Confronting my husband’s digital legacy, one email at a time
For the past few months, I have been searching through tweets, emails, Facebook posts, and text messages for a missing person. He isn’t a stranger. He’s my husband and the father of my two children. And he’s not really missing. He’s dead.
Often late at night, after I put our kids to bed, I begin my hunt for Jonathan. I reread emails about mundane dental appointments or brunch dates. I linger over quick asides, our kids’ pet names, and his simple sign-off, “love JJ.” Each time, I find another morsel, some note that makes me smile. I can almost hear him. But I know I am trying to do the impossible: to reanimate the love of my life, word by word, tweet by tweet, text by text.
My husband was a writer. He made wry observations in a few crisp words. We met in journalism school in Winnipeg in 1992. “I am strangely attracted to a badly dressed man,” I thought when I first met him. He needed a haircut, and he wore runners and rugby shirts. I hated sports. We used the same carpool, and our daily commute became a rolling, laughing ride through the streets. Jonathan’s biting wit earned him the sarcastic moniker “Sunshine.”
In school, we learned how to interview and tell stories accurately, all while meeting high-pressure deadlines. Soon after graduation, Jon took a job as a reporter in Edmonton, and I started working as a managing editor at a news and entertainment weekly in Winnipeg. We were still just friends, but I felt hollow when he moved away. One perk of my new job was a computer with Internet access, and I quickly connected through email with Jon and two members of our carpool.
Online, we resumed the banter of the icy drives to school. I teased Jon for his ineptitude at dating in an email with the subject line “Why Jonny Can’t Breed.” His hilarious responses became the highlight of my day, and my heart jumped whenever his name appeared in my inbox.
One summer day, Jon came home for a visit. We took a walk, and I told him I was crazy about him. We started dating immediately.
Our long-distance relationship was both exciting and excruciating. We would hug hello in the airport and launch into a whirlwind weekend. But halfway through a visit, I would begin to crash, awaiting the inevitable goodbye. And far too soon, we’d be back in the airport, saying our farewells.
We filled the physical gap with frequent emails about our days and the stories we were pursuing. It was years before we lived in the same city. We broke up, got back together, and then finally both landed jobs in Toronto. After one year sharing an address, we got engaged. We married