Re: re: re: re:
A glimpse inside the lives of asylum-seekers, new couples, prisoners, and pen pals through their letters, texts, WhatsApp messages, and Facebook posts
Whether we’re dating or married, lifetime pen pals or strangers, separated from family or meeting them for the first time, so much of what we have to say, and how we say it, happens through what we write to one another. And with the many tools that allow us to relay our every thought in real time, we’ve all become autobiographers, creating intimate records of our lives as we live them. Several people opened up their email inboxes, messaging apps, and (actual) envelopes. Their correspondences document everything from the impact of global tectonic shifts to the details of their days.
Text by Ann Babe, Alice Driver, Haley Cohen Gilliland, Raha Naddaf, Joy Shan, and Amy Wallace
Photographs by Naomi McColloch
Illustrations by Aidan Koch
The asylum-seeker sending updates to her sister in Venezuela
In January 2018, Josefina, a former engineer in Venezuela, moved to California, with her husband and teenage daughter. As vocal critics of the Venezuelan government, Josefina and her husband feared that if they remained in their home country, they might be jailed or kidnapped. While adjusting to life in the U.S., Josefina often messaged with her older sister, María, on WhatsApp. She vented about the asylum process and her struggles to find a well-paying job so she could continue supporting her family in Venezuela. María updated her about birthday parties and funerals, water shortages, and grocery shopping in a land of hyperinflation and scarcity.
— Haley Cohen Gilliland
April 7, 2018 7:34 PM
josefina We just bought beds, a little dining set, and the kitchen gear for the new apartment. It already has a kitchen, a refrigerator, a washer and a dryer. This comes after three months of not watching TV and being a little hungry.
maría I imagine that it’s been really stressful and that’s why you haven’t been as communicative.
josefina Little by little we’re breathing easier.
josefina We’re waiting for our work permits that will hopefully come in September.
April 10, 2018 1:35 PM
josefina Remember that you can use my credit cards if you need to.
maría I’ll buy everything I can for mom.
josefina Buy for yourselves as well, don’t line up so much, and buy stuff in bulk when you find it.
April 17, 2018 3:31 PM
josefina We’re trying to find work because right now we don’t have enough money. I’ve been cleaning houses, washing clothes, ironing, bathing clients, changing diapers.
maría Na!!!! That’s a lot of work.
josefina Too much for this little body.
April 27, 2018 10:30 PM
josefina This week I’ve been contacted by various tech businesses. They have seen my CV on the internet. I’m not invisible! They all require work permits.
June 28, 2018 6:37 PM
maría Helloooooo sister! We haven’t had water here for a week, and we’re without internet and TV — we think robbers stole the cables. Our uncle found his boat without its motor, and it was filled with rocks.
July 1, 2018 3:15 PM
maría It’s been raining and we still don’t have water so I’m trying to grab as much rain as I can in buckets.
maría I used the Mastercard to buy potatoes, and I bought mom 8 rolls of toilet paper because they’ve gotten much more expensive and it’s rare to find them.
josefina Buy everything you can find in terms of food and medicine. It’ll always be cheaper today than tomorrow.
July 11, 2018 7:36 PM
josefina Each one of us got our work permits and social security cards! Now we need to look for work!
maría The water came back on for us around dawn this morning, but some of it was wasted because the tank overflowed.
July 12, 2018 1:29 PM
josefina They approved us for asylum! In a year we will be able to request permanent residency!
maría [missed call]
maría My girl! What a fight!
August 9, 2018 9:52 PM
josefina My tailbone hurts from spending so much time at the computer looking for jobs. The biggest barrier is my English.
September 8, 2018 12:29 PM
josefina Sometimes I dream of my pots, my truck, my photos, my dolls, my apartment. Everything that was left behind. My parents. You guys. I won’t be able to return for a good while.
maría You have to fight for the good things.
The couple who swap photos when they’re apart
During fire season, Bucky Eastland, an engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, leaves his home in San Francisco to fight blazes around the state. In a regular week, he’ll be gone for three days, but during the dry summer months, he might work as many as 21 — after which he gets to return home for a few days before reporting back for another shift. When Bucky’s on the road, he and his wife, Dana, exchange snapshots of their days — road signs, sunsets, meals, car selfies, VHS tapes to add to their collection. Dana sends photos of their dog, Porter, and Bucky replies with dogs he encounters while fighting fires.
