In the late summer of 1996 I found myself freshly out of college and living at my parents' house with no real clue what I was doing next. I had just ended a nine month relationship with a horrible person by sending him home to Ohio on a bus. He managed to lock me out of my email account and just be generally awful for some time afterward. Time has worn away the details, but I mention all of this to introduce Leslie Harpold and her brief time in my life.
Leslie offered me two things that were a total godsend at that moment: an email account (email@example.com) to replace the one I'd lost, and a weekend trip to New York City to get away from stuff for a couple of days. I gladly jumped at both.
My memories for most of the weekend are spotty: I remember that the people on the train never took my ticket, so I planned to save money by using it again for the return trip; I remember how tiny and foreign, yet cozy, her Hell's Kitchen apartment seemed to me, the country girl used to wide open spaces; I remember her cat knowing that she looked good on dark green, and that this was the color of the pillow I brought everywhere I travelled. She took me to a day spa, where a woman with an accent asked me where I was from, and when I told her "upstate" she said, "Ah, Westchester?"
But mostly I remember the way my life changed that day, and how guilty I always feel when I think about it. We were walking back from the spa, or maybe lunch, and noticed firetrucks up ahead putting out a fire. She kept an eye on it as we got closer, and said, "that looks like my block." A little closer and, "that looks like my building." Closer still, "that looks like my apartment." Some length of time passed, and, as we were late to dinner, she hailed a cab and we went to the restaurant. The last time I saw Leslie she was sitting in the back of the cab, and I was walking into the restaurant to tell the friends we were supposed to be meeting that Leslie wouldn't be joining us because her apartment just burned.
Then I remember how surreal dinner felt as I sat there with my freshly painted orange fingernails, so unlike me, engaging in idle chit chat as a fire burned all of my host's belongings and everything I had brought with me. The return train ticket was gone. My wallet with my money and IDs was gone. My glasses, my pillow, my favorite dress (that I was wearing at work before catching the train), pictures I'd had in my bag that belonged to someone else, everything a person needs to survive over a weekend away from home, gone. Later I'd find out that Leslie's novel was lost, as well as everything she owned (though her cats had gotten out to safety). How insignificant my loss seemed compared to hers! And yet, it was significant to me. And there was the guilt.
Over the next couple of months I watched Leslie rebuild through the filter of the online community in which we both participated. I moved to Seattle and spent a year there beginning the process of figuring out what my adult life should look like. And I lost touch with Leslie. I didn't know how to talk to her anymore, and I don't remember her making an effort to find me, either. I made a really cool pillow and sent it to her, but the postal service lost it in the mail. After several years my mysterydate.com account, which I had long ago stopped using, disappeared. And now, 10 years later, I learn that Leslie has passed away. Here is the regret.
I'm reading through dozens of online memorials of Leslie and each one brings a new stabbing pang of regret. People are pouring out their memories of Leslie, all involving her love, warmth, and generosity, and all I can think of is the fact that I just lived for 10 years without reaching out to thank her for the kindness she showed me. And once again it's all about me -- my pain, my loss, my guilt. Damn, but I'm a selfish bastard.
So powerful is the part of my brain that squirrels difficult things away that I managed to read about Leslie's passing yesterday morning, and then completely forget about it until Ed called me in the afternoon. Then came an email from weds and another from krapsnart, and now I realize that I need to deal with this mess in my head or I'm not going to be functional. I'll be reading more of these until I figure out if it's possible Leslie had forgiven me for losing touch with her.