In her unique letter “You Don’t Know Me, But You Changed My Life,” Mary Emerick pens a note to a friend’s aunt she met for 10 minutes, over 25 years ago…and who changed her life.
“I can still envision you the night I met you, your pale hair in a braid, your eyes blazing, fresh off a monthlong sailing trip to Tasmania. I was twenty at the time, and you must have been at least one and a half times that. You had jumped aboard the boat on a whim, knowing nobody, answering a “crew wanted” ad posted someplace in San Diego. You did not think it over, agonize, wonder what people would think. You just went for it. And I admired you for it. You see, before I met you, I thought my life was on a clean, safe trajectory. Go to college. Get a job in an office. Marry someone from the air force base. That summer I met you, as you stopped by our Mission House dormitory to visit your nephew John, I was grasping for the last freedom I thought I would ever have before my life became ordinary…Because of you, I got a job fighting wildfires from Florida to Alaska with a group of men who didn’t believe I could keep up on the hikes or carry the loads. Because of you, I showed them that a woman can be both tough and beautiful. Because of you, I backpacked alone along the spine of the Rockies and paddled a kayak in twelve-foot seas along Alaska’s coast. Because of you, I dusted myself off after each tumble and kept climbing upward…”
MARY EMERICK is a kayak ranger and wildland firefighter who recently moved from Sitka, Alaska to Oregon. She’s written most of her stories in a tent, either after a day on a fireline or while camping in the wilderness along southeast Alaska’s remote coast. In previous lives, she has worked for the National Park Service and other agencies in Florida, Nevada, California, Idaho, and other states, as a wilderness ranger, tree planter, cave-tour guide, and panther-capture assistant. She grew up in northern Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in creative writing, but meeting John’s aunt, the woman she writes to in her letter, sidetracked her journalism-career ideas forever. She is still looking for John’s aunt and hopes that she happens to pick up P.S. What I Didn’t Say sometime. Her articles and short stories have appeared in The International Journal of Wilderness, Wildland Firefighter, Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul, Passages North, and other publications. She’s currently working on a memoir.
Read the rest of Mary’s letter, and 35 others, in P.S. What I Didn’t Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, now available on Amazon!