Once upon a time, there was a girl who never spoke.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But picture this: it’s my first semester of college at the University of New Hampshire, and I’m a commuter student. All day, I’m working on completing my Gen Ed requirements: sitting in massive lecture halls, taking notes, moving quickly from building to building, lugging all of my books and materials because I don’t have a dorm room to go back to. I sit by myself in the dining hall, plowing through my assigned readings. Every day, as soon as my last class is over, I drive home.
It was a couple of weeks before I realized that I would normally go entire days on campus without saying a word to anyone.
When I told my mom this, she mentioned that she’d been looking at the UNH website and she saw that they had an Anime Club. Anime was my major hobby at the time: this was back in the day of anime scarcity, of using money orders to buy fansubs, of browsing the video tape shelves at Suncoast and debating between the probably-awful dub and the more-expensive sub. I watched all the anime I could get my hands on, and I drew fanart and created those internet character shrines that were so popular back then. Very few of my high school friends were into anime, and I was excited at the prospect of meeting other people who appreciated it, but I was also apprehensive. This might mean I actually had to, you know, converse with others. My mom offered to e-mail the club president for me. I told her I’d just try stopping by a club meeting.
It was Monday night. I’d finished my last class, and I hung around at the library until it was time for the meeting. Anime Club was held in the MUB, short for Memorial Union Building, where students hung out, various student union offices were located, and the food court offered all sorts of delicious and not-very-nutritious options.
I walked into the room where it was supposed to meet. A friendly, quiet guy in the back waved at me. The only other person there, an overbearing girl, practically leapt on me and talked and talked and talked—about what, I can’t remember, but it was intensely awkward. I felt like a rabbit, frozen.
Then the door opened, and two more girls came in. One introduced herself as the club president: Amanda, cheerful and devious, an artist like me. The other was tall, cool, a history major, with curly hair dyed green in the front: her name was Rachel.
They whisked me out of the room to the food court, where they assured me that that other girl was a total weirdo and the rest of the club wasn’t anything like her. They ordered this delicious-looking lo mein, and I wanted some, but I was apprehensive about using chopsticks. They offered to teach me.
I had a great time that night, and Rachel and Amanda told me, before I left, that I should come to Gaming on Friday. They were playing Dungeons and Dragons. The only experience I’d ever had with D&D was a brief game run several years ago by my cousin, who killed my character minutes after we started. I showed up early on Friday, and I can still see the scene: I was sitting on the floor in the MUB, trying to work up the courage for the night’s impending conversations, and then they appeared—Rachel and Amanda, striding down the hall, wearing capes. Rachel’s was black with a red silk lining. With that cape and her green hair, I had never seen anyone cooler in my entire life.
Fast forward a few weeks. I’d been coming to Anime Club every Monday. Amanda and Rachel protected me when a creepy member kept trying to throw candy down the front of my shirt. We always sat together at a table near the back, and that day, I pulled out my drawing folder (full of blank computer paper). Amanda and Rachel both had a habit of drawing at Anime Club, and I wanted to be just like them.
As I opened the folder, Rachel leaned over to look at my sketches. “Hey,” she said. “You draw just like this girl on Elfwood.”
Elfwood was an online fantasy art archive that was popular at the time. I had an account, in fact. “What girl on Elfwood?” I asked.
“She drew this picture of Louis and Lestat in a coffin together,” Rachel explained excitedly. “It’s totally cute. Lestat is all annoyed because Louis doesn’t want to sleep by himself, and Louis is blushing. She has a bunch of Vampire Chronicles pictures. I saved them all to my computer and the coffin one is my desktop background right now.”
I stared at her. This couldn’t be possible, could it? I could remember inking those lines myself, using my Prismacolor pencils to pinken Louis’s cheeks. “I… think she might be me.”
I was right. Somehow, across the vastness of the internet (which was, admittedly, not quite as vast back then), Rachel had found my art, loved it, and had it as her desktop background at that exact moment.
I have so many stories about the two of us when we were falling in love. It took years before we even realized how we felt about each other—neither of us had dated women before, and each of us had had a weird and awkward experience dating a guy. Even though we (and our friends) laugh about how clueless we were for such a long time, when how much we were in love was obvious to everyone but us, this moment—when Rachel saw my artwork and we realized we’d already had a connection before we even met—was proof, to me, that fate had brought us together.
The earliest picture I can find of us on Rachel’s Flickr is below, from a hike up Mount Major. It was in 2006, five years after we met and two years after we figured out how we felt about each other. (We have matching glasses — we are such nerds XD)