10/22/94“The city’s a fire, a passionate flame
That knows me by name.” – U2
Yesterday I found an e-mail message waiting for me from Julie Wilson, this girl in Nebraska. One of them was a form letter for her ‘zine Heaven or Hell. The other was a letter from her. We’ll probably trade ‘zine issues. I also have myself a new penpal from Australia, Edna. She lives in Tasmania and seems really nice. I returned an FB to her (actually, it was a sheet) and she mailed me a whole bunch of stuff.
I had this dream that I met this girl Mary Salardi (I don’t even write to her but I see her in lots of other FB’s) and told her that when she writes NIN she has to put the second “N” backwards. It was funny.
“I want to fly but my wings have been so denied” – Alice in Chains
I had to include this entry because it mentioned email. In 1994! When computers were still so intimidating and novel and I had my doubts whether I would become an avid user of one (Doogie Howser Diary entries notwithstanding). This was back before Google or Hotmail, when checking for “e-mail messages” was a multi-step process and addresses involved suffixes like “.ny.edu” that I had to write down in order to remember properly. Though it was around this time a new Internet service provider called America Online (later to become AOL) was starting to get adopted by non-luddites.
I still preferred my correspondence to be on paper, in stamped envelopes. Reading a person’s handwriting was so much more personal, and you could write letters anywhere, whereas I had to sit in computer lab to type out emails. Plus, back then something like friendship books (or FB’s) would have been difficult to do via email. In high school I had a friend who would make photocopies of all his letters before mailing them, and I always found it strange that he did so. Considering how uber-nostalgic I am, now I wish I had done the same, at least with some of my letters, if only to see what I left out of the diary.
A word on FB’s for those who didn’t have pen pals back in the day or those who spent more of their lives typing than writing by hand. Back before the worldwide web became ubiquitous, before it was easy to find people with common interests via websites, blogs, message boards, and social media, there were friendship books. Here’s how it worked: One person started the FB by stapling a few small pieces together into a booklet (sometimes a single sheet of paper was used, but usually they were booklets.). Their name and address would go on the cover and could be decorated with various photos/glitter/doodles (I was a fan of borders in funky nail polish colors because they were shiny and bright). There was usually a list of favorite bands, interests, and the types of pen pals being sought. Sort of like snail mail platonic personal ads. The friendship book would gets mailed to a pen pal, who decorated the next page with his/her (usually her) details and then sent it on to a different pen pal. And so on and so forth until person to fill the last page mailed the friendship book back to its owner. Ideally, the book came back with a few potentially interesting new people to write to. You could also start a friendship book for one of your own pen pals as a surprise for them.
I was initially excited to find new U2 fans through Propaganda, but that pen pal circuit was pretty incestuous, so FBs dedicated to the band had a lot of the same names in them after a while. However, there were always a few new folks in the mix, and the less obsessive fans with more varied music taste, had more eclectic FB’s. Once I branched out to more alternative music, the pen pals became even more diverse and interesting.
I wish I kept a few of these friendship books for posterity, because there’s really nothing like them today. They would have been a great time-capsule, of a period before communication became more electronic and disposable.
Saturday, June 11, 1994
Carnival was Wednesday and Holly, Hahn, and I left after the first hour (and I thought even that was too long). We went to the movies and saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It was great. What was even better was when I got home my second letter from Ronin was waiting for me. I was expecting it for a week and a half because Anita got a letter from him (I gave her the address) and we mailed ours around the same time.
In the letter to her he wrote: “I think Damiella is wonderful.” Heh-heh. Well this second letter was so worth waiting for. His first quote was from “All I Want is You” which is going to be my wedding song. Then he wrote that I was very pretty (I sent him a photo) and that he thought I was his other half. At the end of his letter he wrote he thinks he’s found what he’s looking for! Then there is all this little stuff that we have in common (except our “other” music tastes vary) such as our favorite version of “Pride” (the original) and our favorite Doors song (“The Crystal Ship” and I’m not even into them!). We also agreed that Achtung and Zooropa have changed the face of music.
There is a catch. I haven’t gotten a picture of him yet. I don’t want to be shallow but it does matter what he looks like. If he’s plain-looking, no problem. If the photo thing turns out all right and he’s being sincere, I think I’ve also found what I’m looking for even if it’s (he’s) in Scotland. Hey, at least I’ll have one hell of a story to tell the kids. We’ll see.
