I read a note my Grandma wrote, back in 1923. Grandpa kept it in his coat, he showed it, once, to me. He said boy you might not understand, but a long, long, time ago, Grandma's Daddy didn't like me none, but I loved your Grandma so. We had this crazy plan to meet, and run away together. Get married in the first town we came to and live forever. But, nailed to the tree where we were supposed to meet instead, I found this letter, and this is what it said, "If you get there before I do, don't give up on me. I'll meet you when my chores are through, I don't know how long I'll be, but I'm not gonna let you down, Darlin' wait and see. And between now and then, until I see you again, I'll be loving you.
These are the lyrics to my favorite song, "Love, Me" by Collin Raye...it goes on to tell a story of great love, that surpasses time. It is the song that has been played on my voicemail, every time he catches it on the radio, for over a decade. He, is Ken. Ken and I met in a chatroom over 16 years ago. Those were the days when internet was always dial-up. I'd sit and listen to the internet trying to connect. "beeeeeeeeeep, buzz buzz buzz, beeeeep." Then I would start counting the minutes left on the monthly plan. Those were the days of "You've Got Mail!" and chatrooms. Real chatrooms where you could talk to anyone, from anywhere in the world at a moments notice. My step-sister and I would spend hours making up identities back then and seeing who we could talk to. Sometimes we were twins and sometimes we were just friends. We'd pretend to be one person or four, it was a game and it amused us. It was harmless fun, but rarely if ever did we chat as our true selves.
One night, however, that all changed. I don't know why I told him my real name, I don't know what made him different, but I did and it was. I entered the "Green Bay Packers" chat room and there he was...Packers488, an email long since forgotten I am sure. Anyway, there he was, and we talked for hours that first night. For months after this we would get online, long after we should have been in bed and chatted, nearly every night. We talked about everything, anything. He quickly became someone I looked forward to talking to, as often as possible. He chatted with my mom, giving her a hard time about being a Cowboys fan. We laughed, we cried, we forged a bond over those many conversations. It was a modern-day pen-pal situation, and we came to love each other in time. Certainly as friends and for a time, more. Days turned to weeks turned to months, and eventually years. We eventually, after several years, progressed from email and chats only, to pages and phone calls. We talked when we could, but in the days before free long distance and cell phones, it was difficult and expensive. We continued to talk online but oh, how I longed for those phone conversations. To hear his voice, his cute Wisconsin accent, cemented precious moments in my memory.
One day, shortly after my High school graduation, Ken called, he was coming here. I was thrilled and nervous all at the same time. His dad was taking him to a ranch somewhere in New Mexico and he would be spending a few days in my town before returning home. So, we arranged to meet. We had been friends for almost 6 years by this time. I assumed that he was either the world's most consistent liar, or telling the truth about who he was, still I was careful. I took some people with me and made it a group affair, telling him that I already had these plans and we could meet up again the next day, just us. So, Kim, Loretta and I picked him up at his hotel and, having never seen his face before, I knew him, instantly. It was as though our souls recognized each other.
The next two days passed in a blur, that first night we went to Summerfest and listened to music, we went to our local equivalent of Putt-Putt and played video games, and I beat him at go-karts, though he may tell you differently. We laughed and had a wonderful time. The following day I picked him up and we spent the entire day together. I took him to our "Old Town" where we walked arm in arm and strolled around the plaza. He bought me fudge, I bought him a soda. We sat in the shade and talked and spent time together, real one on one time. We talked for hours and when it was time to take him back to his hotel, my heart was sinking. The time had gone so fast.
When we returned to his hotel, his dad was waiting for us. His dad, whom I had talked to on the phone several times and certainly online, was kind and hugged me hello and goodbye. He took one picture of us and it remains to this day the only picture of us that I have. I knew then that I had always loved him, the hardest thing I have ever done was let him go.
But that isn't the end of our story....