— Joy shan
This is a very wholesome version of “show me yours I’ll show you mine”
30 minutes of sleep
hands down, the best meal of my life
Haha I absolutely believe you
Do we need any of these?
We dont have willow or blair witch, we have the other ones
The man who writes letters to prisoners he’s never met
Artist Benjamin Todd Wills has been writing to people in prison for a decade. It all began when he was in college and two acquaintances were sent to serve 20-plus years. “These sentences were approximately the age gap between my father and myself, so I started contemplating how life jumps from 20 to 40 with incarceration,” he says. First Wills wrote to his friends, then he started sending letters to prisoners he had never met, beginning with a batch of 20 inmates. Hoping to get two or three responses, he received 21, including from an inmate he hadn’t written to. While reading the letters, Wills immediately recognized the prisoners’ need for human contact — some told him that they had never received a letter since being locked up. Wills kept writing and has amassed thousands of letters from incarcerated people throughout the country. Some send short stories; others write about their lives, regrets, fear, violence, sadness, softball, meals, the weather, hope; some send detailed drawings of their cells; one person mailed him an oil painting. And some, to Wills’s surprise, fold their letters into paper airplanes before sending them off.
— raha naddaf
The gamers who fell in love online
Christina and Jean-Marie didn’t learn each other’s names until a month into their friendship. In the spring of 2018, they met on Discord, an app used by 150 million gamers around the world to text or voice chat. They knew each other by their screen names: She was Persephone#5130, and he was Omage#3249. Despite the nine-hour time difference between her home in California and his in Belgium, they began to talk every day — coordinating attacks in Final Fantasy XIV, watching each other’s video game streams, dissecting their interactions with fellow gamers, and, eventually, confessing their deeper feelings. They met IRL for the first time in October, when Jean-Marie traveled to California to see her.
— Joy Shan
May 9, 2018 8:59 AM
persephone#5130 hi Omage, let me know if you want to beat up the turtle some more today 😀
omage#3249 Yeah, im gonna do a few more tries. will probably do it on your break/lunch ^^
May 9, 2018 10:48 AM
omage#3249 Are you busy or up for some runs? ^^
persephone#5130 Gimme a couple minutes
omage#3249 No problem ^^
persephone#5130 logging on
May 12, 2018 3:09 PM
persephone#5130 dumb question. do you live in France?
persephone#5130 i think you said before that you speak French?
omage#3249 I speak french but live in belgium ^^
omage#3249 Kill me with this bahamut raid
June 4, 2018 12:20 PM
persephone#5130 what is your first name?
omage#3249 Jean-Marie ^^
persephone#5130 oh that’s right you told me
persephone#5130 and i was saying how i was not sure how to pronounce it 😭
persephone#5130 i’ll ask you in voice chat
July 3, 2018 5:23 PM
persephone#5130 Do you know what a crush is?
persephone#5130 I’ve had a crush on you for a while =/ i feel really silly because I’m almost 100% sure you’re not interested
omage#3249 I need to think about it, since im not sure this will work out because we live on opposite sides of the world
persephone#5130 No worries! Sorry to spring this on you at 3 AM >_>
persephone#5130 I would appreciate it if you don’t tell other people in discord?
omage#3249 Don’t worry.
July 3, 2018 5:56 AM
omage#3249 Perse, i really like your personality, the jokes you make, even when we have opposite points of view, we still manage to find agreement. So lets make it work.
persephone#5130 0_o Omage
omage#3249 my whole body is shaking right now, hahaha.
July 3, 2018 11:58 AM
persephone#5130 can i watch you when you raid?
omage#3249 Its in one hour ^^
omage#3249 But yes
July 6, 2018 7:51 PM
persephone#5130 I would love for you to come visit me in CA next year, if it’s possible for you. I want to share more things with you.
July 6, 2018 11:44 PM
omage#3249 How is the weather in California actually?
persephone#5130 Google spring in San Jose CA
July 13, 2018 10:58 PM
omage#3249 What did you do while i was sleeping? <3
persephone#5130 Waited for you to wake up ;)
July 20, 2018 5:42 PM
persephone#5130 Do you have a passport?
omage#3249 Not yet, but tomorrow morning im gonna go to the administration to get one.
