I dialed the number, his phone was ringing, and the fantasies were flying fast in my head.
Nathan Feuer, object of modern myth, had e-mailed me.
Nathan Feuer, the first guy who I ever met for a date, wanted to communicate with me... after nearly a decade of being out of touch.
Ironically, Alison had brought him up in conversation the night before, apparently calling him in from the ether. And then there he was, in the digital flesh, member number 15671 on the dating website.
Dumbfounded, I had stared at the screen for a while before responding. It felt like getting an e-mail from a ghost.
And now I was calling the phone number in New Jersey he'd emailed me. I'd listed myself on a dating website to meet nice Jewish men. I hadn't anticipated one from my past popping up.
--"Hello, this is Nathan..."
Voice mail. I hung up.
After all these years, his voice sounded familiar. But it was changed somehow. Deeper, maybe?
I smiled at the thought of Nathan... now some sort of computer programmer at a telecommunications company in Vorhees, New Jersey.
I clicked my mouse to view his profile.
And there he was, in living color.
It was e-mail from a ghost.
The face was older, its planes more defined. His hair was still floppy, though his widow's peak seemed to rest higher on his forehead. If I'd bumped into him on the street, I probably would have recognized him -- and done a double take.
My reverie was interrupted by a phone call.
--"Jessica Shaeffer," I answered distractedly in my business voice.
--"You still sound the same," Nathan said.
"Nathan!" I sputtered, pleased but perplexed."But I didn't leave any message!"
"I work in telecom," he said smoothly."We have caller ID, even for PBX systems."
My head was swimming... well, treading water, at least.
He explained that he'd originally used Cyber-Yenta a lot after his divorce two years ago, but now rarely logged on. The system occasionally e-mailed him profiles that met his specs, and he happened to notice mine.
"You were divorced?" I said."I didn't know you got married."
"Yeah... it didn't last long. What about you?"
"No, not yet..."
Even when I was married, I thought of you.
I felt as if I was straddling two conversational worlds. On one hand, I was speaking to someone who knew my hopes and dreams, having once been my friend. But on the other hand, we were total strangers, separated by a decade of incommunicado and shifting sands.
He had been married and divorced. I had switched jobs and careers, moved across the country, and learned my own lessons.
Nathan had become the stuff of legend in my mind: more dear, more gentle, more intelligent, more special than he ever could possibly have been all those years ago.
He couldn't possibly now spend his days in a cubicle in suburban New Jersey writing computer code, paying child support for a 3-year-old kid named Zander who lived with his mother and stepfather in Durham, N.C.
His world was no longer my world.
--"You felt like you just saw the wizard behind the curtain, huh?" Rina said when I called her after I got off the phone.
"Yeah, I do," I said, feeling sad that my Nathan bubble had been replaced with reality."You can't go back, can you?"
"Not usually," she said."Going forward is better."
It's not that going back is bad. Going forward is just better.
I was still pondering this turn of events."It was nice to catch up on news of the last 10 years, but after that, it just felt weird... He gave me his home number and I said I'd try to call him when I go back east for Beth's engagement party."
"Will you call him?"
"I don't know. I doubt it. It's history."
I was puzzled. How could we have been so right together then, but have nothing to say to each other -- except reminiscing -- now?
"People grow and change," Rina said."Your paths diverged a bit, and nearly a decade later, you're really far apart."
"But what about people who marry young?" I said."If Nathan and I had grown so differently between 19 and 28, what would have happened if we stayed together?"
"Couples who start off together need to make an effort to grow together," Rina said."You still grow and change, but you do it as a couple. It used to be the most normal thing in the world."
Marriage and kids were an integral part of my parents' thinking by the time they were out of their teens. But sometime in between my mother's generation and today, society had gone from people marrying at age 21, to thinking that 31 is"too young to settle down."
Nowadays, we spend our 20s being beholden to no one but ourselves, our goals and our desires. I hadn't even started thinking seriously about marriage until I was, well... now.
"I wonder if it's not easier to blend your life with someone if you do it younger, than if you try to do it once your life is set," I said.
"Bingo!" Rina declared, as an instant message popped up on my screen.
It was from Marc7123, the blah-sounding guy I'd stopped corresponding with after Nathan popped in.
He'd guessed that I had Yahoo Instant Messenger, by the e-mail I'd been using on Cyber-Yenta. Clever boy, I thought.
You have a marvelous command of grammar, so corresponding with you is almost satisfying enough... but somehow I would prefer to move into a more"real" realm. How about you call me (480-555-7289).
I felt emboldened by Rina's challenge to move forward.
Why wait? I picked up the phone and called.