old letters. They were mine from several years previous. I was fifteen when we began exchanging letters and he kept all of them bundled and stuck in a drawer for twenty-two years.

Memory lies there, within those scrawled pages; a young woman, frustrated, full of angst and fumbling around the world. There’s something to go back to—a reference point in life and a memory of oneself.

Since his death, I’ve tried writing a eulogy in the form of an essay, poems and other essays and end up discarding them because they don’t say what needs to be said. They fail in every way to define a relationship between a father and daughter.  So I keep going back to the phone number. Maybe he could tell me what to write.

994-0514. There is a key to it, I think. A key that will unlock the simple, but meaningful things I need to say, or a code that can display the reality of something that was once here and is no more. Perhaps I’m seeking tangibility in that number. It stays because I can’t let it go, because I’ll have nothing of him.


            I’m not really sure what to say, but that I miss you. I have your phone number programmed into my cell phone (not that I don’t remember it), because I can’t delete it. It’s proof for me. Digital evidence of your existence.


I didn’t keep the letters he wrote to me. I moved from state to state during my teens and lost them in the shuffle. There is nothing to go back to—no reference point to see that my father was something more than an image burned into silver.

He didn’t keep a journal, but hounded me about keeping one and asked one of my aunts’ advice on how to instill this habit. For my tenth birthday I received a lockable diary with keys attached and was reminded to make a note in it everyday.


            Now that we’re in the technological age, we spend a greater part of our time in and with this new technology. I guess you’re part of that now. I can see your name (written as ‘Dad’) next to your number on my cel phone.


That I am so small in the world keeps my father’s image and voice burned into my mind. That his voice and presence assured me that I meant something and was not just some random entity placed here.


            I imagine this is my way of keeping you closer. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I want to know.


That despite adulthood and responsibility and aloneness, we are not truly alone if we have that parent who returns our love and will never give up on us. That they see great things in us we could never see without them.


            Anyway, I know this letter is short. I just needed to show I am still thinking about you.


I keep the number in my phone because it’s a reminder of my father. Despite my inability to reach him, he has reached me.


I love you.


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