Elena’s Letters - A Short Story
I was feeling as miserable as only a teenager can, angsty and alone, having no clue what lay ahead. My grandmother died that November after a lingering illness, like a tired old battery run down past useful days. My mother had the hospital pull the plug on her finally. We buried her in the Catholic cemetery in Wilkes-Barre where she’d once lived.
Granny raised the three of us while Mother worked fulltime; Dad had been dead for years. She’d left her home at seventy-four to live in the heart of the Old South just to raise us. Both my sisters were off at college, so once Granny died, I was alone except in the evenings when Mother came home from work.
Earlier that year, a close friend had moved to Alabama with the rest of her Air Force family, and it seemed like everybody I cared about was leaving.
Gabriela was my best friend’s girlfriend up until recently when she figured they wouldn’t be marrying after all. Byron and I used to walk to school so we could pick her up on the way. She had a friend, Lisa who I tried to hook up with, but stayed friends with afterwards. Lisa was this laughing red head spark of a girl. We’d pick Lisa up first, then head to Gabriela’s house. Probably the highlight of my high school days, ‘cause in the afternoon I was delivering newspapers for several hours Monday through Friday.
Gabriela’s father was an Air Force officer–he flew RB-66s in Vietnam. When he and his wife adopted Byron, they adopted me too. Gabriela’s mother smoked like a chimney. Her father smoked as well; they both drank. We’d head up in the summer to their house trailer at Lake Wateree about an hour out of town. Those were some blissful, good times.
As she was leaving Sumter, Gabriela promised she’d find someone for me–in the back of my mind I hoped she’d volunteer herself–even several states away. I liked how she was so self-contained and cheerful. Instead, when she landed in Montgomery, she sent me the address of a schoolmate she thought I might like to exchange letters with.
“She’s really smart–and cute.”
Since I wasn’t so bold at sixteen to hope to exchange more, I agreed with the project. I was already writing a ton of letters to Gabriela, and she likewise, so what was one more girl I’d never get to date? I’m telling you, I was just that lonely.
Gabriela had an eye for hooking people up–the rest she figured was up to us.
Mine were rambling, pretentious affairs, filled with stuff I’d never try saying to a girl in person. Hers were bright and happy, and I was sure she’d lose interest, so I worked at the letters. Five years later, Elana stopped writing.
Tuesday, December 27, 1966
Can you believe this? I actually wrote!
Guess what I didn’t get for a Christmas present… that’s right! contact lens! unfortunately I wear glasses to read and write and watch movies terrible isn’t it… guess what I did get… false eyelashes for my blue eyes, a stuffed toy goat, an owl bank, and a book of limericks. Hope yours was a truly merry Christmas!
But I can’t go on like this! you don’t even know me! So I’ll tell you some things about me: Five foot two eyes of blue. That’s me! With long brown hair too. In my spare (when?) time I write songs, poetry, and/or comedy skits. What versatility! this kid is good! Shut up, Elana.
Anyway, there’s a bright red male cardinal outside my bedroom window right now, beautiful.
Don’t worry about the phrase, spare time–I’ve got enough. I just don’t plan ahead and use it right. When I don’t have spare time I’m either working on a Drama Club play or something for Debate Club. I had a part in the Thespian Play this year–hence the attached program. Pretty cool, huh?
I entered a contest at a debate tournament in Birmingham for “Poetic Interpretation.” Would you believe I won first place? It’s true!
But those are the only things I’ve done all year so I have to brag about them over and over to everybody… sorry about that. Also, if you notice a lot of clichés in my writing, try to ignore them. I guess I’m kind of a trite expression myself.
Did you know, I’m a junior this year?
Please write again, your first letter was so nice. And since you made it through mine, maybe I’ll write again sometime–remember, only a letter specifically forbidding it will stop me.
Who would like to see you and/or hear from you again…
January 24, 1967
This is a letter to Bill,
As you may or may not have noticed it is typed for legibility. The stationary is of a conservative style: plain white.
Well, friend, how’s life? Overlooking the bitter sarcasm which began your letter it was nice to get some mail from Sumter. I hope you didn’t really study too hard for your exams. I must admit I didn’t start studying until last night before my first test. Maybe I should organize the Procrastinators Unlimited.
Oh yes! Have a very successful and happy new year 1967. Only a month has gone of it yet, so there’s still time. I believe time is the fourth dimension. It is an uncontrollable intangible whose… oh forget it, my mind is wandering again.
Would you like to know what my most recent project is? I am trying now to read all the books that people have said I should. Already I’ve read Dr. Zhivago and The Hobbit. That still leaves the Screwtape Letters, Lord of the Rings and Don Quixote. Like T.S. Eliot said, “We read many books because we cannot know enough people.”
Most important resolution: study hard and get great report cards. Yes, it’s true; I’m one of those phony fools who think they have to go to college. Mostly because they are so bad off they couldn’t do anything else with their miserable little lives.
Oh, motley crew! Oh, sorry lot!
I wish I really was a poet. As a poet I could say what I meant in the most beautiful way. Have you ever wanted so much to do–or be–something you just knew was beyond your limitations?
Well, anyway, I’m glad you made it through the first page. I just read it over; I have hardly enough courage to begin page 2.
To prove to all the unbelievers I don’t do nothing: I washed the little car today. Barefoot, wearing short shorts, a cut-off sweatshirt; I really did it. The weather has been unbelievable. We had three feet of snow this time of year living in New York. I’d heard the Wallaces were all-powerful here in Alabama, but this is ridiculous!
