In the internet before webpages, people could only sketch themselves in words. Odd correspondents were common, and somehow less sinister for their complete anonymity. I found Len on a depression usenet group in 1994 or 1995—maybe even alt-suicide, I can’t remember. I was fifteen-year-old in suburban Eastern Canada. He told me he was in his forties, lived on the West Coast.

At that time, hard to remember now, the internet could be a bit of a Fight Club. Speaking of it to the uninitiated was dangerous. So I told not a soul about Len.

Like me, he was surviving mostly on the power of this one Counting Crows album, “August and Everything After.” He sent me long exegeses of each song. He liked “Rain King” best. I don’t think he knew it referred to a Saul Bellow novel. He liked the “black-winged bird,” and he wanted me to remember the line about “And I deserve a little more.”

Now I’m obsessed with letters because I know they save people. But though I’d like to quote you from his emails, I can’t. That email address is long dead, the group defunct. I never knew his last name. I don’t know what he looked like. I don’t know if he was real. But it didn’t matter.

Michelle Dean's book Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having An Opinion, will be published in 2017.