Secret Friendships

A story about an unmarked envelope with nothing but my name on it.

On a recent visit home to my childhood house, my father handed me a plain white envelope with my name on it. The handwriting on the front was unfamiliar, there was no stamp or return address. My father, a medical physician, was delivering the letter on instruction from an elderly patient of his that had passed away only weeks before.

I opened the letter. My name again, dated September 21, 2009—

“Work is coming along well fun in far away places and those close by, maybe driving for greater heights because on my last visit two ‘lovely girls’ are now on the scene! On my next visit, I will leave a brief living will because, you see, I made my world debut on October 21, 1918"

A letter written to me by a friend, a seemingly close friend. A friend who had been there for my first real job after graduating college and moving to New York. Had been there for years of trips to Italy, Spain,and India. Had been there when I met my future wife. Only the writer, a patient of my dad’s who at 90 years and 11 months young the day she put pen to this paper, had never met me, and I had never known her.

Every year in December my brother and I print a picture calendar for our parents, each month paired with photos of us from the year past. As it turns out, these calendars caught the eye of one of my father’s senior patients named Jeannette. Each year at her checkup Jeannette would ask my father to show her the calendar and tell her the stories behind the photos. Over time she would come to know my brother and I, come to know our lives. She would ask my father excitedly about the calendars each new year. My father suspected Jeannette sometimes made her appointments for no reason at all but to talk about the latest calendar filled with pictures of his sons.

Then on Monday September 21st 2009, a month before her 91st birthday, Jeannette handed my father an envelope with instructions to give it to his sons when she passed away.

As it turns out, the envelope would sit on my father’s desk for nearly four years. Four more years of calendar photos, of stories passed on from my brother and I to our unknown friend, by way of our father.

I cannot help but wonder if Jeannette laughed at pictures of my brother and I on a camping trip in August 2010, if she smiled when I proposed to my wife in July 2011, or when we married in October 2012. Though I had never known Jeannette myself, she all of the sudden became part of those stories to me. And though we were never together for them, I’m glad we were able to share those moments. I now know they meant the world to her.

“Little guys you have made a bigger and bigger difference than medication and for that… a massive Thank YOU! “

— In memory of Jeannette, my secret friend.