Author’s Epilogue

June 15th, 2010

What’s Up, Dear Readers?

Letter Off Dead, in its blog format, is officially done. Started on Trevor’s first day of seventh grade. Ended on his last day, as planned.

If you’re new to the site, you can go to this page and scroll to the bottom for Trevor’s first post.

It’s been a remarkable experience, not least because of the community of readers that followed this project and the challenging and encouraging feedback you all provided via facebook and blog comments. I only missed a few days of posts throughout the year. I’m tired but exhilarated.

Nothing is final yet (is anything ever final?), but I’m in discussions with the folks at Tricycle Press, a children and young adult imprint of Random House. The plan is to turn Letter Off Dead into a book.

I’ve always thought of this blog as a very rough, very live first draft. There’s power in the immediacy and roughness of its current form, but there are plenty of aspects about the current state that drive me a bit crazy. I long to give this thing a good scrubbing. It will almost certainly shrink a bit in the process. Apologies in advance if some of your favorite posts disappear in the process. I’m confident it will be a better final product.

The soonest possible release date is still more than a year away. In the meantime, I encourage you to (shameless sales pitch alert) buy The Tilting House, my first book, also published by Tricycle Press. And follow me on Twitter. I’ll post updates there and try hard not to be boring.

Thanks for playing along.

Tom

This is my last letter to you.

June 11th, 2010

Dear Dad,

School’s over. This is my last letter to you.

Donnie and Rhett are in the other room waiting for me. After I finish this letter, I’ll mail it on our way to the marina. They both assume I’m gonna jump. Off the marina, I mean.

We start from the shore. We swim about a hundred feet out to a ladder. You’ve got to wear shoes, says Rhett, or when you jump, hitting the water hurts your feet. And climbing the ladder does, too. The ladder goes all the way up from the water. The bottom part —the part that dips below high tide—is all covered with seaweed and barnacles, like wood on a shipwreck. The ladder gets cleaner as it goes up. The top rungs are bleached and cracked by the sun.

We climb the rungs all the way to the top. Then we just stand close to the edge of the roof and jump.

Rhett says there’s nothing to it. You just step off and fall.

I suppose I should say goodbye Dad, but I think you’re beyond goodbyes now. Beyond letters. Beyond words.

All that’s left is for me to step into air.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Your son,

Trevor

I just wanted to say hi and tell her about some stuff.

June 10th, 2010

Dear Dad,

You’re really gone, aren’t you? You’re never gonna write me back.

Just to let you know, I’ll probably keep checking the mailbox for a while to make sure.

I went in to Mrs. Henry’s class at lunch today to talk to her about you. She was writing in a notebook with a pencil, but stopped when I came in. She looked up and smiled at me with all her wrinkles. I sure like those wrinkles.

“What can I do for you, Trevor?” I just stood there. Mrs. Henry is one of my favorite adults, but it’s still hard for me to talk to her. Then again, all adults are hard for me to talk to. Even Mom. Sometime in the future, I need to write letters to Mom and apologize for not talking much.

I told Mrs. Henry I didn’t really need anything. I just wanted to say hi and tell her about some stuff. She set down her pencil, then picked it up again and tapped the desk with it.

“What kind of stuff?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Other stuff?” She smiled again. I knew what she meant. I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. We sat there like that for 20 seconds. Then she said, “You know, Trevor, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Some things aren’t meant to be shared. Maybe this is one of those things you just want to keep. For yourself.”

“Yeah, maybe.” I might have sighed a little right then, either in relief or disappointment.

She said, “Can I ask one question? Did things turn out—OK?”

“I think so.”

“You think so? You’re not sure? Well then, Trevor, I guess you’ll just have to get used to not knowing.”

“That sucks,” I said. I meant it.

“I suppose it does. But there’s something exciting about the not-knowable-ness of it. It means you’ve got a secret—a mystery—that’s still waiting to be solved. There’s not many of those left. Seems like you’ve got a good one. Right up there with Bigfoot.”

I thought the Bigfoot comment was pretty stupid. But I pretended it was funny, then told Mrs. Henry to have a good summer and left.

Not knowing totally blows. I’d rather know, Dad. Where are you?

Your son,

Trevor

I want to know for sure. At least I think I do.

June 9th, 2010

Dear Dad,

It’s been more than a week since you got on the boat. You did get on the boat, didn’t you? I hate not knowing. I want to know for sure. At least I think I do.