I got home from Anita’s a while ago. I consider her my closest friend at the moment, we get along so well. This summer we will go (as soon as her parents let her) to Lolapalooza together where one of the headliners will be my second favorite group, Smashing Pumpkins.
The year is almost over. Good, I have more interesting things to do.
[Last entry in Teddy Bear Diary. Quote on inside back cover:
“WHEN YOU’RE 16 YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE OVER THE WORLD—AND SOMETIMES YOU’RE RIGHT.*”]
I remember those nerve-wracking weeks leading up to getting Ronin’s picture. I would look at every guy I passed on the street and think, “if he looks like that, I would be fine with it… if he looks like that, I would be…less fine with it.” I tried to forgive Ronin for any physical flaws he might have ahead of time, tried to remember the connection we quickly established over the course of several letters, which would surely surpass the superficiality of what he looked like. But I did pass quite a few males that didn’t pass my “If he looks like that” test.
Finally, his next letter arrived. I tore into it in the elevator, fishing out the small, passport-photo-sized picture, wondering if I was about to see the face of my soul mate.
I felt like I was on a game show where I picked the wrong curtain and the wah-wah-wahhhhh trumpets sounded announcing my misfortune. When I described him to Anita, the first word I used was “bulky.” It wasn’t just that he was a large guy; I was hardly a waif myself, and have always been forgiving of some extra poundage on male. No, it was his face. Despite having blue eyes, there was something doughy and vacant and unappealing about it. I just wasn’t attracted even a teeny tiny bit to Ronin and no amount of great personality could make up for it.
I couldn’t think of a graceful way to reject him. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t bring myself to write Ronin another letter. It was terrible. I can’t imagine how insulting and upsetting it was to him. He may have hinted some concern in another letter to Anita, but she stopped writing to him too. I still feel a twinge of guilt about the whole thing today.
I hope he eventually did find what he was looking for, because it definitely wasn’t me.
* From an interview with Bono.
May 15th, 1990
Sometimes when I have a lot on my mind, I write a letter and it usually makes me feel better, so here goes:
Lately I have been thinking a lot about us. I thought about our dating, then our break-up and you going out with Emily.
I know that hating you for breaking-up with me was the wrong thing to do and so was trying to break you and Rose up. I did the wrong thing and I admit it.
The only reason I felt so angry was because I felt that you used me and when you got bored you’d just go on to another girl (which in this case was Carmella Louise, even though she said no when you asked her out.).
I know that we didn’t take any trips to the alter or anything and I’m not even sure we were going steady, you tell me if we were.
I think that during the last few months (and this may sound corny) I have learned and matured quite a lot, because only know am I ready to admit that we really broke-up and I finally except it.
We are going to be graduating very soon and I don’t want us to part being enemies (or whatever we were), so if you just want to be friends than we’ll just be friends.
Next year we’ll be at different schools, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep up a friendship.
One more thing, if you got the impression that I hate or resent you, I don’t. Please don’t show this to anyone because this is how I really feel and I don’t want anyone to read it.
Let’s see here… Writing “except” instead of “accept” showed some Freudian slippage in retrospect. And the “trips to the altar” line seems falsely flippant and self-conscious. There’s also the fact that I never actually apologize for trying to break up him and Rose, just admit it was wrong. And okay, okay, I realize how phony and ridiculous it was to try to suggest a friendship after graduation when we never really had one to begin with. Still, I was aiming for closure and resolution on my end, and I like to think I managed to attain it.
Even though I never sent that letter to Mitch, at the very least this shows a nice departure from my evil conniving ways and maybe even a bit (a teeny tiny bit?) of personal growth.
April 4, 1990
I finally figured out a way to get back at sleaze-ball!
What I did was write him an anonymous letter about how I was in love with him and gave him some clue to who I am by giving Elaine’s description (Elaine said it was O.K.).
Today I’ll write him another letter saying to meet me/her in the library, and the whole gang will be there, then Elaine will say “can you come outside with me?” and we will follow her outside then yell “JERK!” and he will be SO embarrassed and humiliated!
Why get mad when you can get mad and even?
Oh, the plotting. Dealing with heartbreak is one thing, but add a dose of betrayal and mere wallowing just isn’t enough. This isn’t to say that I didn’t do my share of moping behind closed doors (there were still plenty of tears), but I needed another outlet for the bad feelings. Planning revenge while nursing a broken heart seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution. And what better revenge than a scheme that could teach sleaze–er, Mitch a lesson about his nefarious womanizing ways? Who wouldn’t wither under such cruel humiliation as being called a jerk, loudly, in public? That would show him!
