Pen pals come and go, that's just the nature of the zine world. In the nearly 14 years that I've been doing zines, I've written to and received letters from hundreds of people. Most of these folks I hear from once or twice and that's it. Others will exchange letters with me for a few months or maybe even a few years, and then they'll disappear. A small handful of pen friends have stuck with me for many years and will probably be around for years to come (they're the ones I cherish the most, of course). Who knows why some pen pals don't last or why they disappear? "Life" is probably the best answer. People get busy. Stuff gets in the way. New things come along, and we lose touch. It's no big deal, really. Like I said, it's the nature of the beast. However, there are a few that I do miss, and I often wish we could have stayed in touch. Then there is that small handful of old pen friends with particularly interesting parting stories.
One such story took place nearly a decade ago. I had a pen pal named, Nikki Atwell. She ordered zines from me and sent me mix tapes in return. Some of the songs on the mix tapes were her own that she had recorded herself. I don't think our exchanges went on for too long, and at some point I stopped hearing from her. I didn't think that much of it at the time, until many months later when I received a letter from Nikki's parents. Included in the letter was a funeral program. Apparently, Nikki had died in a car accident several months earlier, and her parents were going through her address book, sending out announcements to anyone she may have known. I guess I didn't know her too well, but I still felt like it was a major loss.
The reason I bring that story up now is because recently another one of my pen friends died. His name was Tim Scannell, and he was an older man who had been doing mail art for many years. I had only been exchanging letters with him for about 18 months. I knew of his cancer and that he was receiving home hospice care, but I was still a bit shocked to receive this letter from his wife:
It was kind of her to give me the news, even though we didn't know each other too well. Of course, all of this (along with my general preoccupation with death) made me wonder: what will happen if/when I die? Will someone send letters to my pen pals to let them know that I have passed on or will they just be left hanging, wondering why I haven't written back? It makes me think I should keep an updated address book just in case.
Another recent letter came from a pen pal who is still alive today, but who apparently won't be exchanging letters with me any longer for reasons I don't quite understand. His letters have often been a bit cryptic, and this one is no exception. Along with notifying me that he had closed his PO Box, he offered no alternate return address. Apparently, Plastic Bucket is moving on to bigger and better things. Regardless, if you're out there Mr. Bucket, please feel free to write again anytime. And as for pen friends near and far, old and new, be in touch - you know I always love hearing from you.