Now, you asked me to send you a picture of myself so you could gaze upon it or something. I won’t send one. Last year’s photo shows my mouth open wide. This year my hair was straggly, my sweater wrinkled, my pearls crooked. Elana is too vain to send such unflattering portraits.
I hope you will write. Maybe you can tell me if you play the guitar. I have one but no one to teach me. Pity. But write me a letter even if you don’t play the guitar.
Funny, I can’t decide how to sign my name to a letter to someone I hardly even barely know.
16 March 1967
Now that exams are forgotten and winter is sneaking away, Elana is writing you a letter.
I just read that last letter you sent. You closed it with a picture of Zoren. I like it. His eyes look so evil!
Last weekend I was in Mobile for a debate tournament. It was the greatest thing. We went to dinner at 1:00 AM and swam at 2:30 that first night. Second night we had pizza, played football, sang songs of our own making. Too bad we didn’t win. BUT! There is another tournament in April and we are very hopeful…
Debbie Cox, the most talented artist my high school has ever or will ever have, is painting me, little Elana, a picture. I can’t wait until it’s done.
Another reason for impatience: my high school has the most beautiful class rings, and mine won’t be here until May, darn it all!
I want to tell you, announce proudly the fact that my high school is STILL #1! Other Alabama schools don’t think it’s so good. On our debate trips I’ve met very friendly people. But suddenly they’re snobs when I say I go to Lanier. As if it’s my doing that WE ARE #1!
Tonight I’m going to play bridge with some friends. I’ve never played before but they said they could teach me. They’re brave to try… My mind usually won’t think well enough to understand card games–that’s why I play a lot of solitaire. I don’t have to compete against more powerful minds.
I’ve a term paper due April 3rd. It’s on John Steinbeck. I hope it’ll be all right. I really haven’t done much of anything towards getting it ready.
Well, stranger, I’ve got to close this. Up, up & away to South Carolina. Be nice this week & think of happy things.
May 17, 1967
Congratulations! Gabriela had never told me your class and neither had you. I think to be a senior and a graduate is great. Me, I’m but a Junior. But next year will be my year. I wish it will be great.
Our exams start one week from today. You wouldn’t believe my Amer. History teacher. She’s always saying how things were during World War One. She must be that old. She lost some test papers and almost gave those poor ones F’s and incompletes.
Our final is next Thursday and the farthest history we’ve covered in the stock market crash of ’29. I hope your exams go well.
This summer will be spent traveling from Alabama to New Jersey to Arkansas to Oklahoma to Alabama and again to New Jersey. Sorry, I’ll miss Gabriela, Lake Wateree, and you. But something to cheer anyone up: I might get to travel in Europe next summer! My parents have been against my traveling alone ‘way across the Atlantic. But…my mother read an article about youth hostels and youth groups that are very inexpensive (as low as $1 a day!) and properly chaperoned.
In one of your earlier letters you quoted Paul Simon. So! We’ve got a new Simon & Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning 3 AM. (When I say ‘we’ I mean my brother; he owns all the Simon & Garfunkel albums around here.) If you haven’t heard it you should. I really enjoy it.
To get back to you: Already I feel very inferior. Firstly, I’m a Junior. Secondly none of the poems I contributed to the literary magazine were printed. Thirdly, anything I look at wilts and dies. How can you be so good at all I am not? It isn’t really fair, is it?
On a data form I had to fill out I was asked which person of all I knew I would like to be like, I put down Bradley Jones’s name. I hope the people don’t think me too strange for putting down a boy’s name. Would you? It’s starting to worry me. Oh well. I’d still like to be like Bradley in lots of ways so it could be OK… (inquiète, moi)
Tell Jamie I love him if he doesn’t run the 440 or the mile relay. It’s really great winning the Track Championship of South Carolina.
Lanier is Triple State champs, did you know? Go Poets!
Bill, if you have an extra graduation announcement, could you send me one? Maybe they are just “gimme cards” but I’d like one just the same. (I can be a very greedy, “gimme” person!)
Please keep in touch this summer, I would like a letter, now and then.
PS After reading this over, I must apologize for grammar and spelling–atrocious!
May 27, 1967
Thank you for sending me the grad announcement. It’s very nice. It seems I’ve always known more upperclassmen than kids my own age. Next year will be my own. I hope it’s great as I expect.
I’m glad you asked about Lanier. And don’t feel inferior or anything. Lanier is #1 because really, it’s the best Alabama has. There’s nothing to compare it with here. But South Carolina must certainly have many excellent schools to compete for no. 1. To continue the bragging:
Football: State Champions
Basketball: State Champions
Indoor and outdoor Track: State Champions
There are 640 in the 1967 graduating class. 45 have scholarships. That is more than seven percent! Which I think is very good. 3 boys are going to a military academy. 5 seniors have National Merit Scholarships.
To change the subject: You mentioned Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Terrific. That is the best I’ve heard. It was the first S&G album we (my brother) got.
Graduation here is Tuesday night. There will be a Seniors dance after that from midnight to dawn.
Only Seniors and their dates can go. But! My nice, insistent friends are trying to get me (a junior) a date. The boy’s name is Bradley Jones. He has a scholarship to Emory University and is really terrific. If you get this letter before Tuesday night, say an urgent prayer for me, OK?
