Possible Scenarios for Heaven*
I want to believe that the web is like a phone booth and that we can leave messages out here for someone to pick up, that maybe they’ll find it someday, or that it’ll find its way to them. I want to believe that we leave traces of ourselves here, something that can’t be touched, something more than words and deeper than feelings and stronger than memories.
It’s weird losing someone. Even that word is weird in this context, to ‘lose’ someone. As if we set them aside and forgot where they were. I never forgot where she was. I always knew that she was out there at the other end of my email or my phone, like there was a wire going from my place to her house, a direct link between us. She knew me better than anyone, probably, which was both annoying and comforting.
But there I go making this about me, again. A bad habit. My worst, maybe. Keeping it all inside me, keeping me all to myself, and refocusing things that happen to other people into how it affects me.
She said I was doing so much better than when we met each other in Boston over tea with Alexis. I wasn’t supposed to be there, I think. It was girl’s night out, and the two of them had bonded via email messages about horoscopes and boys and the difficulty of being creative and female, or something like that. Was I even out, yet? Alexis went to the ladies room and she leaned across the table toward me, conspiratorially, and asked if Alexis liked her. She suspected that they would meet and not hit it off, the woman from NYC and the New Englander and there I was, the California boy, so out of place in so many ways, but she trusted me already and wanted some unvarnished truth from an uninterested bystander.
We stayed at that blue-walled tea house in the cold, wet Boston night for hours, finally agreeing that it was time to go only when Alex and I became worried that we’d miss the T. She was staying in the city. We hugged tightly as we all said goodnight.
She was already reading my web site and knew a lot about me because I said a lot about me, but she picked up so much more in such a little time. She was a sleuth about people. She collected them, keeping some for later and treasuring them. She wanted her friends to meet her other friends. She said I should come to New York and visit her in Hell’s Kitchen, that she knew someone I’d love to meet and we’d both get along so well. I could stay at her place, no problem. I thought that was nice and I thought it would never happen.
We traded emails — a lot of emails — over the next few months. She was going to a Web conference in San Francisco, would I be going to? When could we see each other again and she said that she missed me. It was hard for me, then, to hear that from anyone. I had years of therapy to come and lots of dark hours dealing with those demons we fight who tell us how bad we are and that we don’t deserve the good things. But she would hear none of that. “You’ll see,” she said, “great things are going to happen for us!”
In San Francisco we met again. The web was going strong, Bubble 1.0, money everywhere and dreams of big things. Being a writer, maybe? A book? Something would happen. She had her own company, small but doing well. She was a hell of a designer, knew people, well loved and respected. She fought hard, it sounded like, to get what she wanted. Not a bitch or anything, in fact she was very soft-hearted and bruised easily. Trouble was, she knew that. She could feel bruises coming. Had been hurt before. Things happen in life. So she kept most at arm’s length and let only a few inside.
We watched this guy dancing. It was a closing party, somewhere in SOMA. I was drunk. She was on my arm. We watched him, young guy, shaven head, body contorting in very suggestive and surprising ways. She leaned against me, warm and soft, her mouth in my ear saying, “You’re thinking of him sexually.” I blushed madly and gulped my drink.
She went back to New York, where she lived. If ever someone belonged to that city, it was her. When she was there, it was like she really owned that fucking town. She knew where to be, and when, and how to grab the attention of that pretentious little prick at Barney’s and have him give me some service, even though there was no way I’d ever afford that baby blue suede Armani. She didn’t care, that wasn’t the point. I counted. She counted. We went to the Knickerbocker and had T-bone for two and vodka martini’s. We spoke about the party at Yoko’s later, and wasn’t it a shame about Evelyn? That rock! Fake! Stupid cad. Whatever will she do now? Another martini, please! Isn’t the jazz divine, tonight?
She gave me my first pirated software. A complete collection of Adobe fonts. She handed me a shoe box of discs on her voluminous bed and said I could have anything I wanted. She was always that way. I repaid her by installing a second hard drive in her computer. She said she could never get the whole master and slave thing.
I moved to San Francisco and she stayed in New York. I was sure she would never leave it. I was there with her on the coldest New Year’s Eve of my life, colder than it had ever been in Vermont. We stood on the roof of her building two blocks from Times Square and heard the swelling roar and watched the ball drop. We counted down and toasted with champagne and danced, we danced together on her rooftop, for warmth and love. “I shall henceforth be known,” I shouted loudly, spilling cheap bubbley on my puffy coat, “as Poopie Snugglepants!” She called me Poopie for the rest of my stay.
San Francisco was both more and less than expected. The Web unraveled as soon as I arrived and I found myself working at a company that creates email campaign for large companies to keep their clients in touch. Customer retention messaging. One to one branding. Buzzword city. It happened that after 9/11, New York held some memories that she wanted to not be near for a time, so I offered her a job working with me in San Francisco. She came here to live, knowing it wasn’t a perfect match but wanting change in her life, any kind of change. Dark spirits had taken hold and she wanted to rip herself away from them.
San Francisco, as we had both suspected but chose to ignore, was not her cup of tea. New York is a city that stays up all night, it plays guitar, it screams at you to get out of the fucking bathroom and let someone else have a go. San Francisco is a morning person. San Francisco plays acoustic guitar and wants the birds to sing harmony. San Francisco will wait just as long as it takes for you to go to the bathroom because, after all, some things take time. San Francisco was slow town for a girl from the fast lane.
But she pressed on and we worked out a weekend date at The Pork Store where we could be found without fail every Sunday at 10am precisely. She watched me lose weight and gain a boyfriend, and then another one. She loved my cat and took care of her when I went out of town, teaching Paris to sleep on a lap and play with pencils. She said that Mole sauce could be done either really well or really poorly, and there’s no in-between. She always seemed to know everything, and if she didn’t she knew who did. It didn’t really matter what my problem was, she had a solution. And she was always, always right.
She was a woman of contradictions. She roamed the web freely and opened herself up on numerous personal sites, including perhaps the first online zine written and designed solely for the web. She had domains stolen out from under her before it was cool. She used all the tools, tried all the new toys, seemed to know everyone and what was going on.
At the same time, she held her secrets close and dear, protecting herself and those she loved like a lioness.
When I heard last night that she was dead, I didn’t believe it at first and I didn’t know what to do, because normally she would have been one of the first people I would call under circumstances like this. She would have known what to do, and how to handle it, and what to say and to whom. She would have known how to comfort me, and would have been on a plane if I asked her to, and would be able to hug me from 3,000 miles away. She was quite beautiful inside and out, big hearted, full of love.
There is a lot to be sad about now, but I don’t think Leslie ever wanted anyone to be sad. She always wanted her friends to meet each other and be friends, too. She wanted to celebrate things, and watch people gather to eat her food and open presents and be just exactly happy. She wanted life to be that way. I’m going to remember her that way. Smoking a cigarette, drinking a Diet Coke, and laughing her ass off.
By Leslie Harpold
On Carrying On
A Tale of Two Cities
Written in the Stars
For the Duration of This Cheese Sandwich
On Bad Language
Demystifying Diet Coke(s)
How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner
Sympathy for the Deviled Eggs
I love you, Leslie.
December 12, 2006