Dear Leo
by William Michaelian

Dear Leo ó the stories I sent you really arenít much. But Iím glad you liked them. One of these days, after I catch up on a few pesky bills (past due rent, electricity, etc.), Iíll drop a few more in the mail. They should at least be worth a few laughs. And no, none have been accepted yet. When that day comes ó if it ever does ó youíll be the first to know. Actually, youíll probably find me on your doorstep, drunk as a skunk with an ice-cold bottle of champagne in my hand. A toast to the great writer! Ha-ha. In the meantime, be glad youíre an electrician.

Mom is fine, if you donít count the fact that sheís exhausted from taking care of Christineís baby girl. I try to help when Iím over there, but once the kid starts crying I go to pieces. Sheís so little Iím afraid sheíll break.

Thank goodness, Mom is a good grandmother. The way everything happened, she wasnít ready for the job. Mentally, I mean. I donít know. Maybe if Dad were still alive, things would be better. On the other hand, if Dad were still alive, Iíll bet that stupid sister of mine wouldnít have gotten pregnant. Or, if she had, she and Derek ó now thereís a name for you ó would be the ones buried in the Vista Point Cemetery.

Otherwise, life goes on. Chris is all right. Sheís working at Safeway and still trying to finish high school. Derek, for all practical purposes, is worthless. Mom thinks heís dumber than a post, which is true outwardly, but at the same time I know itís just a cover-up. Heís only seventeen, for crying out loud ó not that thatís an excuse in itself. But his fatherís an idiot and his mother is out of the picture, so itís unfair to think the kid should be a doctor or lawyer at this point. Itís tough enough being that age anyway, without a bunch of old geezers looking down their noses at you ó as if they havenít made their share of mistakes.

This girl in the picture you sent me ó what a doll. Iím telling you, if you donít marry her, I will. Iíll sneak into town and steal her away from you while youíre crawling around in someoneís attic. Really, old boy, Laura Leland is one of the prettiest girls Iíve ever seen. Is she a Denver girl, or is she from somewhere else? Heaven, maybe? Keep me posted.

Which reminds me ó Pat broke up with me again. I know, I know. Talk about a circus.

It happened Saturday night. I went to pick her up at the mall at nine, when she gets off work. I was waiting in the car by the back door of her shop, just minding my own business, when all of a sudden this dumpy guy bursts out and starts running toward the fence by the freeway where all those bushes are. A few seconds later, a police car shoots behind me with its lights flashing, and another one stops a few feet away from the door. Well, it turns out this guy tried to rape a girl in one of the dressing rooms. Brilliant, eh? Anyway, they caught him by the freeway, trying to thumb a ride.

After they had questioned the girl and the employees, the manager locked the back door and Pat and I drove off. Poor Pat ó she was pretty well rattled. I tried to get her mind on other things, but she kept going back to what that guy had done. So I started asking her the same things the police had ó had she ever seen him before, was the girl one of their regular customers ó stuff like that. Finally, we get to my place and she says, ďWhatíre we doing here?Ē And I say, ďI thought we were going to watch Doctor Zhivago.Ē You shouldíve seen the look she gave me then. ďI donít believe you,Ē she said. ďA girl almost gets raped and you want to put me through Doctor Zhivago.Ē ďPut you through it,Ē I said ó ďwhatís that supposed to mean? Doctor Zhivago is a great movie.Ē And she says, ďIíll tell you exactly what it means.Ē Then she launches into this tirade about what a bastard Rod Steiger is, and how he takes advantage of Julie Christie, whoís a poor, innocent girl, and ends up saying we men are all alike. Can you believe it? So I said, ďFirst of all, Iíve never raped anyone. And second, if that girl in your store tonight was anything like Julie Christie, itís no wonder that guy tried what he did.Ē

Well, that did it. Pat slapped me across the face ó and I mean hard. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and neither one of us said a word. I took her home, and got the silent treatment the whole way. When I pulled into her parentsí driveway, I told her I was sorry. ďNot as sorry as I am,Ē she said. Then she opened the car door, got out, and slammed the door shut.

Now itís Thursday, and I havenít talked to her since. I tried calling on Sunday, but her Mom answered and told me Pat had gone to the coast with a couple of her girlfriends and wouldnít be back until late. I called Monday and got their stupid answering machine. I left a message asking Pat to call me, but she hasnít, and so thatís where it stands. I just hope she doesnít stay mad forever. I know the whole thing is my fault, but at this point I donít know what to do about it. What do you think? Should I send her flowers, go over and talk to her Mom, or kill myself and just get it over with?