I’m pretty certain you’re gone for good. So why am I still writing? I’ve got no reason that makes sense, other than sometimes you get into a pattern and you just keep doing it because it’s what you do. I’ll probably stop when school gets out, because I try not to do anything that even smells like school in the summer. Except reading, I guess. I still read. But I try to read only trashy books, full of lots of violence and maybe even a little sex, but not so much mom would think I’m reading porn or anything weird like that.

Donnie is supposed to come over after school on Friday. Our plan is to stay up super late then sleep in practically all day on Saturday. Which means Donnie will stay up super late and I’ll probably fall asleep by 10. 11 if I drink lots of Coke. And I can’t sleep in to save my life, so I’ll be up early playing video games with the volume down.

I told Donnie that Rhett wants me to jump off the marina after we get home from school. Donnie said, “Can I come? I’ve always wanted to jump off that thing.”

Sometimes I hate my friends.

Anyway, tomorrow is really like the last day of school, even thought we have to go on Friday, too. Friday is only half a day. The cool teachers have parties in their classes and the other ones make you clean out your desk and review stuff. I think they should all have parties, because that will be the last thing you remember about them. But some teachers want you to remember how hard their classes were, I guess.

I’m gonna try to talk to Mrs. Henry tomorrow to maybe tell her about what happened between you and me. I figure she was a key person in the whole deal, so she deserves to know. If I don’t tell her tomorrow, I probably never will, because I won’t have her for a teacher next year.

I know that, because I got my list of classes for 8th grade. All new teachers. I don’t know any of them. I hope they don’t think I’m a hood, because of the whole cookie thing. I figure they all heard the story. Maybe Mrs. Henry will put in a good word for me. Maybe I’ll ask her that tomorrow.

If you were writing back to me, this is where you’d say, “You’re not a hood, Trevor. You’re a good kid. I believe in you. Blah blah blah.” I wouldn’t mind having someone say that to me right now.

Your son,

Trevor

Things I’ll never be able to talk to you about.

June 8th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Things I’ll never be able to talk to you about:

-        What kind of job I should get when I’m a grown-up. Right now I have no idea, but I think it would be fun to do something with writing. You talked about wishing you’d done that, right?

-        Where I should go to college. I don’t really care about this one, but it seems like the kind of thing we should talk about.

-        Any kind of advice about sex. I mean, not that I would necessarily ask you or anything, but it would be nice to have the option, because there’s no way I’m gonna ask Mom. And if I ask Rhett, he’ll just call me a dork.

-        How to drive a car. This one I’m definitely gonna miss. Right now, I’m thinking about getting an old jeep. I wish you could tell me if this would be a good idea. I don’t really have any money saved or anything, but I think it would be a cool choice and still basically practical. Jeeps are pretty reliable, aren’t they? I mean, if they weren’t reliable, it doesn’t seem like you’d drive one in the desert or in a war. I wouldn’t want an unreliable car in either of those places.

-        Kids and stuff. I mean, someday, if I got married and had kids, that is. I basically plan to. And I plan to take them to the beach and teach them how to skim board and throw seaweed at them and play card games with them when it’s late and they should be in bed. I figure if you were here, you could probably tell me how not to screw them up. Then sometimes I wonder if the reason I’m not screwed up is because you died. Since you were dead, my parents never fought. And I pretty much thought my dad was perfect until we started writing letters. Now I know better. Nothing personal or anything. Besides, I think real is better than perfect.

That’s enough for today. It’s really sunny out. After I mail this letter, I’m going down to the beach with Barry, Rhonda and Tess. I’ll probably even go swimming, even though the water’s so cold it makes it hard to breathe.

Sometimes, that’s just the feeling you want.

Your son,

Trevor

Rhett says he’s gonna make me jump off the marina.

June 7th, 2010

Dear Dad,

The second hardest day to go to school all year long is the last Monday before summer break. You know that summer is almost here and you get a weekend of great weather to give you a little taste of it—just enough to drive you insane. Then you have to get up early and go back to school for a whole other week. Barf.

The hardest day to go to school is the day after you’re suspended for poisoning the teachers with Ex-Lax.

It’s the beginning of the final week. Then summer. And Rhett told me that after school on Friday, he’s gonna make me jump off the marina whether I like it or not.

Maybe that’s what bugs me—him pushing me so hard. Maybe if I felt like it was my decision to jump, I’d be happier about it.

But who would ever decide to do such a stupid thing? Even at high tide, the roof is at least 40 feet above the water. From that height, the water is like concrete. If you land wrong you’re dead. Or you’re paralyzed from the waist down and you’ll never walk again and kids will stare at you in the mall. You just spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Maybe if you’re really lucky, you do a talk show on PBS or something dorky like that.

