Today is a special day. Yes, I know you already know that Erin and I are just past our fifth anniversary, so what is this talk of a tenth? I’ll tell you.
Ten years ago today, Erin and I exchanged our first ever e-mail correspondence. I was an innocent young Canadian, very new to the Internet, who had just uploaded a Doctor Who novella entitled Smaointe (Reflections) (Adobe Reader required) onto the alt.drwho.creative newsgroup. She was an American student of high-energy physics taking a year off to intern at the particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. She read the story, was impressed at my token attempts at Irish History, and wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed the read.
I don’t know what it was, if it was her odd e-mail address (what country has the domain code of .ch?) or something else, but I knew from the moment I saw the e-mail that I was dealing with someone special. I didn’t know how special for a while, but we struck up a conversation and we became pen-pals, writing longer and longer letters about writing, television, politics, urban design (more me than her), etc, etc. As she headed home to Omaha by way of Ireland, we exchanged letters by post, and photographs, but we remained solid pen pals.
Yes, I was in love with her in pretty short order, and the feeling was probably mutual, but I never acted upon my love, or told her how I felt, because I knew the foolishness of such action. I didn’t know if she loved me. Besides, this woman was a thousand miles away from me (now living in Minneapolis, Minnesota). There was some possibility that we might meet face-to-face at a science fiction convention in Chicago, but it wasn’t like we could date or anything.
Then, in September 1995, after breaking her cheekbone a couple of months beforehand, Erin started to develop some alarming symptoms. A cut reopened. Then she started to bleed from the corner of her eye. A catscan revealed that a tumour was growing on her optic nerve. A biopsy would soon reveal that the tumour was benign, that her cheekbone had healed and had not stopped healing (the scar tissue was forming the tumour). But for a period of about five days, we were looking at the possibility that Erin might have brain cancer. There was even talk about the possibility of having just one year to live.
You would be amazed at how quickly such news forces you to reassess what’s important in your life.
As you can guess, I fretted considerably during that time. It was clear that I was in love with her, but still a part of me was reluctant to let her know how I felt. We’d still never met face-to-face. She was a thousand miles away from me in another country, and I wasn’t even sure if she felt the same way about me. But I had to do something. So I did.
For a long while, Erin and I had been signing off our e-mails with the valediction “Hugs, James” and “Hugs, Erin”, yet another sign in the harsh glow of hindsight that we were both besotted and in denial about it. Well, after writing a long e-mail on an assortment of subjects, good news and bad, I quietly signed it “Love, James”, and left it at that. It was all I could do.
Then Erin wrote back. She too composed a long-winded letter covering a variety of subjects, none of them having to do with relationships, but she signed it, “Love? Love, Erin.”
Now this was a sign. Or was it? To be sure, I wrote off another longwinded e-mail — about as long as this post is now — and signed it “Love (if you don’t mind), James”. Her reply back to me, also as long, ended with “Love (I am a long way from minding and have been restraining myself from so writing my valediction for fear of scandalizing you. But you’re going to have to steel yourself up and explain what you mean), Erin” or words to that effect.
Well, that was it. I had to tell her. Though I still took the first half of my next letter writing about completely unrelated topics in order to build up the courage to tell her how I felt. To my considerable relief Erin, right off the bat on her next letter, told me that she felt the same way. And so we entered uncharted territory.
The news started to get better. The biopsy came back showing that the tumour was benign and would be taken care of with six months of drug therapy. We arranged to meet face-to-face at a science fiction convention in Chicago, on the presumption that if things didn’t click, we’d at least have some other events to attend in order to justify our going. Fortunately they did click, and Chicago became the first of a series of intense several-day long dates that included visits to Minneapolis, Omaha, Kitchener, Toronto, several meetings of the in-laws and a lot of wonderful times.
I asked Erin to marry me on St. Patrick’s Day, 1996, and Erin began the long and arduous process of immigrating to Canada soon thereafter (anybody who tells you that Canada’s immigration laws are too lax is dead wrong; I know this from experience, as do all my friends and co-workers who were around me over the next three years until Erin finally made official landing on November 25, 1999 — a year and a month after we got married in Omaha).
It has been quite a life changing experience, as whirlwind and as deep a romance as one could hope for outside a good novel. Still, when people ask the dreaded question, “so… how did you two meet?”, we can’t help but cringe. To say “on the Internet” suggests something weird, and possibly shallow. Well, what I feel for Erin is not shallow. As the Internet becomes more of a part of our daily lives, you’re going to discover more and more deep and lasting relationships that began online. Chances are you’ve heard the stories already. Well, we’ve lived through it. And I’m floored to realize that, had Erin and I been born about a decade earlier, such a relationship likely would not have been possible.
I am able to remember most of this (especially the exact date of the first e-mail) because back then I kept most of my correspondence. As the weeks wore on, I made a special effort to keep Erin’s correspondence, and she kept copies of my e-mails to her. A few years later, just before we were married, I printed out all of our e-mails and had it bound. The correspondence required three separate volumes.
Happy Anniversary, honey!