July 30, 2018 7:48 AM
persephone#5130 You haven’t told other people about us? In your gaming community
omage#3249 Nobody knows beside the ones we told
persephone#5130 May i ask why? I’m not upset. I just wanna know
omage#3249 You said that you werent sure it was official yet
persephone#5130 this is a real relationship and you are my boyfriend. i don’t want you to think that it isn’t official to me
omage#3249 Dont worry im not hurt just confused
persephone#5130 maybe we can talk more after you get off from work
August 1, 2018 8:54 AM
omage#3249 Did i actually sleep earlier in voice?
persephone#5130 yes you did
persephone#5130 i heard you snoring ❤️
persephone#5130 i may need to get some earplugs when we sleep together
August 25, 2018 12:25 PM
persephone#5130 I told my mom that my friend is visiting from Belgium
omage#3249 What did she say?
persephone#5130 She said immigrating is hard unless you get a degree or married
persephone#5130 You don’t have to meet her in October, don’t worry
September 12, 2018 9:34 AM
persephone#5130 I’m curious about this relationship question I found on Reddit. What are your realistic expectations for living together? What does a normal M-F look like?
persephone#5130 my daily routine is: wake up, go to work, go home and watch YT videos. i have a boring routine
omage#3249 We could play games together, and go outside from time to time :p
September 17, 2018 1:19 PM
omage#3249 If I went missing, my body never recovered, would you move on or devote your life to looking for me? If you did move on, how long would you wait?
persephone#5130 i would devote as much of my life as i can to looking for you while still living. like, still going to work
October 15, 2018 2:16 PM
omage#3249 Well, i hope everything will go alright when we’re together this week ^^
persephone#5130 are you going to sleep?
omage#3249 Yeah, i think i will go sleep now
omage#3249 See you tomorrow ❤️
persephone#5130 message me when you wake up? :3
omage#3249 It feels a bit magical to say that 😄
A Northern California resident using Facebook to update friends while wildfires threaten his neighborhood
On the evening of October 8, 2017, the winds were blowing like crazy in Sonoma County, and my stepfather, John McChesney, was on alert. Just four years earlier, the retired NPR reporter and his wife, Wendy von Wiederhold, had watched their two-bedroom farmhouse burn in a chimney fire. Now the conditions were perfect for wildfires, and John was worried about their newly rebuilt home, their two dogs, three goats, and eight chickens. The next day, as news spread that the Nuns Fire was threatening Santa Rosa, friends reached out on Facebook. “Are you two okay there, John?” one foreign correspondent wrote from India. “Lapping mighty close to your neck of the woods. Xxoo” John’s first response came a day later; soon he was using the site not just to share updates but to ponder the power and wonder of nature itself. John was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018, and he died six months later at the age of 78. But his posts live on.
— Amy Wallace
October 10, 2017
Wendy and I are safe at our friend Pat’s house in Sonoma. We evacuated twice yesterday; the second time as the fire had started down our canyon. We won’t know the fate of the house til later today. As most of you know we were burned out 4 years ago. If it has happened again, I’m not sure how we’ll handle it.
October 10, 2017
Great news from the neighborhood. House still standing!
October 11, 2017
We were under our third evac order, but decided to stick it out and the situation looks good. Few active fires near us; winds calm. Thank all of you for concern and no “thoughts and prayers.”
October 12, 2017
The dogs are with us still at the house. We stayed overnight and immediate threats seem reduced. Goats and chickens evacuated yesterday. We are both wrung out and relieved, but the horror around us continues. 24 dead, 170,000 acres burned, thousands of homes lost. Tourists told to get out. That’s new for Sonoma County! The firemen here are truly heroic. Sounds trite, but I watched them close up yesterday successfully defend a neighborhood at great risk to themselves.
October 13, 2017
Still at home. All quiet. Can’t leave because if we do, we can’t come back because we are in an evac area. To those of you not here that may seem crazy, but we have an easy, quick exit route that is not threatened by fire. Cars are loaded. Harder to leave and then have to imagine what’s happening than to stay and wait. Physically we are fine, psychologically, a little stressed. This is day five.
October 14, 2017
Morning check in for all the good friends out there. We are still here and the immediate threats are sharply reduced. Winds have been less than forecasted and are dying down. Feeling better, but naturally exhausted. Will take years for this part of paradise to recover.
October 15, 2017
We are out of it unless some random nastiness occurs in the future. Our little valley, Bennett Valley, got scorched in places, especially on our great Bennett Mountain (Trione-Annadel State Park), some upper reaches of Sonoma Mountain Road, and the area up on Bennett Ridge. Looking forward to first day without that all-consuming tension. Time to quit worrying about ourselves and see what we can do for others who have fared so badly.