The elements were in place and we just needed to see if Mitch would take the bait…
I am so worried about you. I heard about you trying to kill yourself by jumping in front of a car or jumping out the window but luckily people could and did stop you from doing it but I guess it was too late to stop you from taking those 11 high blood pressure pills.
But Why? Why did you take those pills.
I know things aren’t going too well with you getting pre-suspended but that was no reason to try to kill yourself. That will never solve any of your problems, it will just increase them.
I really hope that you will be alright and please don’t do anything like that again. You really scared me.
I know you will get better and I know things will get better so just hang in there.
Love, Your very sympathetic and worried good friend,
While I was seriously worried about Chen-chi and her multi-faceted suicide attempt, I wonder if some my concern stems from leftover feelings of guilt at narcing her out on Halloween. I also wonder how I managed to believe so many theories as to how she tried to off herself. A car, a window, and an overdose of high blood pressure pills? Really? Really?
I can look back at the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism and question whether reports of Chen-chi’s suicide attempts were greatly exaggerated–if not completely fabricated. Back then, I didn’t question any of it, probably because I was too busy being a “very sympathetic and worried good friend.” One who never sent this letter or came clean about the Halloween incident.
Remember the Halloween parade we had? On the way back upstairs you dropped the egg on the stairs by accident and a teacher came in to tell us about it and if we knew anything to write on a piece of paper an annonamous note. Well I put your name down and even though I wasn’t the only one I am still very sorry.
I mean you should not have been carrying that egg even though it was for protection and I feel that it was sort of my responsibility to tell what I know and I’m sorry.
… … …
Dear 11-year-old Damiella,
Nobody likes a snitch. Chen-chi wasn’t like those hooligans who used Halloween as an excuse to pelt people with eggs and vandalize houses with shaving cream and toilet paper. If she was packing that egg as ammunition against a possible attack from these boys, that’s her business. If anything, you should be more sympathetic after last Halloween when Mom was accosted by young thugs who threatened to pelt her with Nair-filled eggs.
Chen-chi didn’t hurt anyone; she just made a mess on the stairs. You should have known better than to rat her out.
I got my perm after all and I have a few letters that I want to write to fill you in on what has been happening to me lately…
Remember the sleepover we had when we went to Alana’s party at the roller skating rink the next day? Well I just wanted to tell you that I think your friend Peter is a bad influence on you because whenever he’s around and even when he’s not around you act like a very imature person. All of the sudden you start cursing in Russian and acting like a fool.
Also I am grateful that you did so many nice things for me like helping me with my campain for president (really my flyers). But every time I don’t want to do something for you, you act as if you gave me a million dollars and I had to be your slave forever to pay you back. I don’t like it atall.
Although you helped me materialy I helped you too but non-materialy like listening to your problems and giving you advice.
I hope you change fast because the way you are acting if you don’t change soon, you will lose me as a friend.
Make the choice.
Either you change your attitude or you have one less friend.
… … …
Dear 11-year-old Damiella,
At least this time it wasn’t bad poetry.
Tolya was entering his teenage years, so cursing, acting like a fool, and having an attitude is not out of the ordinary. You should see the attitude you’ll be sporting in a couple of years.
P.S. That perm was a really bad idea.
Yesterday I gave Marcela her book and the letter she gave me, she didn’t say anything and I really don’t care.
I am not Nisa’s friend anymore either because she never cares about my feelings, only hers.
By the way I still really miss Jonas. And I still love him.
In case it’s not beyond obvious at this point, I was (and still am, truth be told) a fan of the dramatic gesture. It wasn’t enough to have Marcela storm out of my 11th birthday party. I couldn’t let her have the last word and wanted her to know the friendship was well and truly over. There was no better way to do this than return a book she lent me along with the letter she had written less than two months earlier asking us to be friends again. Much in the same way the end of a romance is often punctuated with personal belongings being returned, I found that such a gesture gave the end of my friendship with Marcela the gravitas (or, let’s face it, good old fashioned drama) it deserved.
