(22 Stories)

Prompted By Snail Mail

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

I use Burt’s Bees Coconut & Pear Lip Balm, but as a teenager I used Blistex. To this day, just the thought of that minty scent evokes a memory of standing in front of the mirror in the drafty women’s bathroom getting ready to see Bruce.

Or maybe that’s part of why I eventually “ghosted” him. I didn’t yet have the maturity, the empathy, the compassion that being involved with someone like him would have required in the long term.

I met Bruce Fayé while on a camping trip in Lake Tahoe with my family. I was 17, he was a year or two older and worked in the restaurant in the park we were staying in. Once our eyes locked – contact! In the brief time remaining we spent every moment together we could wrangle — a day on the beach, his work breaks, and lots of heavy petting wherever we could find a little privacy during the long evenings when my mom and dad went off to play at the Cal Neva Lodge. Situated on the border between California and Nevada, gambling was legal there.

Bruce mentioned that he’d grown up in Hawaii; other than the facts that it had not long ago become a state and that my grandmother had taken a cruise to Honolulu with her lady friends, I knew little about it. He raved about Hawaii; I raved about Disneyland. He had family in Southern California, and we made plans to meet up the next time he came for a visit and I’d take him to Disneyland.

As the end of my vacation drew near, we exchanged addresses and ardent promises to stay in touch, and when it was time to go, he walked me to the packed and now dirty white station wagon, soft puffs curling out of the tailpipe in the cool morning air, where my family sat waiting and pretending not to watch us as we kissed goodbye and even cried.

Bruce did come to Los Angeles, just a few weeks later, ostensibly to visit his aunt, and I had the chance to take him to Disneyland. He was not impressed. I took it personally. Then he left for Hawaii, to move back into his family home, and though somewhat diminished, our ardor smoldered via snail mail for a while. Bruce was a deeply thoughtful writer, sensitive and romantic. He also described surf and sunset poetically, but frankly those parts began to bore me. I quickly scanned for and savored any mention of love, of me. It’s only as an adult that I’m struck by the melancholy, even depression, that lay within the lines. Or maybe that’s part of why I eventually “ghosted” him. I didn’t yet have the maturity, the empathy, the compassion that being involved with someone like him would have required in the long term.

“Tonight was most pretty. About 7 o’clock the sky was still light and pinkish, and off in the west this huge white tower of a cloud springing from dark rain clouds down low. Faint white puffs of clouds to the east—top half illuminated, bottom dark. Really looked like painted scenery in a Hollywood studio, only better. Hope my description makes a little sense — it’s just impressions, so don’t read it too carefully.” And, “I really miss you — whenever I see something pretty I think of how much you’d enjoy it. Despite all the beauty, I’m broody and moody, and desperately lonely for you.” And, “I’m not really too happy, too many clouds on the horizon, I guess. I just don’t know where I’m going. I look at tomorrow and wonder what will become of me. I’m a child, lost and lonely. It’s nearly 10 o’clock — must get to bed. I love you. A pretty, sad phrase. I love you. Aloha. Bruce”

There was more soul baring so personal that to share it would feel like a betrayal.

Coincidentally, two decades later I was living in Hawaii, on Kauai, the Garden Isle. I was a single mother, with a boyfriend, and a business. I was in love with the island, enchanted by the daily rainbows, the ever changing moods of the ocean, the waterfalls on Mt. Waialeale in the distance that appeared to stream in slow motion. I was sure I’d never move back to the mainland. I hadn’t given Bruce a thought since I was a teen, but out of the blue, though I couldn’t remember his last name, I remembered him and his letters and made a mental note. Then, on my next visit to L.A., just out of curiosity, I dug through the boxes I had stored at my mom’s and sure enough found the packet of his letters. And the postmark? Surprise — Lihue! That’s on Kauai! As I reread them — there were eight in all — and oddly, not a return address amongst them, and just one with simply “Fayé” — I had a new appreciation for his lush descriptions of the island, and for the young man.

And then, another coincidence: On Kauai again, maybe a year or two later, I was at an SBA conference determined to learn how to use a spreadsheet to track my cost of goods, and seated a couple tables away from me was a woman wearing a name tag with the last name “Fayé.” During a break I approached her and asked, “Are you by any chance related to Bruce Fayé?” She looked startled, glanced quickly at the man next to her, and asked, “Why do you ask?” I gave her a brief history, and then she told me: “Bruce was my cousin. He died in an accident when he was just 24. He went over a cliff, a waterfall.” Words pretty much failed me. I didn’t feel right asking questions, and so I simply expressed my sympathy.

I don’t know the circumstances. I don’t know if it was an accident. Somehow, rereading Bruce’s letters today, that overt sensitivity and melancholy is even more evident. I wonder if that accident might have been intentional. And now, Bruce has ghosted me.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

Visit Author's Website

Tags: teen romance, camp, love letters
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Hauntingly beautiful, Barbara. Yes, we were all young and immature once. Your last line is powerful, but so is the vivid part of Bruce’s letter you choose to share. Excellent story of a small but poignant correspondence with a doomed young man.

