Correspondence Lou GagliaDear Karen,

Life stinks! It stinks so rottenly, so wholly and pathetically that I wish mine would just end without warning or symptoms. I am too chicken to commit suicide, so I’m relying on some unknown person or event to do the job for me. I’ve contemplated walking through Central Park one midnight, wearing my only suit (although it’s a little tight along the shoulders) and pretending that I’m rich. I would carry only monopoly money (six ones and one five) so that when the mugger notices, he will kill me on the spot (especially if I laugh as soon as he looks at it). That would be the surest way to have someone end it all for me, and I’ve thought of it constantly, sometimes laughing uncontrollably at the…I don’t know, the thrill of it.

I’ve also considered making citizens arrests, maybe marching right up to a Hell’s Angels headquarters and telling them to drop their bikes and turn around and try to put their hands behind their backs. I’d be dead in seconds.

I believe I am obsessed with the thought of death, and nothing else has been able to break through these swimming images of total blackness. I believe I will surely carry out one of the above plans for ending my miserable life, and soon. But right now, I don’t think I’ll be able to, at least not until I get through this mid-term paper that I haven’t started yet. There’s also a stupid biology test and a history oral presentation coming up. I hate those, so maybe I’ll be dead already for that one.

I knew I should have faked that I was mute when I enrolled, but somebody in my history class already is, and two mutes would look too suspicious. I didn’t even believe he was mute at first, so I stepped on his foot one day (stamped on it, actually) to see if he would scream or ask me why I did that or something. But his whole face turned red and scrunched up, and a tear soon came out of his eye. Then he whacked me in the side of the head with his palm, and I cried out because it hurt a lot, and he walked away. So he could be a real mute, I still don’t know.

Anyway, the reason I’ve been so obsessed with death, I think, is because of Joann, that girl I told you about in my last letter. She’s beautiful, as I told you. She’s shy, and smart, and polite, and kind. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a girl. For days I followed her around campus and kept asking her out. I knew she liked me, I just knew it. It wasn’t until I asked her out the seventh time that I discovered she was engaged. You see, she had politely said, “No thank you,” each time, while holding her hand up to her mouth. So, being the psychology student that I am, I figured she was saying no but really meaning yes–that she was saying in body language what she didn’t really mean with mouth language. This is one of the universal rules of guy and girl interaction. Always believe the opposite. If a girl says no, it means yes and to pick her up at about seven that night. If she says yes, it means drop dead or go away. But this one time it was different because when I asked her out for the seventh time, I discovered the engagement ring on her ring finger, and I remembered that it had been there the other six times. What a blockhead I was to have missed it. I’m so depressed. Nothing is good on earth. She is the most beautiful girl in the entire college, and now she’s engaged. Darn.

Now you know why I am contemplating Central Park or the Hell’s Angels after the first semester (or maybe after the break). Nothing is important any more. Life has no meaning. Joann was all I lived for—for three weeks! And now she is gone, and I can’t function any more.

I hope this letter isn’t too negative, but I feel negative lately, as if the whole world will come crashing down on me (or something similar). Besides what I’ve told you, I’m doing just fine and I hope you are fine, too. Write soon.

Your pal,



Dear Arty,

Your letter was more positive than the one before it, so don’t be so negative. You’re positively moving in a positive direction. I’m positive about it. Be positive. There is nothing to be negative about. Negativity is like a vacuum. It positively sucks everyone around you into it as well as yourself soon after. It positively sucks. In other words, being negative is positively stupid. And if I didn’t care about you so much, I’d say that you were being a real jerk for being so negative. So be positive

As for Joann, whatever will be will be. Two letters ago you told me she had a bit of a facial tick. Go on that. Keep telling yourself, “She has a facial tick, therefore she is not worth it.” Make it your mantra. There are a million girls in the world without facial ticks. Think of all of them, maybe all together in one room, and think of that one, that one girl who will, well, squeeze herself out of that room and come to you with her tickless face. She may not be so far away. She might be very close to you already. You may be in direct contact with her right now. Think about that. And you can’t kill yourself. Who would I write to?

The world is not crashing down on you, Arty, because of one stupid girl. People care. I care. So quit being such a jerk.




Dear Karen,

Your letter had a strange effect on me. It made me feel like catapulting you to Nova Scotia! Don’t tell me to be positive when I don’t want to be. And don’t you dare call Joann stupid or even suggest she has a facial tick. It was you I was talking about, or don’t you read my letters carefully. You blink too fast sometimes when you get nervous, which I think qualifies as a tick, and I’ll bet any doctor would say so.

I’ve really been feeling hostile toward you lately. I just thought I’d let you know. I had a dream a few nights ago that a grand piano fell on top of you. That dream somehow reminded me of the time we were going out together. Wasn’t that a ridiculous experience?

