If memory serves, my letter to him began with praise, digressed into my own intentions to become a writer of his caliber and then offered some needless but calculated political commentary, slanted to (I thought) his liking. (I kissed some serious writer ass, in other words.) In a desire to sound far more intelligent--or perhaps well-read--than I was, I had consulted my combination dictionary/thesaurus many times during the letter's construction.
I can honestly say, I spent more time and energy on that letter than I did any of my collegiate assignments in undergrad. I toiled! So, when I saw an unfamiliar email with the subject "Your Letter" (spam wasn't as prevalent ten years ago), I knew it was him.
My chest tingled with excitement and I wanted to ride it out. I didn't open it right away. In fact, I waited until my roommate left that evening and I was alone to open it. When I did, I saw a mere paragraph of text. I mixed a White Russian (yes) to accompany me in the reading:
"Nice piece of writing, that... It took me fucking forever to read it," it began. HST kindly told me to keep at it, to keep writing and that was it. He didn't humor my ass-kissing, half-hearted, under-developed political commentary nor did he address my compliments of his work, he merely told me what I wanted to hear. I was thankful. More, I was giddy.
You'd think this happy ending would suffice, but remember, I was a drunkard.... As such, I saw his brief response as more than the kind effort that it was, I saw it as an invitation. You would've thought the man had offered me a ticket to ride, a nice dinner, a personal meeting with his agent. I was that excited.
Unfortunately for both of us, I continued to drink that evening until I was, again, shit-faced. Only this time, my desire to consult the dictionary/thesaurus fell by the wayside, and I wrote him back: Gibberish. Pure gibberish. In the morning, I reread what I'd written, and I knew that I would not hear back from HST or anyone who was posing as him. I felt genuine regret.
But this is a happy story. You know why? Because nothing so simple as a letter from a literary idol can make a person stop drinking, get herself together. But, an event like this, in my life, opened up the myriad of possibility. The fact is, I had connected, albeit in some small, fleeting way, to the literary world I so adored. And I decided that this brief connection was only the beginning. I did quit the White Russians eventually, but I would never quit writing. I had broken ground I previously thought unbreakable. And with the right kind of eyes, I could almost see it, the promise.
My story about the great Maya Angelou isn't nearly as humiliating. We barely spoke, but the memory is equally potent, equally emotive. I'll get to that story one day...