I pull up to the mailboxes. The ones at the top of the mountain. It’s been at least a week since I’ve been here. I put the car in park and pull the emergency brake. The car runs as I get out to unlock the box, open the door that hinges to the right, and pull out the mail. Each day’s worth of correspondence is rolled into page-length tacos, envelopes spilling out of the middle.
I get home mere minutes later and spread the mail onto the kitchen table. Two piles await. The office pile takes the evidence of benefits, the address labels from the children’s hospital, the bills, and the credit applications. The recycle pile takes all the rest: the neighborhood sale circular, the area sale circular, and all the envelopes.
Simply sorted, and then there is one. One envelope sits on the table. Blank faced, staring up at me. It has a stamp in the top right corner, and a children’s hospital return address label in the top left. It’s even been post-marked, but what catches my eye is the smudged black stamp just above where the address would be.
(The fact that the vacancy in the center of the envelope didn’t first catch my eye should tell you something.)
“Returned for Better Address” it says. Apparently, I was in such a hurry to finish up paying bills last weekend that I stamped this one, stickered it, and yet forgot to address the envelope. My mind was already curled up on the couch with a book, trailing my daughter down the driveway behind her bike, dancing a barefoot ballet in the front yard.
So yes, this is a post about presence, about losing the details when we get too busy, the hazards of multi-tasking and many more life lessons I’m sure I’ve learned along the way.
It’s also a post about communication: What else do you suppose the “Returned for Better Address” stamp is for? For the hurried handwriting? The mistaken or missing direction to the desired destination. The stamp could have easily said, “You can do better.” It would have communicated the same thing. “Try again,” and I would have heard its message loud and clear. “Returned for Better Address.” I think I just had a writing conference with the post office.
I am participating in the 9th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. Tonight’s slice wasn’t so obvious. I had to go looking for it, and I wasn’t sure it would turn out. But I let my fingers do the typing and the story tell itself. I’d love to know what you think of the message in the details.