On the Internet, the word “heartbreaking” is often used as a device to get us to click and gawk at remarkable tales of loss — the bride left at the altar, the long-lost family pet. On The Last Message Received Tumblr, the heartbreak doesn’t really need a headline to sell itself.
The sorrow appears in a scrolling cascade of text bubbles that contain both small slights, such as being ghosted inexplicably, and huge loss, like losing a parent. It’s hard to look away because the blog is full of stark endings, the kind of sadness that won’t happen to you until happens to you.
Emily Trunko, a 15-year-old who lives in the small town of Copley, Ohio, (population 13,000) has collected thousands of letters and text messages sent by people who want to share them anonymously. Her latest project is The Last Message Received.
Like many people her age, Emily lives much of her life online, and that includes schooling. Reached by phone on Monday, her father, Michael Trunko, said his daughter attended an online high school, the Ohio Virtual Academy. “She’s not your typical 15-year-old,” he said.
In an interview on Monday, Emily said that her project has accumulated more than 2,500 submissions since it was created a few weeks ago. Most of them are anonymous.
The Last Message Received is actually the successor to an even more popular project the teenager created this year: On Dear My Blank, more than 17,000 people have asked her to post anonymous letters that they will never send. Just like on The Last Message Received, notes on Dear My Blank are mostly about loss.
The letters are to crushes, parents and ex-lovers, and Emily receives up to 100 of them a day. Most of the letters chronicle sadness and angst, but at least one of the stories has a happy ending; Emily said she met her current boyfriend through Dear My Blank after he submitted a letter.
Her theory about The Last Message Received is that it took off because the holidays are approaching.
“A lot of people are getting more sentimental and thinking more about family and interacting with loved ones,” she said. “I think Last Message Received can hit home with them.”
But she’s traveling a well-worn path forged by people who learned early on that the Internet was a suitable place — maybe the best place — to share a secret. One of the most famous examples, PostSecret, has shared thousands of anonymous letters sent by mail over the past decade.
The Internet has a way of recasting perennial ideas as new. (It also makes old ideas more efficient: Emily hadn’t heard of PostSecret before creating Dear My Blank and doesn’t really see a need for mail submissions. “There are definitely similarities,” she said of PostSecret, “but, like, this is through social media.”)
In this case, the universally relatable topic of love lost is the perfect match for a platform like Tumblr, which allows its users to easily create blogs that have a microfocus on just one topic.
Emily Trunko’s next move appears to be straight from the Tumblr-to-book deal playbook written by the likes of Humans of New York and Feminist Ryan Gosling.
“Dear My Blank is getting a book soon,” she said, before adding that her agent wanted to keep the details secret for now.