I realized a while ago that although I had written up various versions of this story in various contexts, I've apparently never posted it online before. So here it is.
Near the end of my Wanderjahr, in July of '97, I spent a week or two in the Seattle area.
On July 3rd, my college friend Alex attempted suicide. Although he didn't succeed (not that time), I was very upset, but I didn't feel like I could talk with my family about it, so I called Arthur E.
Arthur was comforting and solid, as always. When I had calmed down some, we chatted about life-in-general, and I mentioned that I was hoping to see Clarion folks while I was in Seattle, and he mentioned that he had met this woman named Mary Anne (at a party of Thida's) who was attending Clarion West that summer. He gave me a brief physical description of Mary Anne, and said she lived in Oakland, wrote erotica on the web, and was poly.
When Arthur and I were done talking, I went online and found Mary Anne's website and dropped her a note in email to introduce myself, figuring I would likely run into her at some kind of Clarion event while I was in town.
The next day—July 4, 1997, twelve years ago today—I was attending Westercon, the big annual west-coast sf convention, and in one of the panels there was a young woman who matched the description sitting in the front row of the audience; she kept making comments and asking questions of the panelists, and mentioned that she was a current Clarion student. After the panel, I snuck a peek at her name tag, which said "Mary Anne." I also noted that her T-shirt said "Sometimes you feel like a slut, sometimes you don't," which seemed like the kind of thing an erotica writer might wear. So I went up and introduced myself—I mentioned that I had sent her email the previous night, and said I was a friend of Thida's and that Arthur had told me about her.
(That day at Westercon was also the day I met Cat F, but that's another story for another time.)
We chatted a little that day and occasionally over the next week or so, including one evening when I went and had dinner with the current Clarion students. (I see that I used to call Clarion students "Clarionettes." I still like that, but I suppose "Clarionites" is preferred these days.)
I finished my Wanderjahr, returning home to California. A month or two later, Kam (who was known as Kristen at the time) came down to the Bay Area from Portland to attend a wedding of a college friend of hers. Kam wanted an escort to the wedding, so even though I had only met the bride and groom—Sean and Kira—once each, I agreed to tag along. (It helped that I knew that Ellen and Robyn would be there, so Kam wasn't going to be the only person I knew there.) The wedding was a rather nice one, at a campground out in the woods halfway between Palo Alto and the coast; very scenic.
In the wedding party, there was a woman who looked very familiar. At first I was certain it couldn't be her, but during the wedding I got a closer look at her, and decided it had to be Mary Anne—South Asian, same height and build, same very long hair. I spent the rest of the ceremony trying to figure out what possible connection she could possibly have to anyone involved.
It turned out that Mary Anne had known Kira when they were both at the University of Chicago; Sean had attended U Chicago for grad school, and that was where he and Kira had met. I laughed and laughed. I was particularly amused because if I hadn't tagged along to the wedding I would never have known about this connection; Kam and Mary Anne didn't know each other, of course, so neither would have made the connection had I not been there.
So the loop went something like this: I met Sarah L in about 8th grade. Many years later, she introduced me to Kam, who'd gone to college with Sean, who later met and married Kira, who'd been college friends with Mary Anne, whose housemate in Oakland (Cliff) went out with Thida, whose college roommate Jaye had gone out with Dominus, who knew Ranjit, whom I met on a BBS during high school.
. . . All these connections seemed to me to be a clear Message from the Universe that I ought to get to know Mary Anne better, but she was always in motion from one social circle to another, always tremendously busy. We chatted a bit now and then, and she attended a roundsing and turned out to have a nice singing voice, but we never really managed to talk.
But then sometime in November (or so) we were at one of Thida's parties, and amid some unrelated weird social dynamics, Mary Anne asked loudly and publicly if I was, as she put it, "looking." And I got all flustered and embarrassed, and I equivocated and mumbled. And so I later sent her email saying "well actually, I am looking, it's just that I'm not sure what I'm looking for and I get easily embarrassed when asked about these things in public." And she replied that she'd just been curious, oh and by the way she thought I was kinda cute, but that she was not making a pass, things were messy for her right then and she thought it would be unwise for her to jump into things with anyone. And I was pleased and flattered and wrote back saying thanks, I think you're cute too, and thanks for making it clear upfront that that wasn't a pass.
(It later turned out that Thida had been the one to suggest me to Mary Anne, but that too is another story.)
But that led to further conversation, and it became clear that we had bunches of topics for interesting conversations—science fiction and writing and storytelling and stuff—so we got together for dinner, and things developed from there.
I'm having a hard time figuring out where to end this story; I suppose I could have stopped after the re-meeting at the wedding, but that felt incomplete somehow. But this seems like a reasonably good stopping point.
I submit this story as another exhibit in evidence of my theory about getting a second chance with the important people.