One question before I have to close. In your letter you said, and I quote, “Please don’t” (Oops! Wrong quote!) here we go: quote: “Besides, a girl who likes a boy’s name can’t be all bad (remember Gabriela?)” end quote. Okay, mighty South Carolinian, translate it, please.
Another thing, you said a friend said that Lanier is Modern and extreme? Or something like that. But after studying here a year, I feel enough of an expert to say that it’s more traditional than anything else. There could possibly might be another Lanier as great as this one. (Although I doubt it. Ahem.)
Write me letters sometime.
Elana Class of 68
24 July 1967
I am writing you mainly to tell you I am leaving. In one week I will be on my way to New Jersey. You were right. I am an Air Force “BRAT” What a thrill! (joke)
Have you ever read Franny and Zooey? I just finished it and I cried. I don’t know why. But I cried after I read Catcher in the Rye, too. Should I risk Salinger’s 9 Stories?
I must tell you My hero is in Europe this summer on a Bicycle Tour. He’s a very nice boy. I’m excited for him. It is impressive—what made me think to tell you that is you want to be an architect. Jayne Frier’s dad is an architect. He designed most of the new buildings at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ark. But the point is, I mean to wish you so much luck and success in that field.
You know, Bill, you are a pretty terrific person. (But of course you already knew that.) I mean, you’re really smart to get that Navy thing at Georgia Tech. And you’re always talking about Judo and Karate and all. I’d bet you are pretty good at it all. And a gardener! I’m glad your grass is growing. I know that sounds pretty silly but I really mean that. It sounds like a real accomplishment. Once when I was really feeling low, I was going to kill me, then I thought, what have I done? I am absolutely nobody. Ah! But forgive me I shouldn’t act this way.
Tell Zoren I think about him sometimes, you too. Elana
Sunday August 4, 1967
Your letter and especially the postscript made me stop to think. I feel as though we are yet STRANGERS. Even after writing letters for one year.
Every time you write you tell me a little more, not just news, but more about you. I like it really.
Pansies and/or daisies are decidedly more striking than carnations. The most beautiful flowers I’ve seen here in–ugh–New Jersey (please excuse the ‘ugh.’ The popular thing is to not like it. Something must be good here for people to keep coming and staying, but all I’ve heard is complaining) is the rose. So many varieties growing and blossoming through the summer. Roses grow well and are truly beautiful. If roses are in bloom when you might visit, would you agree to wear one?
Barbara, a friend in Montgomery invited me to visit but I’m forced to write to her regretfully explaining why I cannot come (but graciously!!) My parents don’t want me traveling by myself. Today I’m angry that I’m a girl and not enjoying women’s rights.
My ever-stunning, spectacular, charming (and humble) brother is allowed to take all-day excursions into New York City. But I am not permitted to even see one 2 hour concert in Central Park. Really, the concert would last 3 hrs. Shrug. SIGH.
Yesterday (last night) I walked to Joel’s house to borrow a record. Electric Flag: A Long Time Comin’ Jay (his younger brother) who really owns the record gave it to me. I said as I left, “Is Monday too late?” “Too late for what?” “To return the record,” I said. “Oh, just keep it.” “Really?” “Yeah, you can just keep it.” “Thanks you!!!”
Anyway I NOW OWN (notice the same three letters) a year-old used album by the ever-popular ELECTRIC FLAG AN AMERICAN MUSIC BAND!!! (I now expect balloons to color the sky and cheering crowds, multitudes? To fill our ears and eyes.)
Thursday I suspect he’ll be over here to borrow it or take it away from me. SIGH.
Pleased sir, am I to know you “can stand” psychedelic music and folk rock and rock and soul. County Joe and The Fish, Moby Grape, (San Francisco’s own) Grateful Dead, THE BEATLES (!!!) Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company and Simon & Garfunkel. Oh, I like them all!!
Have you noticed? This letter has more?? (), and !! than ideas and/or thoughts? I have.
Your Friend, Elana
(now I’m getting very sly…)
it is so great you won’t want to miss it.
I’ve begun James Joyce’s Ulysses. I like it.
September 20, 1967
Listen, I warn you, this is going to be a letter of apology. I must apologize for not writing sooner. In your letter you said to tell you if I wanted to discontinue our exchange of letters. Please don’t think that because I haven’t written that this is so. I really do like to get your letters, and as you said, Bill, you like getting mail. And what was that about nothing in common? We really haven’t mentioned Gabriela since the first letters. We have told each other about the things we’ve been doing; and, more noticeably, the books we’ve been reading. That is one thing I like about you. You read. I really don’t read all that much, but some people I know aren’t too sure what a book is.
And now that I’m through lecturing I’ll attempt to write a friendly, interesting letter.
How’s college life? I don’t know how far Clemson is from Sumter, but I was hoping you’d get this monstrosity if you came home for a weekend. I have finally made it; I’m a senior. A plebe at Annapolis once told me seniors are the best! I’m sure, though that doesn’t impress a college man.
Before I forget: I moved again. As you guessed from the address, yes, I am a military brat.
Bill, please, write me still about what you’re up to. I really am interested. When anything exciting or important happens, I promise to rush you a letter.
Take care of yourself.
Please forgive horrible typing.
October 4, 1967
Absence is to love what wind is to fire
It strengthens the Great and extinguishes the Small
November 10, 1967
Hi! How’s college life?
Listen, I know it was I who said, “please write, I will” and it was I who didn’t write. Just be glad (I hope) I did, finally.