Should I jump? I guess I’ve gotta figure this one out on my own, because you’re no help. You’re beyond dead.

Your son,

Trevor

Things I miss, now that your letters have stopped.

June 4th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Things I miss, now that your letters have stopped:

-        Hearing stories about when you were alive, like when you made that trailer from the Popular Mechanics plans.
-        Hearing you worry about me. It sucks to worry, but it’s nice to be worried about.
-        Learning about boxing. Knees bent, hands up, elbows in, fists relaxed.
-        Thinking that maybe I was like you, after all, and being OK with that.
-        Gordon’s weird Latin quotes. E pluribus cuckoo.
-        Knowing that I was the only kid getting letters from you.
-        Descriptions of Sung-Hee’s crappy coffee. I don’t want to drink it. I just want to hear about it.

I wish you’d write back.

Your son,

Trevor

I think you may be gone for good.

June 3rd, 2010

Dear Dad,

Still no letter from you. I think you may be gone for good. Then again, I thought you were gone when you went into the woods, then you came back. But you said no one ever comes back on the boat except the bloody captain. The boat goes out full and comes back empty.

I know I should be glad, right? Because this probably means you made it to heaven. Or somewhere. You’ve moved on at least. That’s good, right? I really am glad for you, if it makes sense to be glad.

By the way, if the postman or Sung-Hee or Gordon or someone else is reading this letter right now, I’m OK with that. But you don’t need to write back to me. I don’t want to start getting a bunch of letters from dead people I don’t know.

It was super sunny today. It made it really hard to keep my mind on school. After today, only six days to go and then school is done. I’m glad summer is here to take my mind off your being gone. The only thing that worries me about summer is the marina. I know Rhett is gonna bug me to jump off it. I don’t know what Rhett’s problem is.

I was trying to think if there was a question I wished I asked you before you got on the boat. Here’s a simple one: What should I do about the marina?

Your son,

Trevor

Everybody will be gone but me.

June 2nd, 2010

Dear Dad,

I didn’t get a letter from you today. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I think you may be gone. Again. I’m sort of getting used to it.

I’m trying to picture where you are. Are you still on the boat, just riding over the waves, with the salt spray dripping from your face? Did you get somewhere yet? Where? Heaven?

It’s June here now. School’s close enough to being out that no one cares about it—not the students or the teachers. Mr. Schick seems as uninterested in all the other students as he is in me. He gave us worksheets and then stared out the window toward where his crappy car is parked. I think his longing for the year to be over is even stronger than his anger about the cookies.

Even Mrs. Henry seems ready to go. I feel like I should tell her what’s really been happening between you and me. I don’t think she’d be surprised much.

I was thinking that maybe now that you’ve left me again, maybe I could start talking to Mrs. Henry. I was thinking maybe I could sit in her classroom and talk to her during lunch a couple of days a week, to hold me over until I hear from you again. Then I realized that it’s almost summer and she’ll be gone, too.

Everybody will be gone but me.

Your son,

Trevor

Is it true? Are you gone?

June 1st, 2010

Dear Dad,

I’m not sure what happened in your last letter. I think you just got on the boat. Is that true? Are you gone?

What happens now? How will I know?

It figures that yesterday was Memorial Day. Mom picked a bunch of flowers from the yard – big, red rhododendron blooms and tiny little lime green flowers and I think lilies and some other stuff. We went to Washington Memorial and visited Meredith’s grave and your grave. We scrubbed your tombstone with copper cleaner. I think we’ve probably been scrubbing it a little too much over the years, because it’s looking kind of worn through around the letters. Then Mom put her flowers in the little metal can that’s sunk in the grass and we dumped some water in there. It’s kind of cool, because we decorate your grave, even though there’s no one to see it. It’s kind of like Mom thinks maybe you’re looking down or God is. Maybe it’s just for us.

It was weird being there with Rhonda and my brothers, who were working away with the copper cleaner and making jokes and stuff, while I was mainly thinking about our letters. Visiting your tombstone felt different to me this year, because now it’s there for someone I know. I mean, before we started writing to each other, Memorial Day was kind of about the idea of ancestors, not about real people. Now you’ve become real, just in time to leave.

Our timing is off again, because you’ll probably never read this.

Your son,

Trevor

    About

    Letter Off Dead is an actual transcript of letters sent between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. It covers the subjects of life and death, faith and doubt, fathers and sons.

    The textual transcript has been edited and presented here by Tom Llewellyn, a writer from Tacoma, Washington. The illustrations have been edited and presented by artist James Stowe, also from Tacoma. None of the content has anything to do with Tom's or James' beloved and very separate employers.

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