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The Atlantic Divide, An Internet Love Story

By Stephen M. Tomic and Anna Breslin

Chapter 1, by Anna

Alex never thought he’d find himself feeling this way. He wasn’t the kind of man to fall for a stranger on the Internet. It’s not what rational litigation attorneys do. Was he still rational? It was hard to argue he was.

At first, it seemed innocent enough. They both participated in a digital photography forum. Between discussions of filters and camera settings, they soon found themselves communicating every day. One day Alex asked Marguerite to take pictures of her favorite things around her home in Paris. She asked him to take photos of his favorite things in Manhattan. They were charming one another with their pictures. Something magical was happening. He could feel it.

After several months, they took their conversations and photos out of public view. Over email, they were more intimate. They shared self-portraits. Marguerite’s photo was full of shadows and reflections. Alex felt he could see her emotional depth. He was as captivated by her beautiful face as he was by her artistic mind. He sent her a self-portrait of himself with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. He set up his camera on a tripod, as the sun was setting, he took several photos with his remote control and wove them all together with Photoshop.

At some point, the words they exchanged became more poetic. More intense. He imagined the correspondence between Rilke and Andreas-Salomé. Perhaps he hadn’t lost all of his romantic sensibilities in law school after all.

About a month after they began emailing, she told him about her fiancé, Pierre. Alex wasn’t surprised. What man wouldn’t love her? Still, it seemed odd, wasn’t she falling for him the way he was falling for her?

Love was impossible. Pierre wasn’t the only force that divided them. There was an ocean between them and a sea of other considerations. Work, language, visas. Even they wanted to have a real life relationship, could these realities be transcended?

She was a dream. But even when he was awake, his correspondence with this European woman was making all the North American women he met seem bland and shallow. Even in the rush of his busy life, Marguerite had become the most perfect woman in all the world.

She wasn’t the woman in his imagination. Marguerite was a living breathing woman he had never met. Of course, he knew that, but logical arguments opposing her virtues were unconvincing.

They would never meet. What would happen if they met? What language would they speak? Would she laugh at his accent? Would he be swept away by the romantic sounds of her accented English? Every time he thought of her or looked at her photos, he could hear Edith Piaf singing La Vie En Rose and he wanted to take her in his arms and dance.

Could he be a mere friend when he dreamed of making love to her? If they met, if they made love, what kind of torture would it be to kiss her knowing that each kiss was leading up to the last kiss? How many times a year could they see one another if that was what they both wanted? Two? Three times?

It would never happen. He knew he had to stop thinking about her. Now more than ever, he had to stop. Marguerite had been silent for two weeks. She didn’t reply to his last email. She wasn’t posting in the photography forum. She was gone without a trace.

Alex was afraid to look at the last email he had sent her. He thought he might have made a joke that was misinterpreted. The thought of confirming that possibility was too much for him. He couldn’t bear the thought that he might have inadvertently ended their friendship with a few misplaced words. Words were his life, it was rare that he misused them.

Marguerite used to write about their friendship. She said she felt very close to him. It was as if they had known each other in another life. Alex felt the same way. He felt more. So, like the reasonable man he was, he didn’t tell her about the depths of his feelings. Perhaps he’d been cold in that last email of his.

After reading the news and doing a few hours of billable work, Alex felt level-headed again. Perhaps she was on a business trip. Maybe she had family visiting. But what if she was in distress? What if she was ill? The idea that something might be wrong upended him. All he wanted was to know she was okay.

The rain started. Dark clouds forced the day into an early night. Alex couldn’t move from his computer where he continued to focus and refocus on the tedious brief he was editing. From time to time, he glanced at his email tab to see if she had sent a note.

He sighed. Perhaps it was all a game. Maybe the whole time he was forming a friendship with an old man in Romania instead of a beautiful woman in Paris. He continued to fight and fight with his mind. He had to stop focusing on the unattainable Marguerite.

If he never heard from her again, at least he would be free. Free of all romantic illusions, once and for all. He was a grown man, not a teenager. He knew better. All along, he knew better. A tear escaped his eye as this thought crossed his mind. Of course, she would disappear, that’s what mirages do.