You write you don’t like Clemson so much as you hoped. I hope things have changed for the better since you wrote me that letter. You sound pretty busy (working on karate, making posters, etc.) I know when I am busy things are usually better than when I’m not. I’m not sure I understand the value or meaning of that last statement but it’s there for whatever it might be worth..
I can sympathize with you about the boy-girl ratio. Boys are outnumbered 3-1 here. It’s not as bad as I think you have it at Clemson. 75% of girls here are attractive, but only 30%-50% of boys can say likewise. As I see it: things are bad.
I feel pretty rich now (relatively speaking; I’m usually broke.) But thanks to several babysitting jobs I have been able to buy 2 sweaters, 1 pair of slacks, and 1 hat. I’ve yet to buy my yearbook, though and that’ll be a big cut. Another expense, not really necessary but I want it anyway, is a sorority. I’ve just been elected to the Senior Girls’ Sorority which is quite an honor!!! Sorry, please excuse the arrogance, but I’m feeling pretty good because of it…
Let me tell you some of what I’ve been doing. Last October 28, I ventured into Pennsylvania and saw the play, Billy Budd. I attended a talent show last week, which wasn’t much. Tomorrow night I’m going to hear this area’s best band, The Embryonic Mustache. What a thrill! (questionable) I’m also learning to play guitar, which is almost a joke. Paul (the boy teaching me) says my fingers go naturally. But it seems that isn’t enough because when I pick up a guitar, the room is suddenly very empty. (not really, but almost seems that way.)
The weather up here is unbelievable. Remember last January I wrote it was warm enough to wash my car? Well… since the middle of October wool clothes, heavy coats and sweaters have been necessities. Oh how I long for the warm, sunny south! Listen to me who plans to go to Massachusetts for a college education. Ridiculous.
You asked if I knew Cathy or Wendy S. I do not. There are many S’s here in Columbus, and Mount Holly, New Jersey but I neither know nor am related to them.But that’s too bad.
Take care of yourself and have a good time too.
March 10, 1968
Hmm. I didn’t realize you were so interested in art? I suppose you have to take some courses though for a major in architecture, or has that changed? I’ve always (well, almost always) liked art. My courses though have always been aimed at a scientific college future. I’ve never been able to take any courses in it. I hope in college maybe I’ll have room for one.
Which reminds me, I don’t know where I will be going to college, (or if). I’ve only applied so far to one college: Douglass of Rutgers. I’m applying now to New Mexico University and the University of Arkansas. I hope someone will give me a scholarship. I am a National Merit Finalist now, but of the 14,000 in US only 2900 get scholarships.
The winter weather is terrible. I wish spring would hurry up and come. It was really warm today 55 degrees! Do you remember last year when I wrote from Montgomery? I remember telling you about the early spring and beautiful weather. I would like to go south again sometime. It’s nicer.
Being a senior is fun. Already plans are being made for our class trip and supper and all the graduation ceremonies. In January I ordered announcements. I’ll send you one although it is no way as pretty or as attractive as was yours. In fact, mine looks UGLY! BLAH! (oh well, that’s life??)
There are other things I could complain about. No depth, I suppose.
My first semester I studied Communism. I read some textbooks that don’t sound as interesting as yours. I’ve been interested (although admittedly only slightly) in economics since my first course in ninth grade. I think it was the teacher who got me so interested. He told me I should know in case the Commies took over!!!
There is a new book you might be interested in reading. Title? Report from Iron Mountain. It’s a report of a commission which studied the possibility of permanent universal PEACE and its effect on economy and society and everything. My history teacher (a 1965 graduate of Purdue) thinks it is just a put one, a farce. As soon as he finishes I hope to borrow it.
I hate to admit it but I have yet to finish Lord of the Rings. I’ve only 100-200 pages and have promised to return it by St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe I’ll make it… Be sure to tell me how your term paper about Lord of the Rings turns out. It is fantastic in its detail, this novel of Tolkien. It’s intriguing and so very factual I almost believe it. It’s getting harder and harder to convince myself it isn’t true (the story, that is.)
Many people have said the Vietnam War will be ended by politicians this election year. Although I find it hard to believe, it is hopeful. I hope you won’t be called. I don’t know why but I want to protect all the people I know from this curious savage. I hope your knee is better but I’m glad if it has postponed any hint of your being drafted.
Please take care of yourself. Have a nice spring vacation.
PS Peace and love will not perish!
March 27, 1968
Right now as I write I’m listening to the Jefferson Airplane and eating butterscotch candy. Tonight is dress rehearsal for my play. Tomorrow I have to give an oral resumé of Maupassant’s Les Prisonniers in French. I have yet to read it. Oh well.
If I ever said I would enter a scientific field, I lied. Chemistry is impossible. I’ve finally slaved my way up to an A but, in doing so, fell to a C in advanced math. Needless to say, my parents were less than thrilled. Actually I plan a major in language (French–hope not!) or in the dramatic arts. Theater is the most fascinating experience. Especially total theatre: music, lights, everything!
The film-I-want-to-see is The Graduate. My brother saw it at Princeton and has promised to take me sometime. (It seems like a year since it came out!) April 6, I will go to New York City. I hope to see it then. Dede Cowin (friend and lover of theater as I am) is one of few critics whose opinions I respect. She found The Graduate fantastic, unreal, enjoyable, the best of her experiences! So, it must be good.