October 15, 2017
Sitting here on the front porch in a strange silence. No traffic at all except for the occasional convoy of firetrucks, or a sheriff’s car. Red Tail hawk wheeling overhead, crows chatting, hummingbirds fighting over our feeders, covey of quail in the front yard, me drinking a glass of Lasseter’s Rose, slowly coming down from the fiery fury I just saw on the Mayacamas ridge miles from here. Hell hath no fury like mother nature seeking a correction. Fire. I will not have a gas fireplace in spite of the fact that a chimney fire burned our house down once. Fire is mesmerizing, random, consuming, dancing. I can stare into a campfire or fireplace for hours. A gas fireplace is static, boring, industrial. We try to keep fire in a box: a coal-fired power plant, our furnaces, but when it gets loose we learn that this force that has changed our species — keeping warm and cooking — can devour us.
Wendy and I went down to watch a fire in a neighborhood near here a couple of days ago, and as it moved along, I have to say, it was both terrifying and fascinating as it consumed trees. This probably sounds crazy, but nature at work is compelling, crazy or not. And thank the gods for fire’s natural enemy, water. Watching that suffocation of flame is far more satisfying. And air: when you are choking on it, you realize even more sharply how you need it, and that no one should play with it for their profit.
Our hills are blackened, but the encouraging thing is that the coastal live oaks look as if they might survive. Their foliage seems largely intact. The Monterey Pines and the Eucalyptus, foreigners, go up like torches. But the oaks may survive.
I know this seems like a rambling rant, but that’s the mood I’m in. I am not indifferent to those who had no time to retrieve anything. In fact, having dodged that twice, I cannot imagine anything more depressing: your past simply erased, everything you held dear just gone, not like digital, there’s no recovery.
The hummingbirds are still fighting over the feeders. I wanted to tell them there’s enough for everyone, but they wouldn’t listen.
Two strangers who discovered they are brother and sister
Yadira Izaguirre was 17 when she gave birth to her first child — a girl — in San Francisco in 1965. She was living with her aunt who would not allow Yadira to keep the baby, so she gave her up for adoption. When Yadira later married and had three more children — Marcos, Daniel, and Raquel — she spoke openly with them about their older sister. In 2018, decades after Yadira died, Daniel signed up for 23andMe, the genetic-testing service, and was connected to another 23andMe customer whom, the service claimed, he was related to. Soon after, he received a message from Bianca Seed: “Hi my mom’s mom has the exact same story as yours. Did your mom come to San Francisco when she came to the United States?” He stared at it, stunned, before responding: “Yes, my mother left Nicaragua and was raised by her aunt in San Francisco. Bianca — your mother might be my sister.”
Bianca quickly signed her mother, Lucianna, up for an account.
— Haley Cohen Gilliland
May 28, 2018
I was born in San Francisco Jan 8, 1965. My mother’s name is Yadira Izaguirre. I was put up for adoption. My mother was 17. I am very curious to know if we have the same mother!!!
My mother’s name is also Yadira Izaguirre and she was raised by her aunt, Josephina. My siblings and I have always known that mom had to give up her first child for adoption. It appears that you are our older sister.
OMG!!!! I’m dumbfounded. I have a brother!!! Do you have any other brothers and sisters?
Luci — You have another brother, Marcos, and a sister Raquel. They both live in Ohio. I also have three other half-sisters I grew up with. Both Raquel and Marcos are texting me and they want to connect with you as well.
I’m totally freaking out!!
The conversation migrates to a group text among the siblings.
May 29, 2018
Hello Daniel, Hello Marcos! Hello Raquel! This has been so surreal for me. I’m still in shock. I’m Lucianna (Luci). I can’t believe this day has come true. I have 2 brothers and a sister!!!
I can’t express the words. You are a connection to Mom, and that in itself is fulfilling.
Having trouble concentrating at work. I love you all so much.
I can’t believe this is happening.
I’m no longer the older sibling LOL. Seriously though, I have thought often about where my sister may be. And here we are.
The undocumented man fielding questions from concerned friends and family about his detained wife
T. is an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who now lives in Oakland. On May 20, 2018, his wife and 8-year-old daughter crossed the border into Texas where they were immediately separated. His wife was sent to a detention facility in El Paso, and his daughter was sent to a shelter. It took T. weeks to find out where they both were. Here are a series of WhatsApp messages exchanged between T. and concerned family and friends over the course of the months that followed. His daughter was released in July, almost two months after she was detained. His wife, who has been in detention for nine months, is still locked up.