Nisa was my best friend in elementary school, though I was also on shaky ground with her. It’s funny, because I remember being surrounded by friends during those years, but I don’t remember having so many damn conflicts with them. Were my preadolescent social skills that flawed? (Don’t answer that.) Is it common to have frequent quarrels with friends or was I that tempestuous and oversensitive? (Definitely don’t answer that.)
Whatever the case may be, Nisa and I would make up, but this was it for Marcela and me. Which always made me a little sad, because I thought she was so cool; not just because of her perfectly Aqua-Netted bangs, pretty handwriting, and the sassy way she snapped her gum. Marcela and I shared a resemblence, so I sometimes liked to pretend we were sisters. I also admired her sense of humor, smarts, and boldness. But in the end, I think we couldn’t find a way for our strong personalities to mesh. It’s a shame, because we had a hell of a lot of fun when we did get along.
(And let’s not even get into the whole Jonas thing. I’ll spare the excess entries where I’m mooning over him.)
Marcela gave me a letter and she wants us to be friends again! Isn’t that great. She told me to read the letter after school but I couldn’t wait.
Yesterday I went on my monitor job with George and after school he started to tell me something but did not finish. What he did say is “I have a” that is it!
But I do have an idea what it is.
I wrote him a note to meet me by the fountain but he did not come. Right now I think I understand but I still am pretty pissed off!
Back in the days before email and text messages, when we didn’t want to communicate face to face, we had to do it the old fashioned way: pen and paper. I was a big fan of the note/letter, which was indicated in the way I chose to anonymously profess my affections to Charles.
This was just the beginning. In years to come I would draft unsent missives in diaries to let off steam, send fan and love letters, as well as develop countless friendships around the world by way of being pen pals. To this day I still miss getting letters in the mail, going through the process of opening an envelope, unfolding pages, and reading handwriting on the page.
It’s no wonder that Marcela’s letter had an impact on me. Not only did she take time to put pen to paper and discuss our friendship, she had something I did not have: pretty handwriting. Marcela’s girly penmanship included i’s dotted with hearts, rounded and perfectly curved letters, and lower case a’s that looked like typewritten a’s, not like lower case o’s with a tail, the way we were taught at school to make them.
Despite accepting Marcela’s peace offering, it wouldn’t be long before our friendship hit another bump. But for now, I could rejoice in our reconciliation (and steal her way of writing a’s, which I did for many years to follow).
As for George, I suspected that he probably was close to confessing a crush on me. The “heated” competition for vice president could very well have stirred up some feelings in him toward me. What I didn’t understand is: a) why he didn’t finish professing his “like” for me and b) why I couldn’t bully it out of him by requesting–nay, demanding his presence at the water fountain.
I couldn’t believe he didn’t show up. When my plan to uncover the rest of that sentence failed, I did the next best thing, which is get angry at George. Can anyone blame me? How dare he start saying something that maybe-but-not-definitely was to tell me he liked me, but leave me hanging like that (never mind that I was ambiguous in my own feelings toward George). The nerve of some people!
I am thinking of writing a little letter to Charles telling him that I like him only I won’t put my name on it. I just might do it.
Now I wrote the letter and a lot of kids know but they don’t know who wrote it.
One classic childhood method of gauging a potential suitor’s interest is the note saying “I like you. Do you like me? Check one box.” Below which would be two boxes, marked “Yes” and “No” respectively. If the responder wanted to be coy, a third box would be drawn in marked “Maybe” (nowadays, we call a person like that “a tease”).
Being only ten years old and still somewhat of a slave to traditional gender roles (and–oh yeah–a chicken) I didn’t want to take such a direct route with Charles. I decided it would be much more exciting to write him an anonymous note.
Seeing as I wrote this journal entry over the course of one day, I must have decided pretty quickly to take such dramatic and mysterious measures in expressing my interest in Charles. I can imagine the thrill I must have felt slipping the letter into his desk when nobody was looking, the delicious anxiety over the possibility of being found out. To be honest, I may have been inspired by Secret Admirer, the 1985 C. Thomas Howell movie in which anonymous love letters continually end up in the wrong hands with disastrous/”hilarious” results. I found the concept terribly romantic, and also a perfect way to share my feelings without actually putting my heart on the line.
As news of the note buzzed through our class, I kept quiet about my identity and pretended to be surprised with the rest. For now, it was enough that Charles knew someone liked him.
At the very least, I provided a bit of intrigue to what would have otherwise been an ordinary day in the fifth grade.