Soon I will spare time (or rather, enough ‘free time’) to read. I will read Camus’s The Plague, and I will read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, but first I will finish the trilogy. I’ve already promised to spend July re-reading Tolkien’s greatest. I’m happy to hear he’s writing another. Frankly, I always preferred The Hobbit and elves and dwarves to stories of men.
Have you read Camus’s The Stranger? I have. I liked it, too; it’s absorbing–about a man who senselessly kills another man. Strange. After reading it I renamed it The Strangest. (not really, but I couldn’t resist the chance to say that. Humor doesn’t really hurt.)
By the way, my brother received a National Merit Scholarship. Nobody but the immediate family is supposed to know before May2, but I don’t think it would hurt to tell you. I mean, I don’t think you’re about to run all the way up here just to tell everybody… I’m a Finalist, though, like your sister. I might make it yet.
Do you know Jim Bryant? Neither do I. He lives in California, but every day (twice) I pass the house where he used to live and say, “that’s where old Jim Bryant used to live.” Actually it’s not my idea, only my habit. My friend knew Jim B and says it all the time. My friend named Joel is 6 days older than I am and lives down the street. He picks flowers.
I really don’t know why I told you that. It’s silly (and by the way, “silly” originally meant useless and empty.) You already knew that though, didn’t you. Oh well.
Someday I will return to the South. People there are nicer, not so rushed anyway and almost polite. I say “almost” because most people anywhere aren’t polite these days.
Well, I really must read my French. If anything exciting happens, I promise to write and tell you about it.
You be good. And write to me.
PS I hope you realize I’m grinning mischievously all the while…
April 12 1968
Winter is gone. Spring is here. The weather has been beautiful the past week or so. My spring vacation is almost over. School starts again the seventeenth. I haven’t done much this vacation. I’ve made a lot of plans but not many things have really happened. There are two major shopping malls here: Cherry Hill and Moorestown. Today I went to Moorestown with my family. Monday I’m going to Cherry Hill with some friends.
My birthday was last week. I’m the youngest member of the senior class here. But finally made it to seventeen. Joel who lives down the street is six days older than I am. He’s a senior. Bob K. is 5 months older than I am and he’s a Junior (he lives down the street the other way.)
Looks like college will be Douglass College, a 30 minute train ride from NYC. I went there (New York) last week. There are a million things to do and see. I hope I go again soon. New Brunswick, New Jersey where Douglass College is found is about a 2 hour drive north of here. I’ve no scholarship or anything and no summer job but my parents say they still can’t pay all my expenses. Hmm, what to do.
As far as reading goes, I finished Lord of the Rings. I’ve already decided on re-reading it this summer (instead of all that eating and sleeping I usually do). I bought The Little Prince by St. Exupéry for Joel last week. He’s read it twice and I’ve read it once since then. I hope to read the French version soon. I also bought I Never Promised you a Rose Garden. I already told you about it though, I think. Very good book; it’s a thinking book.
Have you read the Tolkien Reader? Not me. How about The Smith of Wooten Major? Are those the ‘fairy’ stories you were telling me about? As soon as I can, I will buy them, too. Wow! This is some library I’m building! I’ve been spending a lot of money lately on records and posters and books. It’s really strange.
Today and yesterday I made a new dress. I do it every month or so and walk around telling everybody, which is really foolish and strange.
Let me tell you what I’ve been saying lately. These phrases originally were said very tongue-in-cheek. Lately though they occasionally fit the situation. They are: “Boy are you out of it!” “You crack me up!” “You kill me!” “Is that ever strange!” It must be the weather. Everything is getting stranger and stranger.
I like it that you paint. I couldn’t I don’t think. I’ve really never tried. Mostly to be creative I write poems and things. But I’m not very good at that either.
Please take care of yourself and that knee! Well, please write. I’ve got to go. I’m missing a lunar eclipse.
Your friend, Elana
July 27, 1968
I love it when you write. Your letters always make me smile. I really wish we could meet someday. Could you visit your sister in New Jersey sometime? My college is in the state so I’m always here. Please do. We could wear carnations so to recognize ourselves on park benches.
Did you know? Elana is a waitress. Five days each week she works the other two she tries not to spend the money. Who could imagine? I know I need to save it but it’s slipping away with such trivial things: GLASSES, RECORDS, ICE CREAM.
On evenings I have workshop. I’m learning to Breathe, to Speak, to Project, to ACT. Also lighting, set design. Blah, Blah Blah. Such interesting (REALLY!!!) things. Our theater is an old chapel. Tonight, before I had the key, I tried to get in through a window.
My favorite game is “Spy.” A friend of mine is in the FBI. I’m going to help him out when he needs some Shadowing and SPY-ing done.
My father went to Asia and returned with a ring for me and beggers’ beads from Bangkok. I love them. They are so Beautiful. I like to wear them all the time. He’s afraid I’ll lose them or break them. They are (you must believe me!) FANTASTIC!!!
Tuesday last, I went to a surprise birthday party. Seeing my friends, an seeing them all together makes me happy but really I don’t like parties. I used to, very much. But recently, they’ve become bothersome and formal. Unnatural, too.
Suzanne by Leonard Cohen is a beautiful song recorded by Judy Collins. When it rained last week, I sang it over and over again.
Please always sing and smile, they are among the most beautiful and lovely things to do.
Write me letters please again.
PS and to think we’ve never met? We must have in an earlier life. What do you think?
January 17, 1969
This morning I received your letter and immediately wrote a reply. When I came to put the answer in an envelope with stamp both were gone. So again today I write to you.
