You know the feeling, when that hard drive finally crashes. That panic, even if you've been good about backing things up. Something always goes wrong. Something is always lost. Somehow.
The last time, almost nothing survived. Except... one thing. Something lovely. Something I am reminded of every year around Valentine's Day.
It's up above there -- take a good look. It's one of my favorite pictures of my favorite person, with the boy who was then her favorite person. Her first love. Decked out in tails, no less, for the prom she flew east to attend on his arm.
It was like a fairy tale, that first love of hers -- Twilight's got nothin' on my baby girl. He was rich, breathtakingly bright, beautiful -- and hopelessly smitten. She was... not so rich, kinda chubby -- and still, damn her, very beautiful -- and also kinda shocked that he was so smitten. But she was a goner, too.
And in the picture, he gazes at her in a way that I am certain could save a life. In a way that I am also certain we should all be gazed upon just once, so that we know what love looks like.
They lasted just long enough for her to learn some of the most important things about loving someone -- I call him her "training wheel love." The boy she practiced the art of falling into and out of love with in ways that will inform all the rest of her relationships forever. And she was very lucky to have found, so early, a love so sweet.
The way she found him... is totally new millennium. She was about... I'm thinking 15 or 16, though my memory fails me these days and all the years and moments have sort of melted together.
But I remember that she and a little group of computer geek pals happened, somehow, upon another group of computer geek kids from school who had formed a little international network of "e-friends." Real friends. Kids who shared their every day trials and tribulations thoughtfully and intensely with each other.
I didn't know the whole story at the time -- she made sure that she did her homework and kept those grades up while playing computer games and chatting with kids from all over the world.
Eventually, a boy on the East Coast caught her fancy. Einstein quick -- that's not too far a stretch -- he could discuss string theory and the latest video game in the same conversation. They were online hours and hours -- sometimes by headset, sometimes not even speaking. Living together long distance.
He would call to say, "Goodnight," and to wake her up and get her to school. On time -- very serious about her academic progress, he was. And when he asked to come meet me, to make sure that I understood how serious he was, I was impressed.
And also, of course, skeptical.
But I was a goner, too, when he bounded down the escalator stairs into her arms as if they'd been together forever. I remember other travelers smiling at them. The "Aaaaawwwwww" look.
He was a copper-haired cutie pie who introduced himself perfectly. I could tell from the way he spoke that he came from "moneyed" people -- sweetly, but with that "I'm going to own this world someday" vibe that both unnerved and charmed me.
When I told my own girlfriends about him, the comments ran something like: "I've spent a fortune on dating sites and she just .. .runs into this guy by accident?!" Followed shortly after by, "Does he have a MUCH older brother?"
Yeah, life... isn't fair.
He left me lots of great memories, that boy. That arrival. And the evening when I popped into the den where they were lying upon the couch watching TV.
He was lying there watching her drool contentedly down his arm -- she was in one of the deeeeeeep sleeps you fall into when you're feeling super secure with someone.
He didn't look uncomfy. But she was dead weight on his arm, which I knew had probably fallen asleep ages ago. And then there was... well... the drool. So I said, hoping to wake her, "Oh, my goodness, what a mess -- baby, wake her up! She'll go right back to sleep."
And he smiled, and murmured -- hand to God: "I don't mind. It's... hers."
The line of a lifetime. And she'd missed it. But I hadn't. And I thanked him, in my mind, for it. And told her later, what he'd said. Just to see the look in her eyes.
I also remember him trying to find the very best restaurant in town to take her for a "farewell" dinner. And I remember him crying, openly and wrenchingly, the night before that farewell. He kept repeating that he couldn't go. He just couldn't.
He did go. But a few months later she flew out to attend his prom and meet his private school friends who all had names like "Stanford Whittington III." But they all loved and smothered her with attention.
So did his family. His grandfather, who lives in a Currier and Ives house in Cape Cod no less -- lake, loons, lush gardens and all -- declared that he was going to take a trip to the Caribbean and find a little brown "honey" just like her.
She was probably the most whimsically dressed girl at the prom. My daughter was voted the girl most likely to have white hair at her white wedding for a reason, and that night she wore purple and streaked her hair to match. Even in black and white she looks... "colorful."
He adored her for it. And he gave her, that night, what I call, The Look. That gaze that tells you how love should look and feel. I am so delighted that it survived the "crash." So that I can remember it, always.