January 29: Living Well is the Best Revenge

Letter: R
CD Number: 26
Track Number: 21

Song: “Living Well is the Best Revenge” by R.E.M. off Disc 1 of the album Live at The Olympia

If you were to ask Lee Newsome to describe himself honestly, the first three things he’d tell you would be “hard working,” “intelligent,” and “lucky.” It would not be until the fourth one that he’d have warmed up enough to admit that he also “took rejection very, very poorly.”
Perhaps no one knew this as well as Juliet Turner. Juliet had the distinct honor of being asked by Lee to go to something called the Winter Dream Dance their senior year. Unfortunately, she told him, she could not because her parents had planned some trip out of town. While she was super disappointed about it and reminded them of the dance, they would not budge. Lee was disappointed, but understood. Parents, who can get why they do what they do, right?
Except, of course, she was lying. She thought Lee was nice enough, but a bit nerdy and not really her type. So she certainly did not want to go with him, but could see no reason to break his heart either. So rather than make the tough choice of gritting her teeth and going anyway or just be upfront in saying no, she opted for the little white transgression. And, under most circumstances, the story would have ended there. But high school is not most circumstances.
Juliet had to tell her friends that she couldn’t go to the dance now and explain why. One of them, Cheryl Peran, thought it was mean and it bothered here. It bothered her so much, in fact, that she let it “slip” to Lee during French class a few days later. While to this day, she swears it was a subconscious mistake, it was, in reality, calculated.
Lee, however, did not seem to react. He never confronted Juliet, never even mentioned it to his friends. He just nodded to Cheryl, thanked her for her honesty, and turned back to the front of the room. Thus, it seemed, Juliet’s little lie, even after being revealed, amounted to nothing at all.
Except, of course, Lee was only pretending to be fine with it. Inside, it ruffled him quite a bit. He knew he wasn’t cool, but he thought he was likable enough and, truth be told, attractive in a slightly above average sort of way. But this news…it tossed him upside down. He spent six months like that; sad, sick to his stomach, sure he was unlikable and unattractive. And then his college roommate introduced him to a little something called tequila. And tequila, in turn, introduced him to a sophomore field hockey player. Thus, as has always been the case, with the judicious application of booze and a stranger, Lee found some confidence.
With that confidence, Lee became angry. How could she lie to him?! What gave her the right to be so mean?! The anger sparked creativity and next thing he knew, he was standing in front of a mailbox, sending her a letter. In the letter was a picture of the field hockey player, whose name turned out to be Francine, looking stunning in her outfit from the night before. He did not sign it, he did not write anything in it. He just mailed Juliet the picture.
And it felt great.
So great, in fact, that next month, he sent her another photo of Francine, now officially his girlfriend, and a newspaper clipping about him having been named to the school’s debate team.
And that felt even better.
So, every month since then, Lee has sent Juliet a letter containing artifacts of his life that stress how great things are going for him. Sometimes, he feels a little playful and he creates a theme for the year. Last year was money and featured clipping of his stock portfolio, his various accounts, the value of his properties, that sort of thing. This year is all about vacations; each envelope is full of picture of him and his wife, Francine, on the beaches of Maui, or cruising the Bering Strait, or enjoying French cuisine in Carmel, CA. He still has not decided on a theme for next year. Maybe it’ll be kids, since his are cute and good at school and last he heard, Juliet was still single and childless. Or maybe next year can be the year he stops. After all, he has made his point, hasn’t he?
On the other hand, just the thought of sending the next letter makes him smile. Ear-to-ear.

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