Monday is the Inauguration. Friends of mine are going down to Washington for the weekend. Anti-inauguration inauguration ball and march. I hope everything for them goes well and wish I could be in their numbers.
My exams were over this morning. The very last one for me. It’s such a relief to have so much off my mind.
A friend has let me borrow his Joan Baez albums while he is home for the intersession. They are on the stereo now and I’m really enjoying them. Rock is fantastic but Folk is much gentler so this music has been my constant companion for the past few months. Most of time spent singing in my own voice with friends! Guitar too.
Have you heard the soundtrack of Hair? I recommend it. Someday I would hope to see the production. Another soundtrack is that of 2001 A Space Odyssey Wow. Both are exciting. The first is entertaining, funny; the second is powerful and nice really just for listening.
For Art: collages are very much fun. One covers my wall. Others are very tiny I give as presents. Surprises.
As I write I wait for my brother to call. He’s in Princeton and will come to visit. Brothers are nice to have. Like friends.
Never take friends “for granted.” This love of friends is so very beautiful. So often I forget.
The friends here now find love and peace so important. Some would die if ever they despaired of Love in the world. So much hate and war is overwhelming. Hides the love of people for each other. Kindness, gestures, lovely thoughtful thinking things. Nice. Games to play to Make People Happy.
Loving people one at a time
Spreads and spreads until
the one is everyone.
Take care, Bill, please work and read and laugh and play games.
You could make up your own games. People games. To make all of them glad to see you.
Are you studying Architecture still? You talk (write) of creative writing, literature and art. Do you sometimes think you are into the wrong thing?
Write me a letter soon. You owe me one.
March 3, 1969
Hello. It’s oh about one o’clock in the afternoon. I’m listening to WNEW – FM radio. The news but after some very good rock and folk music. News is very depressing. Israel, Berlin, etc. Oh well.
Douglass College and Rutgers College in New Brunswick are closed. The black students demanded a 5-day cancellation of classes. To discuss, organize and present their proposals for a restructured university. Actually, I can’t really understand what is happening. I’ve been attending caucuses and convocations and committee meetings, but all becomes very hostile and frustrating after only a very short time–oh well. Maybe things can be bettered without much more trouble.
Have you heard the Incredible String Band? Wow. I really love the two who make up this band. Such happy and magical sounds they make.
And I thank you for the poetry. About two weeks ago I tried again writing poetry. Three poems were begun but as I’ve done with everything left unfinished.
Last week I saw the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore East and the week before that I saw them at Columbia University. Frank Zappa is Beautiful and I love him. Also, last week my parents took me to dinner at Delmonico’s, (the Park Avenue restaurant), and the next night I saw Hair which is fantastic. New York City is a wonderfully exciting place to be so much happening so much to make happen.
SDS at Rutgers is getting louder and louder but not saying anything. Just making conservative students very REACTIONARY.
It’s happening to me again, Bill. I’m really hung up on Jack. My mind isn’t together and I don’t even know me. Yet here I sit thinking I can know and love him. **Explosion**
My roommate just came in. She’s cool. We get along really well, best friends. Some times before we were really growing away from each other but lately things have been really cool.
Good luck on you project. You enjoy it very much or not? You said about it, “It will be fun” but remembering that on previous occasions you don’t mean quite what you say. Well…
Douglass isn’t a BAD school. There are some very Beautiful people here. Some very Intelligent almost Brilliant people. In another few weeks we will have started the privilege of “self-determination.” Socially, each house–living unit will make its own rules concerning curfew, visiting hours, etc. Academically students will be on decision making committees. Next year we have a 4 course load. Requirements lowered and lessened. There will be more of a chance for intensive and extensive research. For auditing other classes. It could be very exciting.
Last night it was to have snowed but it didn’t. So today it was supposed to, but the sky is clearing so… About all I have to say to that is weather is certainly a funny thing.
I can’t wait for spring. Officially it will be spring in 3 weeks but it will be so cold yet. Oh well. Why I liked Alabama. The winter was so mild spring seemed to last from February through April almost May.
Well, Friend Bill, can you creatively write me another letter someday soon? I would like it very much.
Take care of yourself.
April 15, 1969
Hello. Today is Tuesday and right now it’s ten o’clock at night. This morning I studied Russian. Took an exam at eleven o’clock in the morning. This morning I wrote an English composition, went to the Agricultural School at Rutgers and saw pigs, cows and sheep. Sat on a wall outside of the College Center giving flowers to the people who walked below me. Went to a lake and log cabin. Sat on the grass in the rain. Came back to campus with Dirk. And Lou and Marcia. We four and John smoked a little hash. Listened to Rolling Stones and Blood Sweat and Tears through headphones. Tonight went to dinner with Dirk stoned. Came back to the dorm. Saw Stan just a few minutes ago. Came upstairs again to my room’s wing lounge. Sat down and read some of theatre history assignment and decided to write you a letter.
Hello. How are you? I’m fine.
This weekend I’m going to New York City. To Brooklyn. Sunday afternoon we’re going to Central Park. Meeting many people there.
Last Monday (yesterday in fact) I was to meet Boden after my last class 4:00 PM. So I did. It was a very odd thing though. He drove to school (an hour’s drive because he commutes) before eight o’clock in the morning for a demonstration that was cancelled. So he did nothing all day except wait for me. I had played tennis and gone to some classes and even studied all day and at four was exhausted. He offered to drive me and my many packages, books, tennis racket, etc., home. When we got to my dorm he said goodbye. I got out. He didn’t turn off the car’s engine. I walked upstairs and still saw him sitting in his car. GRINNING at me and then driving away. He wasn’t tripping yesterday so I’d like to see him tomorrow and ask what he was doing.
