I had a pen pal once. Well, at least I wanted to have a pen pal once. As part of my fifth-grade geography class, we were expected to forge a pen pal relationship. The assignment seemed intriguing and simple enough. All I had to do was find a country that interested me and this brand new state-funded organization would hook me up with a young person from that country, one who was eager to learn what it was like to be a kid in America.
Naturally, I picked Australia because it seemed like a cool place to live. I learned in my science class that most of the deadliest animals in the world lived in Australia. Surely my pen pal would write about his encounters with a box jellyfish. Maybe he had a kangaroo for a pet. Maybe he wore short khaki shorts. One stereotype was not enough to capture my excitement.
I remember penning my first letter to my pal. Since it was the first one, I wanted to make it engaging. A good introduction is key to any literary work and my letter was no exception. I began, “Dear Pen Pal” since I still didn’t know his name. “My name is Eric and I live in Muskogee, OK. Indians used to live in my state. Have you ever seen a shark?” I was in awe of my words, each more captivating that the last. Surely this letter would enhance his thirst for American knowledge. I signed my name at the bottom, licked the envelope and handed it to my teacher. I sat confidently at my desk knowing that I had just made a lifelong friend.
For the next couple of weeks I thought about how cool it was going to be to have an Australian friend. I would go visit him during the summer and someday we would be roommates in college. He would teach me how to throw a boomerang. I would teach him how to throw a baseball. We needed each other. Our countries needed us to need each other. After all, we weren’t just pen pals. We were ambassadors.
But I never heard from him. I was the only one in the class who never heard from their pen pal. Each week the teacher would enter the classroom with a bag full of letters. Some were from France, some from Mexico, some from Canada. Never were there any from Australia. I wrote a few more times but eventually gave up. My dreams of an international friendship faded as the hands of time slowly pushed aside my childhood ambition.
So what’s the moral of this story, you ask? I honestly don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.