Walking into the woods

I was making a book; he was a book designer.

We talked on the phone — me, in San Francisco, him in Brooklyn. We chatted for nearly an hour before I convinced him to let me hire him as a consultant for a project. I paid the standard rate, typical deliverables — and yet I wanted to keep talking to him. Not just about making books. About so many things.

I sent him a quick note:

“You know, if you were in my city I think we’d be good friends.”
“Me too!”

We did the digital stuff—Facebook, Twitter, the rounds. I was curious.

Three weeks later I received a message from him: “This might be a strange idea, but do you want to be pen pals?”

I wanted to stand up and raise my fists in the air. Oh YAYYYY!

A year later, we’d written more than one hundred paper and email letters back and forth, writing about creativity and imagination and philosophy and technology and urbanism and more. I had such a crush on him. But he was more pragmatic; I lived in California, so there was no way we could actually date.

It wasn’t logical.
It made no sense.

Yet we kept writing.

It was slow, deliberate, and non-romantic. We chatted about ideas and words; I found a friend on the internet who I could explore questions with through meandering multi-topic conversations. We talked about brain neuroscience and litigious societies and project management and strange correlations; through talking, we got to know the subtle thoughts and mind crinkles that comprised our mental and emotional worlds.

The letters would slow down as we each explored dating in our respective cities; but strangely, nothing local moved forward past a few first dates. Other than a long pause and a couple of snippets in the letters, we rarely talked to each other about our dates, or about dating.

Late Summer came and a whisper told me that I needed to be in New York that Fall. I didn’t imagine that I liked New York, but I put the question into the universe later that night: Should I go to New York?

The next day my friend emailed me to tell me about a conference—in New York. It matched. I applied, made work arrangements, and sent him a quick note:

“I’ll be in New York next month, will you be around?”

Later, he told me he cleared his calendar for the week. I did the same.

We met on a Tuesday, at a friends’ house for dinner. I was accidentally two hours late after walking many miles through Queens the wrong direction and taking the wrong train far away from my destination (as it turns out, Express trains don’t stop at all the stops). 

He asked me if I would be free that week. I said eagerly “Yup! I’m free Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night.” (Classy).

“Great,” he replied. “Let’s start with Friday night dinner and maybe we can go for a bike ride on Saturday.”

On Friday we met in Manhattan to get sushi. I got lost again, my cardinal sense of direction confounded by the chaos of multiple alpha-numeric subway lines criss-crossing the five city-sized boroughs.

What the heck, I thought, I’ll just jump on this next train and see where it takes me.

The train was empty; I was lost. I figured there must be a map on the train and I’d figure it out while moving. Of all the trains in Manhattan and all the cars on this train, there was one person sitting on this exact train: Alex.

“Oh hey!” He said happily. He tried to get up but he was stuck to the ground—literally: he’d just stepped in gum.

“Hey,” I said shyly. 

“Fancy meeting you here.”

We started talking — in person, one-on one. We were new, nervous; a first date if there ever was one — but I felt like I already knew so much about him. I’d learned his mind, his brain, his thoughts. I knew he was kind, he was careful, he was exceptionally thorough; I knew he was patient.

In a world that’s so overtly physical and sensual in many ways — with the pressure to date, to be attractive, to show up, to make out so high on first meetings — I can get overwhelmed by the intensity of first meetings and hide my inner soul, my quiet self; the part of me that shows up on paper and in words but needs time and space to get out. I got to meet someone on my terms. On his terms.

It took me a year to see him twice. We wrote more than two hundred thousand words back and forth before he held my hand. When I finally touched him, I knew so much about him; the physical was a cementing of the mental vibrations we’d started so long before.

When I touch his hand, I trust him, because I know how much of me he knows; I know that we’re part of an ongoing conversation, not a presentation. A meeting isn’t a finale but an exposition; it’s a time to cherish the now and explore the hundreds of conversations we’ve started.

And in New York, sitting in the corner of Blue Ginger, drinking tea and eating sashimi, I got to see him in person, the marvel of this man lighting up my quiet world as I watched him in action—the fifteen smile varieties, what makes him laugh and what made him crack up; his timidness, at times, in walking and leading; his gentle patience with decisions and his boundless kindness towards strangers; the earnestness of doing things right and making things good for those who need it.

The sun dropped fast and quickly, words expanding slowly into the blackened sky. We sat on a park bench late into the wee hours of the night that Friday in Chelsea. He paused, cleared his throat, sat up a little straighter and interrupted me:

“Is it okay if I kiss you?”

“Yes,” I said, blushing. I ducked my head in nerves and then laughed.

“Yes.”

Sarah and Alex

Epilogue

I returned to San Francisco the following Tuesday, and we each agreed that this was something special and we were going to figure out how to make it work. We continued to write and travel to see each other for the next year before I packed my bags and headed to New York.

A little less than a year later, in the Monterey Cypress trees off the coast of California, I married the love of my life in a small, quiet ceremony.

Sarah and Alex

Sarah and Alex

Photographs by Melanie Duerkopp Photography


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