Hello Bill. I just realized (“just” she says, HA! Tsk) None of what I’ve written makes sense or has any (much) relevance to anything.
Sunday I was in Princeton. Went to a Folk Mass there at the University Chapel at 4:45 at night. After that my brother took me to eat dinner in the Commons. It was a good Sunday. On the bus coming home that night I say next to a straight middle aged lady. She was all right though. A little turned off by my dirty clothes and face. But still nice and all right.
Monday afternoon and Thursday morning I have Tennis lessons.
Tomorrow is Wednesday. I think I’m going to buy some shoes, some sandal. I need a new pair.
A girl just walking into my hall shouting “Does anyone want to buy a donut?”
I just talked on the phone to Michael who is very nice and insists he knows me but I can’t remember ever meeting him. He’s a friend of my roommate.
At eleven o’clock I no longer have to sit here. I may at that time go to sleep. “Here” is next to the telephone. Each girl has to take her turn at sitting here one evening to answer all calls. It’s a real down.
Augh!! I’m suffering from over-exposure to DIRT! I, Elena am filthy!! So please excuse me to clean up a lot and write me sometime soon!
April 24, 1969
Dear friend Bill
The first line of your letter said, “things have changed for you, Elana, very much” and you are right.
Today is April 24 and there is still so much spring to enjoy. Spring and Trees and Birds and Flowers came along just in time to save me from myself.
I’ve been reading e e cummings and visiting graveyards and public libraries and talking to eccentric shopkeepers of eccentric shops and receiving beautiful letters in the mail and laughing and crying at the same time and having Ron say he loves me and hoping you’ll come to New Jersey so I can see you. And most of all, deciding not to make decisions but instead to make subtle choices as I live.
There is a difference you know. The first is easier once the earth-shaking decisions have been made. The second involves simpler things and not necessarily constant reevaluation. But instead giving in–or not–to frivolities and whimsy. Whimsy is like Lewis Carroll and Alice and the Red Queen and the Jabberwock.
Hello, Bill. I’m feeling especially sad-happy today and especially crazy-nice. So it’s getting harder to write a letter.
So I’ll mail this and write another on April 25 or 26 or so.
Love. Peace. Happiness.
No date–from the back of a Rutgers’s theater flyer
Dear Friend Bill,
Every letter you write, I like you more and more. Please be kind.
My head is broken almost. But I’m taking care of it and helping it so it is getting a little bit better.
No songs are playing here in Student Center but I have music in my head. Judy Collins. Or I can sing the songs to myself.
For you Architecture is the beauty. For me I am sure more every day it is Theatre.
I seem to be building up and out about to reach a climax. I hope I don’t explode.
Write soon or late. But do.
PS Eric Klebs is a Friend of mine, too.
June 29, 1969
Dear friend Bill,
Hello. Today is Sunday June 29.
How is your summer at home? Mine is hard, boring, depressing.
I have been home from college exactly one month. It seems like many more. My job as a waitress is boring.
My mother has forbidden my to visit or see ever again my best friend Joel. She doesn’t approve of my other friends here either.
Last weekend I had planned to visit my old roommate. At the last minute (literally–just before leaving) my parents cancelled it. They said they didn’t want to be “responsible.”
At least six (count ‘em 6!) times I’ve almost run away from home. Or to use my own Preferred expression:
There are plans to escape to Europe in August (in the end of the month) if carried through, I’ll send you a post card.
Will you be at school in September? I have flunked out. I feel good.
Write soon. Call or visit.
September 19, 1969
Today is Thursday. If it were Sunday I’d be in Philadelphia but it’s Thursday so I’m home. Some “people” are watching their favorite TV shows, a sort of comedy-variety hour. Most people call it THE NEWS. Even from where I am upstairs I hear my parents chuckling. REALLY!!
My little sister is practicing flute. She’s now in the high school band, so she has to (keep practicing, that is.) I usually just sit and listen to the music on the radio or my records, or like now, write someone a letter.
Sometimes when I can, I “stone” myself on my environment. Like if I’m cold, I say, “dig it man, I feel cold!” but I can’t tonight–not with such inane chatter going on downstairs. Anyway, most people who see me then say I’m stoned, spaced on DRUGS, and when I tell them no, I’m STRAIGHT they say to one another SHE’S CRAZY. Some really good people though KNOW what I mean when I feel that (stoned/straight) way and share in it.
Unfortunately, no one I know here knows what I mean at all. They say I’m crazy. So maybe I’ll admit (although falsely) that I’m doing some grass or something. THEN they would understand why “I act the way I do” and not have me arrested. Or if not arrested, I’d wander in peace as a freak! Which is incredible…
Of course, Bill, I use drugs but not around my family or these local military RIGHT doings, thinkers, believers. So in order not to be declared insane, I’ll tell them I’m stoned. I am not free not free to feel to laugh or sing. Just sit in the corner chair and knit or sew (oh! so many lovely things I’m making: shirts and dresses and oh! Just think of all the money being saved!) I think I’m learning your sarcasm.
Please, Bill, try to read between and under and around the lines. Whatever it is I’m trying to say I’m not (saying, that is.) So please, Bill, if you can.
