Thursday, December 14, 2006

How I knew her

Leslie Harpold was part of a great big community of people ten or twelve years ago who all met on the Usenet newsgroup alt.society.generation-x. (Remember Usenet? Back before the Web? When all we had was plain text and 14.4k dialup, and we liked it?) Other old asg-xers who have posted remembrances: John Scalzi, Amber, David B., Mig, Joe, Nicole, Robert, Kerry, B, Twonk, Steve. (If I've missed you, kick my ass in comments.)

I met her in person three times, all in the mid-nineties: once in New York, once in DC, once in Boston. I didn't get to see her as much in NY as I'd have liked: after dinner, we gathered at the townhouse of one friend to hang out for an evening, and she got there much, much later than the rest of us. Later we got a terse explanation that on the way over she'd run into some people who had known her fiancé. All anyone seemed to know was that he'd died -- how recently wasn't clear, but now that I look back, it couldn't have been more than a few months. I don't think any of us knew then about her incredible grief. All we saw was the brash, brassy, hilarious, warm, loving yet catty woman so thoroughly eulogized all over the 'net in the past few days. By the time she arrived we were all pretty well toasted; she and Kerry were upstairs watching Godzilla vs. Mothra long after the rest of us were near catatonic on the downstairs floor.

In DC... well, there's Miguelito's story about the hotel rooms. And I remember her at Sunday brunch, on the back patio of a nice restaurant, coming completely unglued at Mr. K's deadpan remark about one of the other people who had come for the gathering. (It was just like any other group of people anywhere: not everyone got along with everyone else. But those of us who did have cleaved to each other for more than a decade now.) She had the most contagious laugh.

In Boston (to be accurate, its suburbs), she, as Jason Kottke put it so well, "did me a favor I didn't know I needed precisely when I needed it." She and some of our other best friends from the Internets were going to be in town for the Columbus Day-slash-Remembrance Day weekend, and Dave and I, having been together for five and a half years already, had suddenly decided to get married there. We were engaged for a month; the City Hall wedding was one step up from an elopement.

She offered to be the official photographer, and the night before the wedding she and Kathleen took me out to a dive of a bar. We drank Bud out of bottles and smoked cigarettes and joyously belted along with the Journey tunes on the jukebox. As the night wore on, Leslie started talking more and more openly, finally telling us the story of how her fiancé had died and how she'd found out. They had bought a house in the south, and the move was imminent. She waited for him to pick her up one night, and he never came.

The details aren't really mine to share -- not in public, anyway -- but they were so heartbreaking. She never got over his loss. Hearing that story in that place, at that time, added so many layers of meaning to David's and my union the next day. She was there to document it, and her presence, her story, and her love were visceral reminders of how fleeting everything is and how critical it is to grapple our tried friends to our souls with hoops of steel.

This from the woman whose favourite phrase in the English language was "Look, bitch."

Last night I said to Dave, "God damn it, why did Leslie have to go and die?"

He replied, "I know. It was so selfish of her. She's totally off our Christmas list."

She'd have thought that was hilarious.

1 comment:

Viktor Haag said...

Yes, well, you married the man, so you really shouldn't be surprised at the quality of his wit:

"Oh. Does this mean you're going to start wearing a leather policeman's hat?"

Your quote is now entering the annals of Le Musée de Bon Mots de Monsieur K.