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Encore: Unsent Letters

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Thanks to Redditor u/lexiamf22 for this week's featured art, "Love Letter." You can find more of her work on Instagram @alexisfrazzz. (Courtesy u/lexiamf22)
Thanks to Redditor u/lexiamf22 for this week's featured art, "Love Letter." You can find more of her work on Instagram @alexisfrazzz. (Courtesy u/lexiamf22)

The unsent letter. We all have one, half-composed in our heads or fully-formed as an email draft. If you’re really poetic, it might be on a piece of paper, yellowing in a drawer. Whatever form these letters take, they go unsent because they might be better left unsent, or because we wouldn’t know how to send them even if we wanted to.

But there's a place online where these letters find an audience, a big one. The "Unsent Letters" community on Reddit has over 350,000 members. In this special episode from the archives, you'll hear from people who wrote letters addressing pet owners, COVID+ patients, bakery workers, bugs killed in the shower, and so much more.

Thanks to Redditors jumpywizardyo, mrsdekay, level30emo, CalculusManAnUnicorn thewalkingbakedd, kiariehanata, SufficientSign2, lavender-bay, and greenlampsarecool for reading and talking about their letters with us.

Thanks to Redditor lexiamf22 for this week's featured art, "Love Letter." You can find more of her work on Instagram @alexisfrazzz

Show Notes:

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben Brock Johnson: Hey, Endless Thread homies. It's Ben Brock Johnson coming at you in between the Christmas and New Year's holiday and bringing you an episode from our back catalogue, but one that you may not have heard. We put it out in September of 2020. And it is about all of those many, many, many, many, many drafts, sitting in your drafts box that may never be sent for good reason. And here it is. It's called "Unsent Letters". And we're wishing you a happy new year. And we'll talk to you in 2023.

Hi guys, this episode deals with some difficult subject matter, including death and abuse. Just wanted to give you a heads up.

u/jumpywizardyo: "To the bug, I drowned in the shower, 

Hey, macho man just wanted to say I'm so sorry for killing you in the shower. I noticed you crawling up the wall. And Damn, dude, you're a big guy. At first, I wasn't super worried about it. But then you started heading for my bar of soap. And that just wasn't cool. Man. I deeply apologize for cutting the water and splashing on you not once, but three times. You were relentless for that bar of soap. As soon as you felt the tub and started washing away towards the drain, I felt pretty sad. The rest of my shower I spent wondering what you would have become or if you're coming back to your bug kids back home. But the truth is, you probably would have made it to that bar of soap and died from soap poisoning or something else. Rest in peace, Macho Man."

Ben: The unsent letter.

Amory: We all have one half-composed in our heads or fully formed as an email draft.

Ben: Whatever form it takes, the letter goes unsaid because it's better left to unsent. Or because we wouldn't know how to send it even if we wanted to.

Amory: But there is a place where these letters find an audience.

Jo: I had an unsent letter and I just wanted to put it out there and just searching through Reddit, and it was there and I was like, this is the sub for me.

Anonymous: I feel people can get out their own unresolved feelings. Maybe it's just someone who has died or as in my case, it was to a stranger that I know I'll never see again. And it gives you an opportunity to say things that you normally wouldn't say or don't have the courage to say.

u/mrsdekay: "Thank you, Anna, for sleeping with my husband."

Ben: I'm Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: I'm Amory Sivertsen. And this is Endless Thread.

Ben: The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online communities called Reddit.

Amory: We're coming to you from WBUR Boston's NPR station. Today's episode: Unsent Letters.

u/mrsdekay: "I know when I sent you that text asking if we could talk you were probably over the drama my soon to be ex husband brought into your young life. He snapped back that I need to leave you alone. He probably told you I was crazy. Honestly, I just wanted to thank you. I wanted to tell you that without your advances that brought him into your orbit, I probably would have spent the rest of my life with this man. So thank you for saving me from that. Thank you for being the one shred of solid evidence, I had to finally call him out on all of his bullshit. Sure, I wasted another a year trying to figure things out with him like an idiot. But if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have this fire burning in me that changed the entire course of my life. And also, I wanted to say that I am proud of you, for whatever it's worth.

I read the text between the two of you. I got to see all of the s***** behavior you call them out on s***** behavior. He has been perpetuating our entire 11 years together that I kept trying to help them fix. I don't know many young girls with the balls to do that. So good on you. I hope you found better for yourself.

