How A Natural Disaster Brought Me An Incredible Pen Pal – And Friend


By Alicia Cook

If you were to tell me four years ago that I would share my home address, my phone number, and my deepest darkest secrets with a total stranger, I would have laughed in your face (politely, of course, my mother didn’t raise a jerk.) I am a lot of things, but open with strangers is not one of them.

Yet, I have done just that.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy ravaged my hometown in Ocean County, New Jersey. Many of the memories and places I had come to love since childhood were literally washed away by the ocean. Back then, I did not post my writing publicly – I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter and I was just getting a handle on Instagram. However, after witnessing my friends’ homes being destroyed and the first roller-coaster I ever rode fall into the ocean on live television, the emotional loss I endured from Superstorm Sandy pushed me to write publicly.

“Open Letter to the Shore Kids” was written and posted to my inactive Tumblr page less than 48 hours after the storm. It was the first piece I ever posted online. Within one day of the letter being shared quickly and frequently amongst family, friends, friends of friends, and then strangers, USA Today, The Asbury Park Press, and the LA Times all called me. Then, to my utter surprise, CNN called me. My words had officially gone viral.

Having provided my personal email address at the bottom of the letter, I had begun to receive emails from people from the East Coast as well as all over the country.

Then, I received a message from a woman named Lindsey Lewman.

“The line from your letter that got me was ‘My father put me on the same carousel horse he sat on when he was a kid,’” Lindsey told me.  “I am a sucker for tradition and repeating history…I thought how sad this must be for you to not have all these amazing memories to relive.”

And so, she felt she had to reach out to me.

She was from Portland, Oregon and had no connection to the Jersey Shore at all, but she felt connected to me. I checked out her Instagram, and she looked about my age. I surmised from her pictures she was married and had a little girl, who was freaking adorable with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and a son.

She thanked me for writing the letter. For some reason, I responded. And the rest, they say, is history.

“The art of pen palship has died to an extent because nearly everyone on social media is technically a pen pal,” Lindsey told me over email.  “But the friendship that comes with someone you’ve never met is truly cool.  To share so openly about real life is more than just social media posts.”

She’s right. It’s National Pen Pal Day, and though I always thought pen pals were a thing of the past, Lindsey Lewman is my 21st Century Pen Pal. We email, text, Instagram, and Snapchat regularly. I am on her e-mail list when she sends out her family newsletters. I receive birthday and Christmas cards from her. I tell her things that may take me months to tell people I see every day. Lindsey, a writer herself, shares her work with me and we bounce ideas off of each other. We are friends, REAL friends, the only difference is, we can’t just simply meet up at a coffee shop to chat. (But how freakin’ cool would that be, Lindsey??)

“I watched your heart break over and over,” said Lindsey, and she’s right; the last couple years of my life have not been the easiest.  “And then, I watched you find your way out.  And back in.  And back out again.  Never once did I judge you for it, because I am fairly certain that everything you do is ‘all in.’  And I can get on board with that.”

About two years ago, after following her on Instagram from some time, I noticed her daughter, Emma, who was all of two at the time, constantly carried around brooms; she loved to sweep. I wanted to do something nice for Lindsey and her family, so I wrote a children’s book entitled, “The Adventures of Broom Girl.”

Using my words and the many pictures of Emma with a broom, I turned her into a little superhero, determined to sweep up all the “bad” in the world. I shipped the hardcover book to Lindsey’s home, and honestly began to panic.

What if she thought I was crazy? What if I had crossed a line mailing something to her home? Why did I make the story rhyme? I hate writing in rhyme. I momentarily felt like a creep. Lindsey quickly calmed my nerves.


“Somehow you saw all the magic I did from 3,000 miles away and through a camera lens,” she said.  “I have never been so honored to receive a gift.”

One of Lindsey’s dear friends passed away and she reached out to ME to write something in her memory. She trusted me with a very delicate situation…someone she had never met.

“You captured EXACTLY what I wanted to say with minimal guidance,” said Lindsey.  “Your words are literally my thoughts.”

People magazine called me, interested in sharing the article. Although it was never seen in People, Lindsey providing me that opportunity helped me forge a connection with another major media outlet.

Strangers can make an impact on your life. Strangers, just by simply reaching out, stop being strangers. This digital world we live in has brought with it many frustrations, but also many blessings. I love knowing that Lindsey Lewman in Portland Oregon exists. She has directly impacted my life more than she even realizes.

Lindsey is the sole reason I began to share my poetry and writing more frequently and publicly. She began following me on Instagram when my account had about 300 followers and was private. She doesn’t believe she is the driving force behind the explosion of “The Alicia Cook,” but she was most definitely instrumental in everything that’s happened to me since that letter in 2012. I consider her encouragement, honest feedback, and sincere interest in my life a gift.

“Sharing my creative writing, thoughts, and opinions with you has added so much enjoyment to my life and to watch you explode into this world is incredible,” said Lindsey.  “You will never have a bigger fan this side of the Mississippi.”

We will obviously meet in person one day. But until then, I am happy to have found a pen pal in Lindsey Lewman.

Alicia is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To find out how you can become a Contributing Writer, click HERE

{featured image via unsplash}