As we chatted, day in and day out, we discovered that our birthdays were just a few days apart. Hers was August 1st and had just passed, mine was August 17th and was just a few days away. I learned a lot more and I started caring very much about AnnaBelle and her young, struggling family. She lived in Texas and I lived in New York. There was no way we could ever get together for a lunch date. In time I began to open up about what was going on in my life. My father was dying of cancer. The internet became the only place I could go to without having to talk or think about it. It gave me a little mental vacation away from the stress. But, as we became friends, I shared that situation with “Anna” and she told me a little more of her life. She told me she was unhappy in her marriage. I encouraged her to seek marriage counseling, and though she tried, nothing ever came of it. Her husband wasn't receptive to the idea. Eventually, she and her husband would separate permanently. Things between them seemed irreparable. In our conversations, I told Anna, that I was interested in relearning French, that’s why I went to the chat room that day. And now that I had met her, I was even more motivated to give it a try. She found me an online website that gave free French lessons twice a week. I went to those French classes dutifully, and little by little, my French was actually coming back to me.
One day, in the middle of one of our conversations and quite out of the blue, she typed in the instant message that she had something to tell me. It sounded ominous even on the screen. I had no idea what it could be, but I suddenly had a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I thought she was going to end our friendship, which was only a couple of months old, and in it’s infancy. I said, “Okay what is it?” as I braced myself for the worst. She began typing and a message popped up that read, “I’m black.” I answered back, “So what?” I recalled that weeks earlier I had asked her nationality and she avoided the answer by saying she was American, which was fine by me. But, now she thought she should reveal her race and she was being very cautious about it. She typed back, “There’s more.” I typed, “What is it? Just tell me.” She typed, “My husband is white and my children are biracial.” I typed back, “Is that it? What’s the problem?” She said, some people have ended their online relationships with her after learning that. I replied, “If they did that then those aren’t the kind of people you want in your life.” And, with that said, she told me her real name was Marie. I had long ago told her my real name, but now I had to get used to calling her Marie in stead of “Anna.” That took me a while.
A short time later we exchanged phone numbers, but neither of us called the other right away. I don’t know why. Maybe we were both leery of the internet and thought if we called, the person on the other end might not be who we thought they were. As it got closer to Thanksgiving, I realized that I needed to call Marie. I wanted to hear her voice and wish her and her family a happy Thanksgiving. So, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. She answered. She didn’t have a Texas accent, but her voice was very sweet. It was a little awkward chatting for the first time.What came so easily on the computer screen was not so easy on the phone. It wasn’t a long call, maybe 30 minutes or so. Later that day we met up on the computer and she told me how much she appreciated my calling her. That was the just first of what were to be countless telephone calls that would be made over the next ten years.
As Christmas time rolled around, I wanted to get Marie a little something special, and I decided to get her my favorite French book, “Le Petit Prince.” I got two copies, one for her and one for me, so we could read it together. My French had improved tremendously over the past three months. I was able to write a little note, in French, to put in the book. On Christmas Day, I learned that Marie had the same idea, when I opened her gift to me. She also had gotten me one of her favorite French books, “Bonjour Tristesse” (Hello Sadness). Now we had two French books to read together and enjoy. This would be just the beginning of a large number of French books we would share over the next few years.