I hope you're living your best life because I'm about to live mine. Thank you."

Edith: Hi, everyone. My name is Edith. And I wrote a letter to the Guy that Didn't Have to Say Anything.

"You said only four words to my friend. You had apparently seen me try to take a picture of her and overheard her tell me to wait to take her pictures so that she could fix her hair. And that someone told her her hair did not look good when it was natural and down. 'Your hair looks great,' was the only thing that you said. But I want to tell you what you don't know about my friend.

You see, we are visiting because we are on a bucket list trip together before she leaves this earth. She has terminal cancer and has since the end might be near. I want you to know how much those four words made her day. She lit up like a candle And I got to see a little bit of the person that wasn't riddled with cancer. She is so full of love to give others but has rarely gotten that in return. So I want to thank you. It may seem nothing to you, but it was everything to her."

Jo: "To a student,

I see that you're frantically filling out all the homework from the past three weeks, sending them in via email with no subject line or text. All at 10:30 at night, last night, it's due. I just want you to know that I'm proud of you. I don't know where you are in life right now. Are you procrastinating? Or did you hit a dark spot in life? I don't know. But I do know that you are now trying. And to me, that is enough. I'm rooting for you, student. Something's always better than nothing. Trying is that something? Remember to take time for yourself? Stay safe. And I'll see you in tomorrow's Zoom party. Your teacher."

I'm Jo, Calculus Man.

Ben: Calculus Man on Reddit. To be clear.

Jo: I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. And I teach high school geometry, algebra and integrated, and algebra B.

Amory: But not calculus.

Jo: No calculus yet.

Amory: So, why Calculus Man?

Jo: I had some issues with a calculus class and I created a little figure that kind of helped me through it. It was just kind of like a little character that would like you know, give positive things like you can do it. It's okay. You'll survive.
Amory: Were you a procrastinator in school?

Jo: Oh, yeah.

Amory: Who among us? Did you feel like in any way you were kind of writing this
to your former self?

Jo: Yeah, there's a few things where I got it in turn late, or I procrastinated and ended up missing the deadline. And it would have been nice for my teachers to be like, Yeah, you should really get points for trying, or something.

Amory: Yeah. Well, it's funny that you say that, like, it would have been nice for a teacher to say that to me, and yet, you felt like you couldn't really say that to this student.

Jo: Yeah, that's true. That is true.

Amor: Was part of you also hoping that other teachers would read your letter and take something from it?

Jo: Yeah, definitely. I know that there's a lot of teachers out there that sometimes will forget that a student is a student, they're still kids. We were in their shoes once to where we had Spanish homework and a science test the next day. And right now, math isn't important. Maybe it's home or life or social life is getting to be too much. And we just had to remind ourselves that these are people and they have feelings.

u/thewalkingbakedd: "My best friend who I met on Xbox,

Hey man, I really miss you. I know you are no longer on this earth. But I would do just about anything to hear that laugh of yours again. Remember when we would stay up all night on Skype talking about life and how absurd it is. We mostly were never sober. But God, you always got me through nights that seemed endless. I was in so much pain when we were teenagers. But I didn't realize how much you were hurting. I remember you telling me no one would care if you died. You were so wrong about that. I have your name tattooed on me and I see it every day. I still have your Les Paul that you gave me as a wedding present when I married that asshole. I remember sitting on the back of your truck that day smoking joints with you.

I only met you twice in real life. God, I wish I wouldn't have taken that
for granted. This world has gotten so insane. So maybe it's a good thing. You're here. I love you so much and your life mattered. Even if you felt like it didn't. It was always you and me." 

Amory: What do you like about Unsent Letters?

Kiarie: I think it's the variety of posts on there. Several of them that I can just relate to.

Ben: This is Kiarie Hanata as she's known on Reddit. She's 26 lives in Colorado, and she was scrolling through the Unsent Letters community one day when she realized she had an unsent letter of her own to write about the kindness of former classmate and her classmates' Mom showed her when she was a kid.

Kiarie: To the mother who went out of her way to do what she could to protect me, and she didn't even have to.

"To the girl who told her mom about my bruises when we were around 10,

I'm sorry, I don't remember much about you. Actually, this is the only thing I remember. But it's probably the most impactful thing anyone has ever done for me.