Thank you for sending me the poetry in your letters. Sitting here even remembering your letters makes me feel peace and love from someone who is by many folk’s standards a “TOTAL STRANGER.” Total, yes: one whole real person, not to me a stranger but a friend.
Please, friend find out for you which way is best. For me I must be free to feel, to give, to share, to love. My unhappiness comes when THE ELDERS stand disapproving over my shoulder. I must find a way to change them or escape them (though this is most unlikely ever) because ignoring hurts them, is selfish and helps no one.
A lot of people try to ignore the elder ones and are always condemned. Because if they were so good and giving and loving they couldn’t be doing it, couldn’t be hurting people who’ve lost (or never found) their youth.
Oh! silly, Elana. All these generalities are but overstated, over simplified particulars of her one story in the city of eight million.
Pay little or no attention at all.
Unless you do understand (really) and in that case you can sit back and nod your head wisely and gravely.
Write me letters when you can, and when I can I’ll send you letters, picture postcards, presents, and love.
26 September 1969
Except for a sore throat I’m OK.
Crosby Stills and Nash’s Wooden Ships is on the radio. Makes me long to hear the Buffalo Springfield again.
Oh! I am so lonely and pitiful of self. Crummy, huh? Just being lazy not reading or writing, barely thinking even except about my miserable existence. Well, against the advice and good counsel of my wise man and prime minister, I’m going to do something drastic about my situation. If my courage holds out I’ll be leaving this old town in another week or two.
There are some obligations to fulfill. $16.50 for my glasses and $1.10 to the phone company. Barbara Ann called me from Philadelphia where she goes to school. She called from a pay phone, we talked ten minute, and when the operator cut in demanding $1.10 for the additional minutes (actually the $1.10 was for the first ten minutes after the initial three that Barbara got for a quarter) then Barbara admitted she didn’t have any money and hung up. So me and the Operator talked awhile–she was a kid who didn’t want to get in trouble for not getting paid by a caller in a phone booth. So anyway I told her to send me a bill and I would pay. Right now I’m just sitting around waiting for that bill to come. When it does I’ll pay and leave.
So you see, dear Bill, although I would like very much to see you, it’s kind of risky to have you come. I don’t know for sure when and where I’ll be going.
You know, it’s sure going to hurt the parents to have me leave. I don’t know though. My mother says again “we (parents) know you want to leave and I’d help you pack right now except I’d worry not knowing who you were living with, whether or not you were arrested, if you were sick or not or dead…”
My brother’s in Princeton. I’d like to visit him sometime soon. Also would like to go to Ohio also to Boston or go to Colorado or California.
Do you know what I don’t like most about living at home? Not having people here to talk to, to listen to.
I haven’t read anything or seen any films, though some great ones have been around as of late. Like the Magus and the Illustrated Man and the newer ones like Midnight Cowboy that you saw. And friends send me Lists of Books to read. Books I never even see. So anyway. I know I want to–got to–go, though it will hurt. (me especially–I am so spoiled by security good food clean clothes warm bed of home sweet home.)
Goodbye dear Bill. As soon as I find out where I am, I’ll write you. Please be Happy.
29 October 1969
Well here we are again.
Sitting in the kitchen drinking tea
listening to the radio.
No, dear, we never did escape. We just sit here day after day wishing we were stoned or drunk or just FAR FAR away.
Thank you my friend for writing, for caring for this girl. She does thank you.
Outside is Fall–or Winter’s coming.
Last week I saw Mountain and Country Joe and the Fish. Country was the best but Leslie West was Beautiful. The Fish’s new drummer smiled and said hello to me but Country just split. He sure is a neat guy.
Friday I’m going to see Antigone at Douglass College. My friends are the ones who’re doing this production. I’m really looking forward to see it, and them.
My head isn’t anywhere, Bill. Just lost in Fantasies and Apathy. But I do smile and tell jokes a lot. Nobody Ever Laughs. Nobody Ever Listens. They are all lost in Fantasies, all lost in Apathy. All are one. We are all Together.
When I grow up I may be a bitter cynic, a bigot and a hater. But today I’m just a little angry that I have to be alone.
Forgive me dear Bill for sending you letters like these. Someday they will be happy and cheerful and truly loving. Today though, oh well.
Peace. Today is Christmas somewhere. Some Christ or some Christ-like person is being born and crying for himself and all men that we shouldn’t HATE. that we shouldn’t have ambitions to be BIGOTS and cynics.
I wish I was a Niggah so there would at least be a socio-economic reason for all this (self) hate.
If I could I’d wish you Peace and Love. Because you are good. Write soon.
1 February 1970
dear Bill Evans,
Hello. Remember me?
This is your old friend Elana who hasn’t written to you in a frightfully Long while. But hello again. How are you?
I am fine. Sort of. I’m on my own away from my old home and staying with friends at good old DOUGLASS COLLEGE. But that’s all right.
Sunday morning I’m hitchhiking down to Philadelphia where I’ve been living to visit my “family” there.
This new family is four people who live (with me) in a house. Commonly called a COMMUNE. We have a light show and are usually very happy. I’m out of drugs, and that makes me feel good. If I can quit smoking cigarettes I might even be healthy. I made a hat today so I feel useful and creative.
It isn’t easy living my life as a wanderer, a gypsy, but it’s exciting (sort of) and I like it.
Write me. Oh, I don’t have a forwarding address. Well write anyway and send it here to me care of Douglass College
Write. Because I’d like to hear from you again, to know how you are doing & how you’ve been. Love,