— alice driver
October 19, 2018
a friend who lives in el paso How are you all?
T. Hi, good, here working. My wife is still detained.
friend Still :( :( T., she hasn’t gotten out.
T. It's bad.
October 21, 2018
a friend who lives in el salvador How are you?
T. Good, thank God, and you?
friend Sometimes good and sometimes worried. Asking God to help your wife.
t. They still haven’t said anything about what is going to happen with her case. It is so difficult.
friend Your daughter is with you now. But, yes, they never say what could happen with your wife. It would be better for them to release her to you so that she doesn’t continue to suffer in detention.
t. I try to comfort my daughter as we wait.
friend Why did they take your wife away? She’s been there for several months and they haven’t given you any information. What suffering.
t. That is why they haven’t let her out. They want her to suffer. I want this nightmare to end. friend But the lawyer has to put pressure on them to let her out.
t. The lawyer is trying.
November 16, 2018
t. She is still detained.
the friend from el salvador I don’t want her to spend New Year’s there. I can imagine how she must feel. I’m sorry, I wish I could do many things so that she could get out.
t. God will give her a lot of strength.
October 21, 2018
relative in el salvador How is she?
t. Oh, always difficult. Five months now.
relative The situation is getting out of control and a caravan will leave from here on October 31. They give the people who are in the process of leaving with the caravan a hard time, and they aren’t going to let them cross the US border. You just keep on going, and don’t lose faith.
t. The caravan is complicating things. Everything will become more difficult.
relative Just continue giving your wife hope, because I can already imagine that she must feel hopeless.
t. Very hopeless.
relative It’s been so many months.
November 13, 2018
relative How is your wife’s process going?
t. They haven’t told me anything yet.
relative And the lawyers, what do they say?
t. They say that she has to wait 180 days after the judge sees her.
November 13, 2018
t. On December 28, she will have been there 6 months.
friend from el salvador God will get her out.
The prisoner who sends Facebook messages to his sister from his contraband cellphone
For the first eight years of his sentence, Marcus* would send letters and cards to his older sister, Mary, who rarely had the time to respond. It didn’t help that Marcus kept getting transferred — first to another county, then, eventually, to three different states — so Mary had little way of knowing whether her correspondence would reach him. Then, in the fall of 2017, a fellow prisoner smuggled in a cellphone. Marcus was suddenly able to contact his family instantly, bypassing prison staff, who read, and censor, all mail. He and Mary could talk through Facebook Messenger, and when the signal was strong enough, they’d video chat, which allowed Marcus to speak to his 2-year-old niece, whom he’s never met in person. In February, Marcus was transferred yet again. Before the move, he erased the phone’s history, cleared its data, and left it at the last prison. Mary expects to hear from him any day now.
— Joy shan
September 12, 2017 9:44 PM
marcus Hi ateh
September 13, 2017 7:11 PM
mary Hi Butthead
marcus Ur daughter’s adorable ateh
September 15, 2017 5:38 PM
mary Thanks butthead
January 8, 2018 9:43 PM
marcus Hey dork. Maroons ur favorite color ryte?
January 9, 2018 5:20 PM
mary Yea sometimes lol
June 12, 2018 7:14 PM
marcus Hi butthead
marcus I hate being that deadbeat brother that asks for money all the time. But someone has to do it! Lol
marcus Ateh. I need 100 if u can in like 2-3 weeks. So I can help my girl pay off this phone
June 15, 201 4:40 PM
mary I’m broke too! Lol This Sunday is Father’s Day and I had to overdraft my account just so I can take my husband out this weekend lmao
marcus Lol I understand ateh
marcus When next time u going home
mary I doubt I’ll be going back anytime soon
marcus If u do go home. You gonna cook adobo?
mary Huh? Cook adobo for who?
marcus The family duhh
marcus And my gf wants to try it 1 day lol
mary Well tell her to YouTube it lmao
July 7, 2018 7:47 PM
mary I just got fired on Friday lol but I’ll send you the phone card.
marcus Well it’s their loss ateh. Hope everything works out
mary Thanks Butthead. I’ll be fine. Lol
marcus I know
September 28, 2018 9:19 PM
marcus I wanted to facetime so ur daughter can get use to seeing me
marcus It’s good she’s talking now. I should be back in Cali by January
mary That’s good! That way it’s easier to visit you
mary Can babies visit too?
marcus Yes u just have to bring birth certificate
mary Kk goodnight Butthead. Wish me luck, I have to apply to a bunch of jobs and I’m looking for high paying jobs!!
marcus Wishing u best of luck! U deserve it all ateh.
