My first experience with International travelers was my sister’s foreign exchange program in Denmark when I was in junior high. It was 1988 and the internet, needless to say, did not exist. Communication with my big sister ordinarily took 2-3 weeks and was always in the form of a long hand written letter. Occasionally, my family would be extravagant enough to splurge on an international long distance phone call, which was considered very expensive at the time. We would take turns talking to L and then any letters that had been written in the meantime would become obsolete by the time they arrived. My sister had been one of my closest companions but when she went abroad she was completely out of reach. I remember getting snippets of her life pieced together from her phone calls and her host family. “L is learning Danish.” L has a friend in her English class named Benny. Benny has purple hair. L is taking a class with 4th graders. At some point in that year we discovered air mail stationary. This sped letters up to 4-5 days. Now we were really on top of things. When L later went to Spain in the 90’s, it was much the same. Communications were few and far between. As for myself, I opted not to travel abroad because I didn’t want to miss high school. In hindsight this may have been a mistake, but I saw how difficult it was for L to integrate back into high school when she came back from Denmark. Our high school in 1988 was the farthest thing away from forward thinking in the whole of the US, at least it seemed that way to us. My big sister was known around town as “that weird girl” during her entire senior year of high school. The price for enlightenment seemed too much to pay and I opted instead to spend grandma’s money on massage school when I was already long gone from high school. That had it’s own weirdness that came with it but is not really relevant to this narrative.
Ideas about things that form in junior high tend to stick. Enough so that I was expecting things to be similar with East Side Man. I might not have gotten involved had I realized it would be other wise. When he flew back to India on the day that must have been his birthday, I expected it to be the last time I would hear from him in a very long time. I expected him to drop off the face of the earth and to be living in a vacuum where a communication from the present time would arrive 2 weeks later and by the time it arrived, could not be relied upon to be the truth. I expected all text messages to stop and I certainly didn’t think I would talk to him on the phone. So it was quite a shock when I logged into Facebook and there he was, as if he was in the same room. He had posted a picture of the sunrise when he got off the plane and uttered sweet words about being sad to leave Denver that I knew were about me. I could feel his energy in the post and then I started to scroll through his wall. There was his daughter, and his students, and his friends, and him- ESM, who wasn’t yet ESM. His face was gigantic on the screen and just as I remembered it. Oblong, with a red beard and a red scruff of hair atop his head and the same look on his face- a look of arrogance mixed with kindness and a twinkle in his eye. He looks at people as if he has a secret that only he is in on. And he usually does.
But ESM would not remain a mystery for long. The text messages would not stop and phone calls were not the same as 1988. Skype caller would frequently call on Sunday morning and text messages were non-stop. And there was always Facebook for the moments when he wasn’t calling. Until I couldn’t stand it anymore and took him out of my news feed so as not to be tortured or caught off guard when I wasn’t in the mood for unrequited love.
My psychic healer told me that the emails would start coming. I didn’t believe her. I had only met ESM twice in person and I wasn’t even sure I liked him. But then they did. First a hello or a mild flirtation or joke, then finally becoming more seductive and passionate. They were never about me so I didn’t give them too much power at first. But then came the email of all emails, the Taj Majal email with the silks and jasmine petals. It still wasn’t about me; it was all him but I was hooked. No one had ever sent anything that romantic before and the dream began at that point. I couldn’t forget something like that.