*     *     *

Part two ó ďThe Worldís Darkest Hour.Ē Oh, boy. Leo, my friend. You guessed it. Now Iím drunk. And do you know what? I donít give a shit. Not about Pat, or Dr. Romeo Steiger, or anything else. Really. Why should I? You reach a point, Leo ó you know what I mean? You reach a god-damned point, and you get sick and tired of trying to be noble all the time. You reach a point, and you feel exactly like that crazy guy in the mall. And you sympathize with him. You have to, because no one else does. People are so selfish. Thatís what Iíve learned. Iíve lived on this planet for twenty-six years now, and thatís it ó thatís what Iíve learned.

Leo ó Leo, Leo, Leo. What am I going to do? I donít want you to send me money. Youíve helped too much as it is. Mom says I should go out and get a job. But god damn it, how am I supposed to do that when Iíve got so much writing to do? And she doesnít know how many jobs I have had. Thatís one of the reasons I moved out in the first place ó to spare her the gory details. But what hurts me more than anything is that she thinks Iím a failure. Itís so damn obvious ó she doesnít have to come out and say it. Everything about her says sheís disappointed in me. As if Iím weird or crippled or something. As if itís my fault I turned out to be a writer. Itís all right for people to do other things, though. Itís all right for you to be an electrician, and for Pat to sell see-through blouses at the mall. Itís fine for Momís neighbor, Fred Jensen, to be a certified public accountant. Fredís boring, but that doesnít matter. Heís dishonest, but that tie he wears makes everything A-OK. If I were a milkman, even ó Momís attitude toward me would change overnight.

So ó what am I going to do? Iíve considered starving to death, just for the sheer comedy and poetry of it. But if I do that, then who will do my writing? Not that anyone gives a shit. But hereís the real trouble ó Iíve gotten used to being hungry, and now I kind of like it. Hey, hey ó give me a little coffee and a slimy doughnut from that grease trap on the corner, and Iím a happy camper. It feels good. It tickles my gut for five or ten minutes, and then I get this clear-headed feeling, like all of a sudden Iím standing in front of a vast mental landscape. You should try it sometime.

Laura Leland is sure a pretty girl. Pat is pretty, but not like that. She looks beaten down somehow. Even at that age, which is probably a bad sign. Laura ó thatís my auntís name. Youíve never met her, have you? My dadís sister. A beautiful woman ó she and her husband have three kids thatíll knock your eyes out. A girl and two boys. If you marry Laura Leland ó which I hope and pray you do ó make damn sure you have lots and lots of kids. Donít listen to the population ďexperts.Ē Theyíre sour, empty people whoíve either done their damage and had their kids, or who are too bitter to enjoy life. All they know are numbers. What they forget, though, is that children are a gift. They come to us pure and unfettered, and bring us new hope. The beauty of it is, the mystery of it is, we can never know which child will be the next Beethoven, or Jesus, or Van Gogh. If we donít have kids, we rule out that possibility ó which is stupid and selfish and blind. So have kids, Leo. You and Laura. Give us all another chance. And whatever you do, donít stop at one or two. Have four or five, and teach them to be good people.

*     *     *

Wow. Itís eleven-thirty already. Iíve had way too much to drink. What pisses me off is that I should have spent the money on a nice spaghetti dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs, Leo. Thereís nothing else like it in the world. Eating spaghetti makes you feel like a god. The smell of the sauce. Oh! The steam rising. Itís like a prayer to eternal heaven. Imagine yourself passing through strange, distant lands, where the people ó beautiful shepherds and shepherdesses ó rub the cares from your brow, speak in soft voices, and bring you a never-ending supply of spaghetti and meatballs. What a paradise. Until you stumble across a sign somewhere that says, ďNo Writers Allowed.Ē But surely, there must be a mistake. Surely, I must be welcome in the gracious, gentle land of spaghetti and meatballs. But no. Hereís another sign. ďWe Work For A Living.Ē So ó Iím banished, then, even here. Iím banished to a life of cheap coffee and greasy doughnuts. Very well. See what I care! For am I not a man? Do I not have a right to happiness? Shall I not pursue my dream, my goals? Damn it ó I will not sell insurance, Leo. Iíd much rather starve. I am starving. But my spirit is not for sale.

*     *     *

The sun is coming up. By god, Leo, what a beautiful sight it is. And what a wonderful friend you are to put up with me like this. Iíve just finished reading what I wrote to you yesterday afternoon and last night. I should be embarrassed ó but with you ó because youíre the only true friend I have ó I know that isnít necessary.

The truth is ó and we must speak the truth ó I have a novel I want to write. Itís about you, and your life with Laura Leland. I donít know the details yet, but the work will reveal the simple, healing grace of love.

I will dedicate it to both of you, and to the children I know you will have.

Forgive me, Leo.

If you send me three hundred and fifty dollars, I promise to spend it wisely.

I love you.

Kiss Laura for me.

My best to everyone.

Your friend,


William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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