October 10, 2018 8:48 PM
marcus Hi ateh
marcus Prison is goin to shit now
marcus They got the rapists child molesters and snitches on same yard as us. Those assholes work in the kitchen and cook and spit/defile our food
mary Eww that’s nasty
marcus Tough times ahead. I love you guys. You’ll hear from me later
mary Well keep your head up and don’t let them get to you!
marcus But now general population has to mix with them and that’s what we don’t want so that’s why
marcus A lot of prisons are getting into riots
mary Just stay away from the trouble!
mary You have good behavior right??
marcus Yea most of the time. Lol
mary Well keep it that way!!
marcus I don’t do drugs or anything
mary Can’t you buy snacks and stuff so you don’t have to eat their food?
marcus Yup that’s y my gf sending me money lol
marcus K goodnight ateh miss n love you guys
mary Be safe Butthead!
Two women who have been pen pals for 55 years
In 1964, at the peak of the British Invasion, a 14-year-old girl in Inglewood, California, wrote to a British pop magazine requesting a pen pal whose fervor for the Beatles matched her own. She received a flood in response, and, unable to reply to all the letters herself, she spread them across a table in her ninth-grade English class. One of her classmates, Ellen Bloom, read through each until she came across one with tidy handwriting and a dry sense of humor. The letter belonged to Diana Lamb, a girl her age from Teignmouth, a small coastal town in England. “You are probably wondering why I am writing to you and why this letter is so late in coming,” wrote Ellen in her first letter to Diana. “Through quite a bit of maneuvering, your letter came into my hands.” In the decades that followed — as they went to college, entered the workforce, married, had children and grandchildren — Ellen and Diana never stopped writing. What follows are excerpts from Diana’s letters. Ellen has kept every one.
— Joy shan
April 5, 1965
I am afraid I can’t send you a photograph of myself yet. The only recent one I have was taken at a wedding, where I was singing in the choir. In it, I am wearing a cassock and surplice, and I look too good to be true! As I’m not, I should hate to give you a false impression of myself. One boy at school thinks I am square, but I’m not, just because I like Tchaikovsky. I like ballet music and also fast, loud music. But I’m NOT square.
May 14, 1968
I’m not married but we’ve got some new laws. I can now get married when I’m 18 years without my parents permission! There’s just one slight disadvantage. Nobody’s asked me! Never mind, I’ve got 5 months to go yet. Quite honestly, though, I don’t reckon on getting married till I’m about 22, 23. I value my freedom too much. How about you?
July 13, 1975
Tell me all about Rick. What does he look like? What does he do? Can he afford to keep you in the manner to which you would like to become accustomed? (get that syntax!) Where are you going to live? I know I’m nosey — you’ll just have to put up with it! Shall I tell you about married life? Like having to cook for them, sew on their buttons, iron their shirts, clean out the bath for them, etc etc? Actually though mine’s quite good — right now he’s hoovering the bedroom.
August 30, 1976
Thanks for your congratulations on my promotion, though they were premature as I’m still doing the same thing. In February we employed a new typist who only stayed a week because she didn’t like me! So we got another girl who wasn’t much good. Then we got another girl to take over my job and I went on holiday. While I was away, the new “me” decided that the not-good typist wasn’t any good and fired her. So far I’ve been doing bits of my old job while the new “me” learns her way around. I must be the most highly paid typist in London!!
September 20, 1987
Dear Ellen and Rick,
It’s only 8:10 PM and the children are all in bed. Life changed completely when Tom arrived — he is the worst baby I have had! During the day he often sleeps erratically and he’s generally pretty miserable when he’s awake. He likes lots of “eye contact” and I’m sure you know that gazing for hours into a baby’s eyes can be a mind-blowingly boring occupation.
October 25, 2000
Dear Ellen and Rick,
What a pretty bracelet!! And how kind of you to remember my birthday (as if you’d forget!). I’m upping my glamour level to no end to compensate for this dreadful F word. Actually, 50 isn’t too bad, I find, as long as I don’t think about it.