One day while we were on the playground at school, you said something to me. My mom told me to tell you if you ever wanted to run away, you can stay at our house. At the time I thought it was so strange. What kind of parent would help a little girl run away from home? It would take me three years to understand."

My biological father and my mom were never married. He lived in Idaho, and we
lived in California. When I was about nine, I wanted to spend a bigger chunk of time with him. So I went to Idaho, and I was supposed to spend, if I remember correctly, the entire school year there.

Ben: Kiarie thinks she was only in Idaho for about six months. She's blocked out most of what happened there. But she has a few clear painful memories. She remembers her biological father throwing her across the room into some boxes. She remembers being made to ride in the trunk of the family car. And she remembers being locked in her bedroom with ropes tied around the door handle.

Kiarie: Yeah, as a, as a kid. You don't want to believe that someone that you're supposed to love and trust like that could do something like abuse you. So I always told myself that I was misremembering things or people were twisting my words that I wasn't actually abused.

Amory: Do you have any recollection of calling your mother and telling her what was going on?

Kiarie: All I would tell my mom is I want to go home. I don't want to live here anymore. I don't want to be with him anymore. I want to go home. I think it was when I started crying about wanting to come home that my mom realized there was something going on that was causing me to break down. Her only choices to come get me at that point. My mom called the school and had them pull me out of class. It just never crossed my mind to let any of my friends know.

Ben: The same little girl at school who had told her mom about Kiarie's bruises also noticed Kiarie's absence. And again, she told her mom. Then, Kiarie thinks her classmates' Mom reported her absence to Child Protective Services. CPS, in turn, opened an investigation into Kiarie's biological father. All of this was completely unknown to Kiarie until three years later.

Kiarie: "Three years after you said that three years after I'd left that school that state, a social service worker pulled me out of class, she worked for CPS, she was investigating my biological father. She said that for the last three years, they were looking for me because a parent called them when I stopped showing up for school. CPS would never share the name of the person who reported my biological father. I have no way of reaching out to you. But I'm grateful for you and your mom. As people like you and her they give people like me hope.

That was the last time I saw my biological father. And when I was 18, I cut off all contact with him. He hasn't been my life for 12 years now. I still some PTSD to work through. But overall, I'm doing well.

Now, I hope you are too. I will never forget what you and your mom did for me and I pay it forward every time I can. I've taught my daughter to tell someone she trusts if someone hurts her, no matter who it is. I've taught her to start fighting back if someone touches her in any way that she doesn't like, and she's asked them to stop. And I will intervene if a child is being mistreated and do my best to protect a child of need. From the bottom of my heart, thank you." 

I think a small part of me did help that especially after it started gaining traction that maybe I could you know, maybe she would see it or potentially her mom, because it would be nice. It would be nice to like be able to tell her personally or both of them personally that I appreciate what they did.

Ben: Kiarie is doing well now. She has a daughter of her own and actually quite a big family.

Kiarie: Just a fun fact, I have eight animals.

Amory: You have eight animals.

Kiarie: I do. 

Ben: A Siberian Husky ... 

Kiarie: Two cats, Aurora and Lafayette, three ferrets: Fects, Facts, and ...

Amory: Pixie. And a ball python named Penny. 

Kiarie: ... And my boyfriend has a bearded dragon named Reptar.

Amory: Wow.

Kiarie: We always we always joke around and that they are our fur and scale babies.

Amory: What's the message that you want people hearing your letter now to take away from it?

Kiarie: Don't doubt yourself. Like our our intuition is there for a reason. And that gut feeling we get about something is there for a reason. And we need to listen to that more. 

Amory: Thank you so much.

Kiarie: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Amory: I'm sending good wishes to you and your boyfriend and all the fur babies and the scale babies.

Kiarie: Thank you.

Ben: More unsent letters in a minute.

Amory: And more fur babies.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Stacey: I can tell you there's a lot of poop and pee involved in my job. That's for sure.

Amory: This is Stacey. She's a vet tech in New Hampshire.

Ben: What do you think draws you to caring for animals? 

Stacey: They're such faithful companions. And they can't tell you what's wrong. So it's kind of nice to be a voice for them. And I mean, who doesn't? You know, like hanging out with dogs and cats. And plus, I had really bad I still do I have anxiety and working with them kind of seems to take my mind off of it. Which is, which is a good thing.

Ben: Why do you, why do you think it helps you?