Chapter 2, by Stephen

Marguerite closed her laptop and looked out the window. She dreamed when she moved from Piedmont to Paris that she’d have a view of the Eiffel Tower, but economic reality had her flat overlooking the back alley behind a brasserie. They say every view in Paris is beautiful, but she was hesitant to agree. The dumpsters were full and smelled of overcooked cabbage. Stray cats mewled and fought for territory. She raised a coffee cup to her mouth and took a sip of tea. It was cold, which she detested, and shuffled off to the kitchen to put it in the microwave for a minute.

Her thoughts were a jumble. She had rarely been more confused. She loved Pierre, her fiancé. She knew that, but could it be possible to love Alex too? What did she really know about this man, this American, who wrote her long, almost daily missives? Somehow it felt like everything and nothing at once.

Their connection began so innocuously, with a comment of his online that she liked and had responded to. She scrolled back through the layered history of chats and email conversations that had blurred into a single unifying thread. A connection based on witticisms gradually gave way to something deeper.

How funny that two people from opposite sides of the earth could have so much in common. They both studied art and listened to the same music and loved to write down impressions about mundane things. Alex, she knew, was a few years younger than she, but she sensed something older in his soul, that he somehow got it, even if he occasionally came across as a lovesick puppy dog.

Marguerite made it clear from the beginning that she was engaged and loved her boyfriend, even if their engagement had stalled and she was left wondering what the future held. Pierre, she thought, lacked urgency in life, as if everything would still be there tomorrow. She knew what existed with Pierre was real, molded out of the clay of their affections, even if the clay was dry and starting to crack.

Liberated by the artificiality of the medium, Marguerite and Alex flirted online shamelessly. He was brash but seemed quite unlike the other Americans she had met, who were loud and boorish and drunk. It was something in his tone, a sincerity that she drank down like a golden elixir.

It would have been possible to go on like that indefinitely, split between two lives, one online and one off — a limbo between realities. Something jolted the inner lining of her heart every time her inbox dinged with a new reply. Meanwhile, Pierre worked longer and longer hours. After two years of being engaged, they hadn’t even set a date, nor decided whether to marry in France or back home in Italy.

The microwave dinged and she rolled the sleeves of her gilet over her hands to grasp the cup. Oh, Alex, she thought, you fool.

It felt like a sweet joke at first. Love ya, he signed off one day. Even though English was her third language, she understood the power of words and that word in particular. Love. It emboldened itself at the most inconvenient of times. Alex meant for “ya” to sound playful, she felt sure, but she recognized it for what it really was: a lighter imprint of You.

Marguerite didn’t respond for several days after that one after eventually relenting and signing the same with a trailing ellipsis. What was once a game suddenly felt much more real. His words that followed became stronger, the prose melded with the poetry of his increasingly amorous thoughts.

She embraced and resisted the pull of this alternate life. He sent her a photo of himself, which she kept preciously hidden, buried deep within a boring sounding folder on her hard drive. In response, she dug out an old cardboard box of keepsakes and sent him a picture of those childhood items organized on her desk. To her, it was better, somehow more authentic than any picture of her face could ever be.

Soon, it seemed as if she was sharing more of her life with a relative stranger some three thousand miles away across a pond than the man with whom she shared her bed. She Googled New York and tried to imagine the winters there. What would life like be in such a cold and foreign place? What would it be like to touch Alex, she wondered, to have the sound of his voice touch the inside of her ears?

A season passed and Pierre grew still more cold and distant. Then came an email where Alex’s “ya” had transformed into “you,” and Marguerite froze in her tracks. She rewrote the same response a dozen times before hitting delete.

A week passed, then two. Alex wrote inquisitively at first, dancing around his true feelings. His next message was more desperate and plaintive. Marguerite knew by then that things had spun out of control.

She called Pierre at his office and suggested they have lunch. Back at the computer, staring at the dregs of tea in the bottom of her mug, Marguerite began a new letter to Alex that spoke of change in abstract and concrete ways. She had decided to visit New York, she concluded. Would he be willing to meet her there?

Her finger hovered over those familiar keys and then typed out those two words that all too often spelled doom. She shrugged. Maybe this would work, or maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, no tears. Life was built on risk and crazy chances. Marguerite downed the rest of her cup and then hit send.

Chapter 3, by Anna

Alex picked up the brief he had spent most of the day with. He’d found places within the text for all the law two first-year associates could dig out of Westlaw. He simplified his arguments and repeated them over and over for the dim-witted law clerk who would read it for the judge. Now, he needed to give it a final proof with his red pen and leave it for his secretary to finish up when she came in tomorrow morning.

