In the full, glaring sunlight, I tripped over the curb on Spruce Street and up the cracked cement stairs, hesitating a moment before pulling — oops, pushing — the smudged glass doors of the elderly building wide open. I stood briefly, absorbing that moment between Inside and Outside, when all noises are muffled and the slightly dimmer atmosphere is insufferably blinding. Ducking through the shimmering dust particles after the briefest of moments, I reveled in the hollow click of my heeled velveteen booties. My eyes adjusted quickly and voila! The gaping blob before me transformed into rows upon rows, column after beautiful column of post office boxes.
These were no ordinary boxes; oh, no. These particular boxes were old, ornate, delightfully adorned with bronze garnishes. Far more beautiful than the modern, gleaming boxes at my hometown post office — intended to represent a sleek, streamlined mail service, but unfortunately pulling off cheap and tacky at best. The high ceilings and half doorways beckoned my Imagination, and a hiccuping sob got lost somewhere in my throat as I mourned the dying medium: Mail.
You see, as far back in my memory as I can reach, I have loved everything about the postal service. I love the history. I love the sentimentality. I love the anticipation, the building excitement that comes with opening envelopes. It is quite possible that the only thing I love more than finding a package or an envelope in my mailbox is placing a letter in the mail for somebody else. When I was a young girl, I signed up for pen pal events every chance I got. I sent chain letters. I composed letters to Santa like the tradition was going out of style. I “adopted” a soldier overseas and for the entire two years that we exchanged letters, I sprinted to the mailbox daily, feet clapping over the ground and brown hair whipping in my eyes, dying to see if anything new had come in.
Going to the post office with my mother was a treat in itself; I would saunter through the doorway, feeling quite important as I helped place stamps in the upper right-hand corner of phone bills and birthday cards to Grandma. Mostly, though, I would allow myself to wonder what the wall of boxes held. Letters from star-crossed lovers, scented with perfume and dappled with tears? Photographs of happier days? Trinkets and baubles from faraway lands? The post office was a place of romance and mystery, and definitely of curiosity; the latter only heightened after I encountered my first transvestite while at the post office with Mom. My chin hung open for the entire minute and thirty-three seconds he graced the tiny office; my eyes could not take in quickly enough the ripped fishnet tights, clinging leather mini, or raven colored long-haired wig.
So, with twenty-six years of this love affair with the postal service under my belt, I’m sure one can imagine the scathing look I toss Zack whenever he rags on the U.S. Postal Service. It’s the most poorly managed organization in the United States, he states. (Little does he know, the Department of Veterans Affairs won that title a long time ago. Congratulations, by the way.) He laughs at my almost-greedy glee when he brings mail to the house, amused at my disappointment in junk mail and bills. He’ll make some sort of offhand comment like, The government should just do away with the postal service, you know; we should just get everything through UPS or FedEx. And that’s all it takes to knife me in the gut: the thought of my longtime love becoming a figment of history is too much to bear.
The fear of this collapse is precisely the reason I will continue to traipse to the post office every now and then to buy a book of Christmas stamps or send a care package to former classmates. I’m not sure the mystery will ever fade, or the curiosity ever die.