It was November 19th of last year, sometime around five in the evening. I was sitting in a window seat just behind the left wing of Virgin Atlantic Flight VS007 as it raced the setting sun towards the cooling mass of asphalt, glass, and concrete they call the City Of Angels. 'They', in this case, being people who live or travel there as a matter of course. It was all new to me, but as we fell elegantly through the clouds and I got my first glimpse of California, I understood.
Four months earlier, when this whole thing started, I was drunk. When I discovered Jenn's little corner of the web, when I wrote her that first strange e-mail, when I was surprised to find a reply, I was drunk. In fact, it's fair to say that I wasn't often sober last summer, for a wide variety of reasons that began with unemployment and ended with my return to the house and particularly the bedroom I grew up in. I was having what the trendy kids call a quarter-life crisis, what I liked to think of as a second puberty, obsessing over my troubled childhood and retreating ever further from what I was fast coming to see as a real world characterised by failed relationships and a horrific treadmill of fucking awful jobs I always told people I was doing 'just to pay the rent'. I was a WRITER, and rationality be damned.
I called my blog Notes From A Darkened Room, and what I wrote there was pretty representative of that title, I think. In one sense, I was backing off and thinking things through, trying to come to terms with turning twenty-five having achieved nothing of note. In another, I was once again looking to see how far I could take my doom-laden whiskey trip. Sure, I was writing, but most of it was sloppy, self-indulgent crap, and I knew it. I was on a Sisyphus trip, and - looking back now - it frightens me how comfortable I was with my little rock of egocentric bullshit.
Jenn and I, we just connected. I'd never experienced that before, and for a while, I was like a child with a new toy. I'd type each new letter with a smile on my face, remembering how much fun it was to play with thoughts and ideas before an appreciative audience. I'd check my inbox eight, nine, ten times a day for the replies. It was fun, a little light-hearted banter bubbling with just enough flirtation and frustration to hint at something more.
And then, suddenly, it was serious. I can't remember the exact point at which we stopped messing around and acknowledged that there was something real happening between us. I know it was long before we met. Hell, it was before we'd even talked on the phone. I've always been a firm believer in the written word, but what happened between me and a girl I hardly knew at the tail-end of last summer seemed to confirm my wildest hopes.
Which, in a nutshell, was how I came to be on that plane.
I try to skirt cliche where I can. There's room for fairytales in my little black heart, they just tend to be silent wallflowers at what has, after all, been a lifelong pity party. California, though, California was beautiful. It was so beautiful I cried. There I was, flying to the other side of the world with money I didn't really have to meet a girl I didn't really know, and it was the greatest thing I'd ever done. This before the plane had even landed.
I won't go over literary ground I've covered before. Suffice to say that our physical meeting was anything but the disappointment I had feared (lifelong pity party, remember?). My week in California with Jennifer was a revelation, and by the time I returned home, our relationship was no longer a thing of theory and speculation. In January she made the return journey, and in April we got married in Las Vegas. It was awesome. It still is.
In the meanwhile, my life changed. I felt like I'd seized my existence by the scruff of the neck and finally done the right thing for the right reasons. I was in love, and for the first time, I was sure of that. I quit drinking every night, quit smoking completely (for the most part), and found myself a job with a wage slightly more befitting my experience and ability. I attribute some of that turnaround to my own force of will, but most of it to that night I decided to write an e-mail to a stranger who turned out to be my wife. Jennifer hasn't changed me, but she has allowed me to find out who I am and where I want to go from here.