When I was 13 years or so, I had a friend. That friend had a girlfriend, of sorts. I din’t know her because she went to a different high school than us, and our high school was the limit of my worldly world. The school and the library. Actually, I wasn’t much into the real world anyway, and the library helped me escape to times past and future and to places distant and exotic.
As teenagers do, not knowing that it’s never worth it, they took their affair seriously. It had highs and lows, all of which I experienced second-hand from my friend, while I was much more interested in the fate of David Copperfield or Holden Caulfield.
One day, it must have been at the time of a particularly low tide, my friend asked if I could draft a letter for him. A love letter. “You are better with words,” he admitted, grudgingly, for he was one of those who always needed to be better at everything.
I accepted the job.
I had to inquire about the current situation, the impasse it was at, and found a solution. At least theoretically, for this was not my life, and they were not my feelings. But it’s fun to play with ideas and strategies and words when it’s other people’s lives at stake. That’s why I became a lawyer a few years later.
The letter appeared to have had a positive effect, and I got more work.
I had to read the girl’s replies, in which she sounded like a smart girl, and then think of something funny and creative to respond. Because I was 13 and innocent, I didn’t understand everything that they wrote about. I could have learned something, I guess, but I am glad I figured out those things on my own, much later.
This was before the internet, and people really thought about what they wanted to say, they scribbled draft after draft, they filled baskets with wastepaper, and even when the letter was in the envelope, they still dreaded the moment of putting it into the yellow box, whence it was beyond the sender’s control.
Times were better, in that way. Much better.
It was a small town. And thus, one day it had to happen: I bumped into my friend as he was walking with his girlfriend. She was even less attractive than I had imagined. But then, I wasn’t really interested in girls anyway.
I don’t remember if it was my friend’s fault or my own. But we missed the chance to ignore each other, and got talking. Not long, just for a few minutes. I was probably on the way to the library. They were probably on the way to the swimming pool, which for me was the worst place in town.
But something must have given me away.
Later that week, my friend told me that his girlfriend had asked if I had had an aiding hand in his correspondence. I got no more work after that, and didn’t miss it at all. Like so many writing jobs, it had been unpaid.
A few years later – I was already at law school and my friend and the girlfriend had long split up or whatever teenagers do after a few months -, the girl contacted me. (In the meantime, the internet had been invented and I was easy to be found.) She was at university, too, studying one of those subjects that people study who don’t know what to do in life. She wanted to apply for a scholarship. “I was wondering if you might want to read through my application letter and make some comments or suggestions,” she asked, offering a pizza and explaining: “I think you are better with words.” Girls are manipulative like that.