His life was always focused on other people’s problems. He was the fixer. It was up to him to save people from their messes. Alex could never understand why so many people choose to live dishonorable lives. People complain about lawyers when they should complain about the state of humanity.

Being the fixer had won him an early partnership and a big office. There was no mahogany anywhere. He had insisted on that. It was modern and uncluttered. The walls were covered with more art than framed degrees and honors. Not what you’d expect from a lawyer. In his home away from home, he wanted to be surrounded by art. Alex had dreamed of being an artist before his parents pressured him into going to law school. He no longer had time to paint. It was easier to throw himself into photography for an artistic outlet.

Clients always seemed surprised there were no law books in his office. On TV, in the movies, there were law books. These days everything a lawyer could possibly need is on the internet.

Alex thought about how connected his life was to a vast network of computers There was no relief from it. When would he find relief from his unreasonable feelings for the French woman he met online?

Alex smiled thinking about the Greek myths he studied in college. If they were around now, would there be a goddess of the internet? There must be a goddess who rules the internet because he felt that he had been at the mercy of forces beyond his control. When it came to Marguerite, he had been absolutely unable to control himself.

He remembered that the Greek goddesses of Fate were three sisters. Clotho who spun the thread of life. He remembered her because her name sounded like cloth. Lachesis who determined the length of a person’s life by measuring the thread, and then there was Atropos, the inevitable, she chose how someone died by cutting the thread of life with her scissors. His memory surprised him.

The internet was like the threads of The Fates. Perhaps these sisters had a daughter. A daughter born of a spool of thread they let get spun out of control by the winds. Once caught up in the winds, Zeus blew life into it. Then it spread out all over the world until it connected everyone. All the mortals became connected to one fate. The goddess of the internet might be called Clachopos, a name spun from the names of her three mothers.

Clachopos was a troublemaker, he thought. Through her vast network, she reconnected people who were lovers in past lives just for her amusement. These people were not meant to be reconnected and they could not reconnect. All her games did was cause pain and frustration. Clachopos was always getting in trouble with her mothers for playing cruel tricks on mortals.

Alex and Marguerite had been together centuries before and here they were again, reconnected. Not by the hand of The Fates this time, but by their mischievous daughter.

How did he get lost in such a tangent of thoughts? For an athletic man, he lived too much in his head. Most women thought he was too good looking to be intelligent or nerdy. He disappointed so many of them by having a brain. With his mind over-tired, his body tense, Alex felt like his life had become a never-ending treadmill. He was getting nowhere. The big office, even with its big windows, was still a box.

He made a few more changes to the brief with his favorite red pen and then it was done. He leaned back again and closed his eyes. Eye strain was one part of the profession no one warned you about. Then Alex thought maybe he should hit happy hour. He could flirt with a happy woman and see what might happen in real life away from the internet.

He heard his phone vibrating on the desk. He reached for it. An email from Marguerite. His heart raced. Where had she been these past weeks? When he opened it his heart stopped dead in its tracks. She wanted to meet him in New York. Could he get away? He was stunned. She signed it, “love you.”

Alex thought about his made up goddess Clachopos. Was she trying to connect two souls that did not belong together in this life? Were her mothers working in unison to bringing together two people who did?

His mind was spinning with thoughts and scenarios about it how it would all turn out. She wrote that she was done with Pierre. He could hear his friend Doug saying, “Bet she’s looking for a Green Card.” Americans. Why did he have to be one? Why? Then he realized there were other possibilities for him. He could be the artist he always dreamed of being. He had enough money in the bank. His parents got what they wanted. Wasn’t it his turn? He didn’t have to do this anymore. Why not leave this country and all of its problems behind?

He sat down to his computer and began typing. “I could more easily meet you in Paris.” Nothing else. He knew the cool thing to do would be to wait and not reply immediately. And then there was the matter of reason. Was it reasonable to open this door he thought had already been shut? He compromised. He would schedule it to go out the next morning. With a few clicks, it was done.

Alex decided that he would keep his appointment with happy hour at the bar around the corner. Perhaps the fates would throw a happy accessible woman his way.

Part 2 in the continuing tale of Alex and Marguerite