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TALKING TO MYSELF: 6 April, 2013 We haven’t heard from him in – well, never. Even his mail had stopped being delivered to our house. I feared the worst. Death while serving our country in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or even jail. I’ve always worried, you know, that Gerald Stamper had a wild side. And then yesterday, after years of silence, our mailbox shouted out his name once again. I probably shouldn’t have opened his letter. For all I know, I may have committed a felony. In my defense, I thought it might hold some clue as to his whereabouts. But no. It was a letter from an ITT school trying to locate Gerald, themselves. It appears that they want him to enroll and turn his life around. The possibilities for his future are bright – “endless” they said – if he sends back the form asking for more information. I couldn’t help it – tears welled in my eyes. To think that there is still someone out there who cares about Gerald after all this time. Alas, I don’t know how to reach him with this good news. If any of you bump into him (maybe he’s on somebody’s Facebook list?) could you let him know about this last chance opportunity?
[“Gerald” was the first essay published in my newspaper column, “Georgia: On My Mind” in 2004. It won a prize – somewhere. I hope it gives you a smile today. Honestly – I’ve missed this boy. And YES we did get the ITT thing yesterday addressed for him, and YES we got all the other mail mentioned below too. You can't make this stuff up.]
I don’t exactly remember when Gerald moved in with us. It could have been in the early fall of ‘94. Surely it was no later than April of ‘95. But to be honest, I don’t exactly remember Gerald moving in with us.
Apparently he did, though, because the United States Post Office has been delivering his mail to us for over a decade. I feel like the judge in that old Christmas movie – you know, the one where Natalie Wood is the most adorable looking child who ever lived and Kris Kringle claims to be the real Santa Claus? Who am I to argue with the United States Post Office?
Our relationship with Gerald began innocently. His last name is the same as ours, and by coincidence, our daughter’s first name begins with the letters GE like his Gerald. Sometime during her senior year of high school when our mailbox was being flooded by colleges and trade schools, Gerald began to receive the occasional flyer addressed to our house.
At first, I accused her of penciling in the name “Gerald” on some form or another as a joke. (She has a quirky sense of humor.) She was chagrined that I would accuse her of such a dastardly deed. Then I accused her boyfriend (who also had a quirky sense of humor) but he, too, was offended at the accusation. Finally, I was convinced that Gerald’s name had been transposed to our address in a computer glitch. I dropped the first few flyers in the trash without guilt. Darn computers!
But the mail kept coming. Not from the top schools, mind you. It was obvious that Gerald hadn’t dazzled the academic world with his SAT scores, but he’d done well enough for a few of the regional public universities to send encouraging brochures, and the military branches were all crazy to have him. I began to worry that he was missing out on these opportunities for a better life. I scrawled “not at this address” above his name, and put his mail back in the box. Maybe the Post Office could track him down.
They did. They sent all the letters back to us. They were so adamant in their consistency that I began to doubt myself. Maybe someone named Gerald really did live with us. I decided to check out the attic. Stranger things have happened. Remember The Diary of Ann Frank? Ann hid from the Nazis in somebody’s attic for years.
Or maybe I’d just forgotten that I had a son named Gerald. I’d forgotten where I put the car keys for two whole days the month before. And my mother’s name is Geraldine. Maybe we had a son named for her that I had misplaced. Maybe this was the way Alzheimer’s began—
But then I started to worry that Gerald was homeless. Maybe he slept under a bridge by night and snuck into school by day, and had stolen our address to enroll. I began to feel proud of Gerald’s resourcefulness. The military was on to something. They DID need young men like Gerald.
Our daughter’s high school graduation came and went with suitable fanfare from our family. I considered sending Gerald a graduation card too, but didn’t. When our daughter left for college that fall, the college admissions directors stopped writing to both her and Gerald. Their senior season was over.
The Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, however, stepped up their pursuit of Gerald with larger and larger offers to pay for his college expenses. They pursued him relentlessly throughout 1995 and deep into 1996. I have to say there were moments during this stretch of time when I questioned the wisdom of the military in doing this. If the defense of our country rested on the likes of the elusive Gerald, I figured we were all in trouble.
In the fall of 1996, a job change took our family to a city 150 miles away. When I went to the post office to fill out the change of address forms, I decided it was time to cut Gerald’s apron strings. Like many sons his age, Gerald had caused me a lot of concern. For starters, he never came to visit, not even at the holidays. In fact, I couldn’t remember what he looked like which probably meant I was sinking deeper into Alzheimer’s. I purposely did NOT include Gerald’s name in our mail forwarding information.
We’d been in our new house about six weeks when Gerald received an offer for a credit card. Much of our mail was still arriving stamped with the words “forward to new address,” but this bank had accurately addressed their offer to Gerald at our new digs, right down to the house number and zip code. How in the world a boy who couldn’t remember to call me on my birthday knew where we had moved was beyond me
In the months that followed, Gerald received a ton of credit card offers, sometimes as many as two or three a day. I began to be impressed. I figured he must have a pretty good job. Atta boy
In late 1999, we moved to yet another zip code. Once again, without a whisper from us, Gerald found out where we were, and had his address changed to ours. By now, he was receiving offers for gold credit cards and occasionally, even platinum. Obviously, our phantom son was an All-American guy, knee deep in debt.
As the offers for more and more credit continued to be delivered to our house, I began to worry that Gerald would become overextended. If only he’d call home once in a while, I could warn him about the dangers of too much consumer debt!
Then one day it happened. My husband let out a gasp while reading the paper. There was Gerald’s name in black and white right there in the bankruptcy filing
We’d like to leave Gerald a little something in our will. You know - to give him a fresh start so he won’t end up destitute in his old age.
But we don’t have his forwarding address.
©Copyright Georgia Green Stamper
Georgia’s newest collection of essays Butter in the Morning is available from Amazon.com or from your favorite independent bookstore.