Stacey: I'm not sure. To be honest. I mean, I think it's always there's always something going on and something they depend on it more than me needing to focus on my anxiety, I need to focus more on what's best for them and what needs to get done for them. So it kind of doesn't let my brain get into an anxious state.

Amory: What's the best part of the job?

Stacey: I'd say seeing an animal that was really sick or such come back in a year later for like, their annual appointments after you know going through a lot and seeing them healthy and happy and I like that.

Ben: But Stacey's unsent letter has to do with the toughest part of her job. And it's the most popular letter this Reddit community has ever seen.

Stacey: "To the people who don't stay with your pets during euthanasia,

It's okay, I stay. I hold them from the moment they come in until the moment their heart stops beating. I tell them that you love them so so much. And that they were the best dog or cat. I tell them it's going to be okay. I cradled them in my arms and rub their head. Sometimes you're devastated leaving. And sometimes you act like you could care less. But I care. And they deserve to have somebody at the end. Sometimes you request things to be sent to the crematorium with them. They always get sent and handled with dignity. The cat you dropped off yesterday had me holding back tears. Your small children wrote him cards to take with him and his favorite toys. I held him in my lap and read those cards to him while he waited for the sedation to take effect. Please know that in their final moments, they left this earth loved and with dignity. If you can't stay, I will." 

Amory: So you, you posted that letter. I think about a year ago. Do you remember that particular day?

Stacey: Yeah, I do. It was just a rough day and I just kind of wanted to get it off my chest. So I posted it and went to bed and kind of didn't think of it until the next morning until I looked at my phone. The response on Reddit I had a bunch of people message me or comment on the post that, you know, they left their animal and they weren't sure how they were treated. And it just kind of gave them put their mind at ease. They had some type of closure. You know, I posted it too because a lot of people think that the veterinary field is I hear a lot oh, you get to play with
puppies and kittens all day and they don't see the other side of it. They don't see what a lot of most vet techs deal through on a daily basis, you know, sick animals injured animals. A lot of heartbreak. I'm sure there's a lot of people who you know, like I've done a couple times have driven home you know in tears because it's been that much, emotional and type of day.

Ben: When I first read it,  maybe when I just like read the first couple of sentences. I almost thought this is gonna sound strange, but I almost thought it was like slightly passive aggressive. Yeah, like it was basically like, Yeah, I'll do the dirty work for you. And I'll be there because you can't. Do you sometimes feel like the owner should stay? 

Stacey: I used to kind of have that mindset were way back wide where I was like, Why? Why wouldn't they stay? But then over the years, like, I started to see that, you know, these people, really, they do care. You know, sometimes the people owners think it's better because they're going to be so emotional and they don't want to stress out their pet. And I've also been in that position where I've had to put down, make that decision to put down my own pets. And it's it's not an easy thing. And I also understand, too, we don't know what's going on in people's lives, you know, mentally, emotionally, this might just be too much for them at this point.

Ben: Do you think animals have a soul or spirit?

Stacey: I do. Yeah. And I've thought about that a lot. I do.

Ben: What makes you say that?

Stacey: I'm not sure. To be honest. I just I've always that's something I've always believed. You know, they're beings with their own mind and feelings and thoughts. Just like with people or any living thing. But I don't know what happens after death, per se. I don't know what happens to those souls.

u/SufficientSign2: "To my COVID positive patients,

I'm sorry, I couldn't save you. I'm sorry. You're only 62, 55, 52, 49, 45, 36. I'm sorry, I did compressions on you and your heart stopped. I'm sorry your families can't be with you. I'm sorry I was the only one by your side when you died. I'm sorry you caught the virus at your father's funeral. I'm sorry your loved one is across the unit from you. And I can't tell you. I'm sorry that I can't grieve you right now that my other patients need me. I tried my best to care for you. We tried our best to save you. You tried your best to survive. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

u/lavender-bay: Hi, this is Lavender Bay from Berkeley. And here's my unsent letter to the lady at the bakery who threw in a Danish with my order.

"Thank you, I kept the label on the wax paper wrapping where you wrote enjoy an extra read and Danish and put it above my desk because every time I see it, it reminds me that maybe life isn't so bad. And maybe we'll all get through this
together one warm act of buttery pastry at a time."

Ben: We read a lot of unsent letters in the making of this episode. And like so many of those writers reading the letters of others got us thinking about writing our own.