  2. Thank you for such a sensitive comment, Betsy.

  3. Marian says:

    Wow, Barbara, amazing events, and very moving how you describe your interaction (or lack of it) with Bruce and what happened. What is it about Kauai? Love to learn more about your time there. One of my former boyfriends lives there now, escaping the mainland to forget a tragedy (happened after we broke up). I visited this fall for just a day and was so taken by the island that I wrote one of my best poems of the year about it when I got back.

    • Interesting, Marian. When I lived on Kauai, I was aware that many people had come there not only to escape the busyness of the mainland but some part of their history as well. Not only that, I was struck by how many people died there. Not to sound foreboding, but there’s mystery and sadness there, and danger in the waters, and waterfalls. Now I’m thinking that I’ll have to write about it in a way that hadn’t occurred to me before.

      I’d love to read your poem…have you posted it here? If not, could you send it to me?

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the way you used the Snail Mail prompt to delve into something deeper, your relationship and correspondence with a very sensitive and possibly depressed young man. So amazing that you saved the letters.

    • Thanks, Laurie…that’s what I love about the prompts here, they open the way to paths I probably never would have taken. As you know, and like you, I’ve been so conflicted over having saved so much stuff, but now I actually feel justified. It’s really just such a gratifying process.

  5. Marian says:

    Very compelling how intuition works at a specific place. I’ll be glad to send the poem to you and individually to anyone interested. I’d like to keep it officially unpublished, which makes it easier to do so in the future. I felt awful for this former boyfriend, whom I was crazy about but reluctantly broke up with because he had two small children at the time, and I wasn’t in a place to be stepmom. He married a really nice gal with two small children, who was killed in an accident two years later. He then moved to Kauai, where apparently he met someone else and is doing OK, I hope.

    • Marian, your poem is just wonderful! Although you mentioned the southeast side in your note to me, I lived on the opposite side and your opening words immediately evoked visions of the NaPali coast, and Keé beach at the end of the road on the north shore. Because most people write of the “prettiness,” I was surprised at the dark beauty you conjured…not only the physicality of the inky blue ocean and the rainy ridges but the many sad souls who inhabit the island, and the eccentric. You’ve opened a floodgate and my memories are gushing forth…I’ll have to try putting them into words, and I hope to equal your eloquence. Thanks so much for sending the poem!

  6. Marian says:

    I’m glad you liked the poem, Barbara. You’re right, Kauai had a more nuanced, murkier beauty that really intrigued me, possibly because the lovely mountains and waterfalls could be more treacherous.

  7. Suzy says:

    I love the way you start this story with Burt’s Bees and Blistex. It’s such a great intro to what follows. Your time with Bruce sounds magical, and then how disappointing when he didn’t like Disneyland. I can understand your ghosting him eventually, especially when his letters to you were not about you. It would take maturity and empathy, as you say, to relate to him, not something most 17-year-olds are graced with. Anyway, a beautiful response to the Snail Mail prompt. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Thanks so much, Suzy…I think it’s kind of funny that it bothered me so much that he didn’t like Disneyland, but I still remember the feeling. I really appreciate your comment about the intro. The title, intro and ending are my favorite parts of writing, and finding the pathway to connect them.

  8. Brava Barbara, for your always heartfelt and well-written stories.
    I hadn’t seen my cousin Eric in years. We lived on separate coasts – me east and he west – and then remarriage took him even further – to Hawaii.

    But a few years ago on impulse I emailed him and said my husband Danny and I hoped to plan an Hawaiian trip.
    Eric’s wife Chiho answered my email.
    Come! , she said.

    They met us at Honolulu airport, took us to our hotel, and said they hoped we’d see each other as often as possible during our week there – and we did!
    It was wonderful reunion, Eric and I shared family stories and memories, and we made an immediate and loving connection to Chiho who we were meeting for the first time. We vowed to stay in touch, and to plan to meet again in Hawaii or on the mainland.

    A month later the phone rang and as soon as I heard Chiho’s voice I knew what she would tell me, My beloved cousin Eric had died, short of his 81st birthday.

    We’ve stayed in close touch with Chicho and plan to see her this year, and I’ll be ever grateful to have seen Eric that one last time..

    • Ah, Dana, what a bittersweet story…I’m so sorry you lost Eric but so glad that you had a chance to spend some really good time with him in Hawaii…and to make such a close connection with Chiho. If you make it to Hawaii again to see her, you might want to include a side trip to Kauai. All of the Hawaiian islands are beautiful, but Kauai is my favorite. And thanks for the kind words about my writing…I’m really pleased to know you enjoy it.

  9. Lovely, sad story, Barbara. A love story, really, and between YOUR lines, I felt that sense of loss that comes when we haven’t had the opportunity to say goodbye. Sweet. Thanks.

Leave a Reply