The Alternate Universe of You've Got Mail
Joe Fox: It wasn't...personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you.
But it was personal to me. It's *personal* to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
~ from the film You've Got Mail (1988)
Have you ever had a line in a movie change your life?
Picture it: London, England. 1998. A young girl on the brink of an exciting future stares lovingly at a picture of a tall, dark, and handsome man.
Jack was the man of my dreams, or so I believed after fifty-two emails that had budded into a romance over the phone and words that often alluded to a future together. Unbeknownst to me, he had even had private phone conversations with my roommates to ask about me and my favorite things like my favorite flower, which was a lily. Even they bought into the "he really thinks your something special" routine.
It was in early December, nearing the end of my term in London, that I remember walking the half-mile through Roe Green Park and feeling I had accomplished my mission of successfully completing my student teaching abroad. Now I was ready for the next step. For my adult life to truly begin. Jack was living in the south and I could picture myself living there too. I could picture us living life together. I imagined us tell our story to our children of how we met and the craziness of finding each other by being pen pals.
There were a lot of other things I didn't know happening at that same time. Of future significance was the making and completion of the romantic comedy film "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, which was going to be released back in the States at Christmas time. In short summary, the movie is an updated version of 1940 The Shop Around the Corner and the 1949 musical version, In the Good Old Summertime, but told during the rise of internet popularity and the use of email. The story follows the squabbling and eventual romance of two competing book retailers on Manhattan's Upper West Side - Kathleen Kennedy with a small, quaint bookshop and Joe Fox (F-O-X) the owner of a cooperate super supplier.
Unlike Joe and Kathleen, who were anonymously writing each other over email using pen names, Jack and I started out writing each other as old acquaintances from childhood who, though at first barely knew one another, quickly expressed our thoughts, goals, and desires as enthusiastic and optimistic young people. We had common interests and desires that, like Kathleen and Joe, spurred us into deeper, more personal conversations. I think we were also a little caught up in the mystery and intrigue of a long-distance romance that should have come with its own soundtrack because of how cinematic it had become. Friends and family alike thought so too. "What a great story it was going to be to tell our kids." And like a great romantic comedy, I bought into it. Hook. Line. And sink her. Yes, you read that right.
Jack and I made arrangements to meet a few days after my return home to the States. I said a sad farewell to my Kingsbury students whom I'd come to love, bid a fond farewell to my amazing mentors Ms. Dimbleby and Ms. Wright, and promised to stay in touch with my new British and Welsh friends at The Central School. I felt a sense of completion and pride as if I'd achieved the next level of maturity. I had toughed out the sticky parts of my journey and come out on the other side. I had let go of any strife and felt grateful for all the blessings God had given me. He had built up my character through perseverance and I was better for it. Perhaps even wiser. Similarly, in the movie version that was paralleling my life, Kathleen battles with Goliath to save her book shop, but ultimately gives in and allows it to close. She is bruised but not defeated, weary but not overcome. She begins to believe in the possibilities of life beyond loss, that there is something greater for her to do. And Joe, when he finally makes the connection that Kathleen is also the woman is has fallen for online, realizes that his selfishness and greed have caused him to lose, not only a lover but a friend.
Our plan to meet included me first spending a few days at Jack's parents' home just a short distance and a state over from where I lived in Northern Virginia, then Jack coming to spend a day or two at my parents' house. The night before my mother and I were to join Jack's parents at the airport to pick him up, he and I spoke on the phone and then a bit more online. My feelings and excitement were undeniable. I knew was madly in love with him. Jack asked me if I would be willing to go anywhere in the world with him and I said I would follow him to the ends of the earth.
For years after I would wonder what it was that happened to Jack in the twelve hours between the end of our online conversation and his stepping off the plane the next day. I wondered if he ever considered being like Joe, who realized he'd made an awful mistake and was willing to "tweak" his own shortcomings in order to mend his ways with Kathleen. But Jack and I never got to have that moment. Instead, as he walked off the plane with a small bouquet of roses in hand (and his parent's friend stood by with a camcorder recording), I felt something drop to the pit of my stomach and an inner voice tell me "This isn't what you think it is." Even as Jack kissed my cheek and smiled, I knew it was fake. I felt suddenly hollow as we all walked the length of the terminal to leave. At his parent's home, my mother and I sat talking with Jack's mother, while Jack disappeared downstairs with his father. Once my mother left, I felt utterly alone as the man I thought loved me avoided me and never sat near me. I had no bright light on the other side of my pain, as Kathleen did. Jack was not going to be the hero that Joe humbly turned out to be in the end.
I endured my time at Jack's house but I knew our connection was over before I finally asked him what was wrong. He confessed he thought we were moving too fast. He, who had secretly asked my parents my ring size days before, and told them he would propose at our family gathering that Christmas weekend. In truth, He had led me down a path he didn't intend to follow without any real explanation. "It's not you," he had said. "It's not personal."
After that, I endured the day Jack came home with me to my parent's house for a night. It was in a word: cordial. We even exchange gifts and he went with me to the Christmas Eve service. But as we parted ways that final evening (even though I was supposed to see him again that coming Sunday) I knew I would never see him again. The moment I was sure of it was that Saturday night when I went out with my family to see a new romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. There came a moment in the film where it could have been me and Jack in the same scene. I was reliving my truth with them as it played out. He was sorry. It wasn't her fault, it was him. And it wasn't personal. And Kathleen says the words I wished I'd been able to say, " Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal."
It was personal. It was heart, body, and soul. But I've come to realize it was also one-sided. Do I believe that Jack loved me at all? I think he did for a time and in his way. But I also think he had a lot of soul searching and growing up yet to do. I was ready for what was next in my future. I had done a good bit of growing up in a far-off city called London, and I came back a different person than when I left.
So, what did I do with my heartbreak? I channeled it and began to write the words that flowed from my heart. Like Kathleen, I put on my best dress and skipped out to meet my future...whoever, or whatever, it was meant to be. I still remember the first line of Cassandra Alisande's story as she presented herself to me on the page, "I was never driven by ambition." Hmm, I thought, this girl sounds a lot like me. And so began my journey to find out more about Cassie, and in doing so I've discovered the very best of me.