You've Got Mail!
Tessa knew I wasn’t a real girl…strike that. Tessa knew that I wasn’t a real girl as far as most would expect, but my pictures on Image-n-U displayed the girl I felt I was. Oh, I know you can do a lot of manipulating and moving and pushing and cajoling your pics to seem like something you’re not. But she knew early on because my pics didn’t portray a glamorous or exotic mystery woman of the internet. They showed everyone what I’d like to look like if I had the balls to dress (I should copyright that).
Computer generated pictures from Netface in all sorts of hairstyles, but all bearing the same stupid template; eyes slightly almond-shaped, a throwback to some Native-American or Asian grandsire. Pale Irish face with typical UK rosy cheeks combined with too-big a nose and full lips that mimicked my father’s side of the family. My hair had been moving closer to my age with a grayish brown the hue du jour. In short, a Toon (OH NO, NOT THE DIIIIIPPPPP! — My voice is more feminine than Kathleen Turner, I’ll have you know!)
Tessa, on the other hand, was gorgeous in every sense of the word; she volunteered at her local hospital to read to children; she donated blood every third month; and she had discovered the cure for the common cold. Okay, I made the last three up. She lived with two other girls in San Bernadino after her…change, and she was a nurse at a local hospital. Her face was as gender-neutral as you could imagine; makeup made her look pretty, but put a ball cap on her and smear some greasepaint under her nose and she’d look just like a girl wearing boys’ clothing…or a very fey looking boy (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
We had decided early on that the marginalia of our lives were too petty to keep us from really getting to know each other, so each month we set up a game of Chicken-on-Line, only instead of driving vintage cars over a cliff ala’ Rebel Without A Cause, we would send a pic via E-mail of ourselves; me as I am (Dear God I Hate Myself!!!) and she pre-op. The Chicken part was which one would NOT open up the e-mail; first one to spoil the illusion loses….actually we felt we’d both lose, so in nineteen months of correspondence, neither of us was stupid enough to open up the attachment…until that day.
The mail was ‘sitting in my inbox,’ as the little note indicated…do they have like a big CGI wire basket somewhere with my mail? ….It was waiting for me when I got up. I had specifically chosen a picture to send to her that made me look like….me….the worst photo I ever had taken; my ninth grade picture from St. Anthony’s Boy’s Academy. You can’t get much further from t-girl than a short-haired geek with a nose you can use as an awning. And she? Well let me tell you. Actually, that’s what I was already doing; a purely superfluous phrase that supposedly makes my revelation all the more interesting.
I opened her note and I found two attachments. A document AND a folder; no accidentally seeing the picture unless the folder was opened “NO PEEKING Until you read the letter, Teddi, okay?” it whispered. I wasn’t very clever with a name. Teodora and Theodore….oh well. I clicked the download button and waited for the little window to pop up and tell me to go ahead and spoil the illusion. I maneuvered the mouse over the icon and held my breath…Here goes everything! And then….
“Dear Teddi…I want you to know that these past few months have been great; the silly songs back and forth; your dislike for yourself; my dislike for your dislike and my nagging? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you into this, but I gather since you’re reading this letter, you haven’t cheated yet. Thanks. Don’t look at the picture. You won’t like what you see, and it would hurt me if you stopped liking me because of it. You’re my best friend Teddi, but then you always were a good guy. Fate? Cosmic Coincidence? I’ve read about where folks find each other over the internet accidentally after years of separation or even estrangement. Don’t hate me for what I am and who I am. I never stopped loving you, but I couldn’t face you, so I left. The way you turned out? I guess the Joke of the Millenium is on both of us. If you don’t want to write any more, I’ll understand, okay. But my prayer is that I’ll have mail tomorrow, right on schedule…you’ll still be posting your toons this Saturday as always…and we’ll still be friends. Love, Tessa”
I bit my lip and shook my head no, but the stupid curiosity in me felt like playing Russian Roulette with our friendship so I minimized the document and clicked on the folder. The pic came up and it shocked the hell out of me. I had been expecting to see some geeky boy that looked just like me…a familiarity that I hoped would bring us closer together. She was so familiar that I began to cry. A high school yearbook picture; they all seem the same…ugly clothes that we’d wish we never worn; an awkward or even stupid expression that I swear to God the photographer waited for; and maybe the look that says “Gee, she looks just like someone in my own school.”
There, in brilliant black and white, was the ninth grade picture of my childhood sweetheart; the girl I took to the prom; not the geeky boy in the chess club she described, but the gentle, caring, kitten-raising, kid-loving, neighbor across the street, broke my heart the moment I met her, soon-to-have-grown-up ex-wife of mine. And next to the photo was yet another folder. I bit my lip once again, this time harder on the other side enough to draw blood. Click!
The first was the familiar pic on her Image-n-U site, but with a “Saturn Images” copyright mark emblazoned across her face; a ringer. And next to that pic was the authentic Tessa…Valerie Contessa Montalbano.
She hadn’t changed much in fourteen years; still as sweet as ever, if a wee bit grayer. She was holding a girl in her arms; about six or so, and a very nice looking woman stood next to her, kissing her on the cheek.
* * *
My surgery is in three weeks; my sister and my baby brother are going to be with me. And I’ll have three friends driving up from San Bernadino to hold my hand.
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