Sent: December 4, 2009 8:29 PM
My mother fell at the beginning of October and broke her hip. She was in hospital for nearly 5 weeks and has been home now for 3 weeks but she’s not at all the same. She gets very tired very easily. Things are only going to get worse and who is going to look after us when the time comes? (Note to self — be nice to children, especially daughters!)
Sent: February 2, 2019 10:29 PM
I think the parallels are interesting — we both lost our dads in our teens and then you came to London when your mum died. And we have both married similar sorts of professional men and tried to live similar sorts of vaguely useful lives. Then the differences are that I am so restless and always on the move and you like to be settled and snug. We probably ought to keep quiet about our somewhat oddball sons.
The father and daughter who draw instead of write
When Wesley Grubbs and his daughter, Lyra, began to draw together, they came up with only one rule: He stays on the left page of the book, and she stays on the right. About four years ago, when Lyra was 6, her parents were going through a difficult divorce. Lyra has autism, and drawing calmed her — it was a way of regulating herself, especially during periods of upheaval. So whenever she and Wesley were together, they’d draw. Wesley would stick to geometric designs, while Lyra explored her fascination with animals (cats, piranhas, owls) and human figures (she especially loved to practice drawing women). Occasionally, one will respond to the other through drawing, adapting the other person’s color scheme or use of shapes. After an argument one night, Wesley flipped to a blank page and wrote, “Lyra, you are beautiful.” Later, he found her response on the adjacent page: “Dad, you are hansom.” Wesley and Lyra completed their first book in 2015 and are now at work on their 12th.
— Joy shan
North Korean defectors writing open letters to loved ones on the other side
For the 31,500 North Korean refugees living in the South, it’s the remembering that’s the hardest. They’re haunted by memories of siblings and parents, teachers and schoolmates, whom they left and may never see again.
In the afterglow of inter-Korean summits, last August the Red Cross organized reunions for 172 lottery winners. These separated Korean family members, 83 living in the North and 89 in the South, were allowed to spend 11 mostly monitored hours together at a North Korean mountain resort.
Such reunions are rare, and defectors from the North are barred. Those divided by defection must find other ways to make contact. But without a postal service, phone service, or an internet network connecting the two Koreas, it’s nearly impossible.
In the North, some who live close to the Chinese border try to make calls on smuggled mobiles. In the South, some hire expensive Chinese brokers to deliver messages. Others turn to the shortwave radio. The defectors write letters and read them aloud on the Bluebird Post, a radio program based in the South that reaches the North. Then they hope and they wait.
— ann babe
To my nephew Young-chul who may now be a father in your 50s,
How are you? It has been several decades already since I left North Korea so, to be honest, I need to close my eyes to remember your face.
I want you to forgive me for never treating you to a nice meal before as an aunt. I could not take care of you because my life was too busy. I sincerely miss you, the one and only family of my brother.
Young-chul, can you remember the times of North Korean famine? Our family ate everything we could chew including bark and potato peels. When I came to Korea, I found out that even animals were eating better than North Korean people. I still don’t understand how people living under the same sky have such different lives.
From Geum-sun Bang, your aunt in Seoul
To my precious and beloved daughter Myung-shim,
I am so thankful that you were born and I have loved you ever since. I don’t understand why you, someone so innocent, has been put in prison for trying to go to South Korea. I think of you all the time, wondering if you are still alive, and if you are, how you might look now.
To live as a mother not knowing if my own child is alive is worse than death. The only reason I am still enduring is to hear news about you.
Since your dad passed away so early, it was exhausting raising four children by myself. But whenever I saw you, you gave me energy. Myung-shim, please promise me that you will live safe and sound and will return to me.
From Wol-seon, your mother who is waiting for you every day
Dear Chun-sik, my lovely brother,
Many years have passed since I have been apart from you. I desperately think of you from afar, worrying if you may be cold in cold days or hot in hot days. I keep thinking about what you look like now, what you ate today, whether you are healthy or sick, or if you think of me.
Do you remember the day I left? My eyes were filled with tears thinking about whether we can see each other ever again. I kept looking back until you looked like a small dot. You waved back at me for a long time.
Today I walked on a mountain that was starting to sprout again after the cold winter. If I kept walking on that peaceful path, it would lead me to where you are living. When will the day arrive?
Longing for a new spring and unification, your sister Bok-seon in Seoul