I took your advice, though, about there being a million girls stuck in a room and the one maybe being in direct contact with me. Just as I read that line I turned around and there was a girl there. No facial tick at all. No rapidly blinking eyes. In fact, I don’t think she blinked at all as she asked me for the time. I didn’t have a watch but I told her anyway. Later I discovered that I was off by two hours and I realized I’d missed my chance with her. I became depressed again, and still am. And now that I think of it, if you’d never given me that suggestion (about the room full of girls without facial ticks), I would never have looked up, and she would never have asked for the time, and I never would have told her the wrong time, and she would never have thought I was some kind of wrong-time-giving jerk or something.

I’m not thinking of death as much as two days ago. Instead I’m thinking of running away, maybe joining a circus somewhere to get away from all girls–all of them, and never come in contact with one again. EVER!! (although I will still write to you, of course). The circus is foremost in my mind these days and it rules my thoughts. I haven’t been able to find one, though, and I have a psychology exam next week. I hate psychology. It’s neurosis this, and neurosis that. Drives me nuts!

Today in the cafeteria I had the urge to bash my forehead with my tray, but my pizza was on it and I was hungry. It’s all so frustrating.


Dear Arty,

I’ve been growing lately, I think, and I’m feeling more enlightened each day. I don’t know what’s come over me but I’ve been writing poetry and studying music and art and finding out how beautiful it all is. Creativity is beautiful. I’d never thought of it before, really. Of course people have said “creativity” to me and I’ve said, “Oh, yeah,” but I’d never taken it seriously until now.

I am convinced that true art is the only way to a fulfilling, meaningful life, and that love itself is the way by which art should be developed to realize that fulfillment.walk around now with a smile on my face and a song (I know it’s corny but–a song) in my heart.

I understand the anger in your last letter, but anger gets you nowhere. I know there is pressure on you with your schoolwork, and that you are not feeling well. So I understand those things you wrote. I understand that you didn’t mean them at all.

So now I would like to confess something to you. It’s hard to say, so I’ll write it instead. I’m in love with you. I’ve loved you since we were fifteen, and now, five years later, I still love you. You’ve got so much to give and I know I do. I’m confident that life exists for us, just the two of us, to make it beautiful. I want to make my part of it beautiful, and I want you to know how much I feel that you are a part of the beauty I want in my life. You’re everything to me, Arty. My God, I’ve held it inside this long, but now that it’s out I feel happy. I look at those words “I love you” (several lines up) and I am frightened, but thrilled.

I know you will understand because you are so understanding. And a nice guy, too. Please write soon, Arty, and tell me how you feel. Don’t hold back. I am very busy lately with my work at school, my job at the child center, and my poetry, but I will be awaiting your letter with open arms (and a letter opener, ha!).

By the way, I love Nova Scotia! Thank you.

Love always,



P.S. That was funny about the grand piano. I laughed when I read it.


Dear Karen,

That was the weirdest letter I’ve ever read. You have beaten your own record for weirdity, Karen. And it was a stupid letter, too. And selfish. You are one selfish girl, Karen, always thinking about who you love and never once considering who the hell I love. Your letter was filled with selfish gibberish, and so I’ve decided that when I join the circus our correspondence will be over. All that talk about poetry and art and child centers! I thought I was going to get trapped in La-La Land if I didn’t stop reading.

Anyway, enough of that junk. If it’s of any interest to you, I’ve discovered that I’m still in love with Joann. I passed her a few times on campus, and I think one of those times she glanced at me as she went by, a quick darting look before she walked faster. Probably a lot of ambivalence (psychological term you might not know). Anyway, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy. Ambivalence is good. But at the same time, ambivalence stinks because who knows. You know?

But true love, alas, is always the most painful, and it will hurt so much when I join the circus. And, alas, she’s engaged, so that’s another alas. And when I join the circus, I will probably never see her again. So that’s a third alas, and maybe the knockout alas.

The most important thing in my whole life is Joann. If only she wasn’t getting married. My teeth are clenching, and I’m fighting back the tears, and my stomach is in knots, and my knee has been bothering me. I want to just jump off a cliff, or…if not a cliff, then a ledge, at least, or a curb (because of the knee). My only consolation is knowing that the most intelligent, most sensitive people suffer the most. Who has condemned me to this suffering? Who is responsible? I shake my fist at the sky but nothing comes of it.

You, Karen, are responsible for our ended friendship. You are yet another friend who I’m forced to break with. And so I say goodbye. Don’t write back. I probably won’t even answer. My loveless, pathetic life goes on.

Yours truly,


PS. I got an 88 on my psychology exam. So I bet I’m right about that ambivalence thing.


Lou Gaglia’s fiction appears in FRiGG, JMWW, Loch Raven Review, Prick of the Spindle, Rose & Thorn Journal, The Ear Hustler, and many others. He teaches in upstate New York.