Amory: "To the mother I overheard explaining tattoos and piercings to her toddler, 

We were packed into a subway car with hundreds of other people who like you were probably on their way to Fenway Park for the Red Sox day game. This was pre-COVID obviously, I was crammed in close to you and your son who looked to be maybe three or four years old at the time. Also close to us was a young man dressed in all black covered in tattoos and the kinds of piercings you don't see every day. Large gauges in his ears with a chain going from one of them to a nose piercing metal bars going from one part of his face to another that sort of thing. Your son had clearly never seen anything like it. And like a true toddler. He had questions. Also like a true toddler. He lacked the gift of tact or volume control. So everyone around him including the tattooed bedazzled man heard him ask you,
"Mommy, why does that man look like that?" You looked mortified, but somehow didn't miss a beat. You responded. "Because sweetie, there are all kinds
of people in the world. Some people like to have decorations on their body, and others don't." I was slow clapping on the inside. I couldn't imagine a more judgment free, compassionate response. I wanted to make eye contact with you and give you a smile a thumbs up anything. But it was hot and crowded on the train and you were wrapped up in your toddler who miraculously seemed satisfied with that answer and had already moved on to another question. I don't imagine you'll ever hear this. But I'm sharing it for any parents who might find themselves in this position in the future. And really, it's a reminder to all of us to drop the judgment and celebrate the fact that there are all kinds of people in this world. And thank
goodness for it.

Signed,
Amory." 

Ben: "To my mother's youngest brother, Uncle Dick,

You were the Colorado Rockies Park Ranger, the one who left the Midwest and traveled the world landing in Australia, where you helped bring the government into the computer age. You threw your head back when you laughed. You always had a gleam in your eye, a purveyor of mischief which is the true calling of any true uncle. You were the one who seemed to have reached a new level of my Scottish family's adventurous spirit. You climb to the austere and gorgeous mountains in Patagonia. You steeped your face in the steaming plates of food in western China road, the Trans-Siberian Railway. You wrote five novels of science fiction, unpublished. To me, you were basically Indiana Jones. If Indiana Jones was a systems consultant, which to me meant some kind of unlocking of wealth. You had found the good life. But your ski pants were always tattered. You didn't care about new things for the sake of new things. You shook your fist at waste. You had a cabin and Aspen bought long before the town boomed with wealth. But you never went to the fancy people parties. You weren't a Hobnob couldn't care less about that stuff. I loved you for it. We were walking together through the Colorado snow on one of our once every two year meetups in the family's state of origin. And I was talking about the pressures of weather to get married and have a family and settled down. And you stopped me cold in the middle of the road. And you took my shoulders and said in a voice more serious than you ever used. This is your life. You get to choose. Maybe it was your divorce, or your experience following your own wanderlust. Whatever your reasons for driving at home it stuck with me. When you died of a heart attack on your bike along a hot road in Australia, everyone was shocked. You were the young one, the healthy one. The one who skied the Snowmass bowl like a 14-year-old stuck in a 70-year-olds body. I remembered when my brother called to tell me on April 1, some twisted irony, man went to your Facebook page crying in New York, reaching out towards Australia clutching air. You had listed your birthday as April 1, which it was not a final joke. I miss you, Uncle Dick. Purveyor of mischief. I miss you, man.

Love, Ben." 

Amory: Thank you to Redditors jumpywizardyo, mrsdekay, level30emo, CalculusManAnUnicorn, thewalkingbakedd, kiariehanata, SufficientSign2, lavender-bay, and greenlampsarecool for reading and talking about their letters with us. Also, stick around right after this to hear a teaser for another show we think you'll love.

Ben: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR Boston's NPR station in partnership with Reddit.

Amory: Josh Shwartz is our producer and his unsent letter would be addressed to ...

Josh: Idiots in cars.

Amory: Mix and sound design by Matt Reed who thinks unsent letters are a great way to ...

Matt: Get things off my chest.

Ben: Michael Pope is our advisor at Reddit and he thinks a subreddit filled with unsent letters is a ...

Michael: Cool form of retro futurism.

Amory: Editing by Katherine Brewer on Reddit. We are endless underscore thread. If you want to contribute art for an upcoming episode or give us a story tip so we can tell it like we did today, hit us up there.

Ben: My co-host and producer is Amory Sivertson.

Amory: My co-host and senior producer is Ben Brock Johnson.

Ben and Amory: We'll let ourselves out.

Josh Crane Twitter Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.

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