Anne Landers Essays

Living Sober, Columbia, Mo.

Dear Living Sober: Here's the column. Bless you for asking.

Dear Readers: I received at my office today a most unusual gift-an empty half-gallon whiskey jug. Taped to the bottle was an unsigned essay, which I have altered to fit this space. I hope the jug was merely an attention-getting gimmick and that the author poured the contents down the kitchen sink. Here it is:

The Most Clever Thief in the World

I invited her into our home for special occasions. We'd become good friends, I thought. And then I began to look forward to our meeting at the end of each day. After a while, we became so friendly I had to see her every evening.

People began to think of us as a couple. Even the police knew our names. Our identities were too closely linked, I thought, so I began to see her on the sly.

At first, she stole small change from my pocket. I wasn't concerned. Before long, she crept into my billfold. I wasn't happy about that, but I enjoyed her company too much to complain.

Friends said I was seeing too much of her and that she had made changes in me they didn't like. I resented their interference and said so. They dropped me.

My wife and children complained about the time I took from them to spend with her. I said, "If you insist that I make a choice, I will choose her." And I did. She began to demand so much of my money I could no longer afford new clothes. I heard people at work whisper about my shabby appearance. They blamed her. I was annoyed and distanced myself from my colleagues.

She started to visit me at the office. My boss became upset. He said my friend was interfering with my work. After several warnings, I lost my job. We had some heavy arguments after that. I told her to stay away for a while, so I could think. She said, "So long, buddy. You'll come back to me before long." She knew me better than I knew myself. Within three days, I was seeing her again.

Our affair became more intense than ever. We spent every day and night together. I lost my wife, my family and my job. The next thing to go was my health.

When I became so sick I couldn't eat or sleep, I realized she had taken everything in my life that had meaning. Although I was not religious, I decided to turn to God. He wrapped his loving arms around me and gave me strength I cannot describe to this day. He made me feel whole. My sense of self-worth and sanity began to return. I knew I would never again let my friend back into my life.

Today, though I still bear the scars of that hideous friendship, I am on my way back. With God at my side, I know I will make it. My old friend will always be around the corner, waiting for me to weaken and stumble and come back to her, but I am determined to keep her out of my life forever. I have found a magnificent replacement.


Lonesome? Take charge of your life and turn it around. Write for Ann Landers' booklet "How to Make Friends and Stop Being Lonely." Send a self-addressed, long, business-size envelope and a check or money order for $4.15 (this includes postage and handling) to: Friends, c/o Ann Landers, P.O. Box 11562, Chicago, Ill. 60611-0562. (In Canada, send $5.05.)

  Teen pens an essay detailing his loss of life after a car accident.


  Known on Internet as “Dead at 17” and “Please God, I’m Only 17,” the piece quoted above is the work of John J. Berrio of Rochester, was a veteran of World who first made his living as a housepainter but later in life took up a career with the IRS. He died in 1997 at the age of


John Berrio was a father five times over, so he likely knew something about teenagers. He wrote his now famous offering in 1967 after a friend of his son died in a car accident.

The work found its way to a larger audience after submitted it for publication to advice columnist Dear Abby and she chose to run it in her column. It has since been included in a 1981 compilation of her offerings as one of the essays readers had often asked her to reprint, and has appeared numerous times over the years in her column, but without the two paragraphs that begin the example quoted above. Abby’s sister and fellow advice columnist, Ann Landers, also periodically aired the essay in her column.

In 1992 it was fashioned into a made-for-TV movie: Please God, I’m Only 17.

Titled “Dead at 17,” the piece was included in the 1997 anthology Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

For those tempted to ask “Yes, but is it true?”, we point out very few people have penned essays while deceased. This piece is meant as an exhortation to the young to exercise caution while behind the wheel, and its being written in a first-person voice is a literary device employed to heighten its impact, nothing more.

Barbara “be a wreckless driver” Mikkelson

  25 February 2007



Fact Checker:David Mikkelson

Published:27 March 2008


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