Is it okay if I call you Mark? My reason for writing is kind of personal, so calling you Mr. Zuckerberg seems cordial and detached. I have a story to share with you. A story about how you changed my life.
Sid Morgan had recently returned home from his military service as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” Division in 1946. Late one night after a hard day of delivering ice in Seattle, Washington, he spotted something stuck in the asphalt of his home’s back alley that glittered from the light of the street lamp. He reached down and dug out a keychain holding what appeared to be several muddy engagement rings. His four-year-old daughter Sherie watched her parents testing the stones on the bathroom mirror and, one by one, they crumbled. All except for one perfect diamond.
While Sid was back at work the next day, his wife, Erna, took the stone and had it set in a gold band for her husband, which he wore next to his wedding ring. Several years later, when Erna lost the diamond in her engagement ring, Sid replaced the diamond in his gold band with his birthstone, an emerald, and presented her with the diamond in a new engagement ring on their 20th anniversary. She wore that ring for nearly 50 years.
Back in 1932, Sid moved around a lot and, having been born years later than his brother and sister, was virtually an only child. After settling on a farm in Castle Rock, Washington at thirteen years old, he repeated the seventh grade, which is where he first laid eyes on Erna Kluth.
She was just under five feet tall, equal parts nurturing kindness and fiery passion, as quick with an angry comment as she was to burst into laughter and he often caught her glancing at him. Her deep blue eyes would quickly turn away, shielding her blush, her thick black hair falling at her shoulders. He was smitten.
Sid was nearly six feet tall, bore a striking resemblance to Ronald Reagan and with every word he spoke there was a hint of laughter. He dated other girls at Castle Rock High School, but still had his eye on Erna. It took time to get her full attention because, as Sid said, “there was this other fella, y’see, so I had to hang around until she got tired of ‘im.” The dog that bit his face as a boy gifted him with a scar on his chin that only added to his appeal and the girls were crazy about him. He was a skilled storyteller and earned the title of high school class president. Twice.
Once they were an item, Erna never let him forget the time he gave another girl a valentine, but not her. She had the nerve to approach Erna and say, “Keep your eyes open. I’m going to take him away from you.”
Erna stared her down with icy blues and replied, “Go ahead and try. If you’re successful, you can have him.”
By their senior year, they were the most beautiful couple on campus.
Erna’s father, Edward, did not approve of Sid Morgan. Erna tried going out with “that fine Christian boy” her father had picked out for her, but barely got away with her dress intact and had no intention of ever seeing him again. When she relayed this to her father and announced that she was in love with Sid and would not stop seeing him, he locked her in the attic for several days. When she still refused to budge, the firm grip of her father’s hand on her arm escorted her and her belongings from the attic to the front door. She had plans to go to college, but instead sought refuge with a girlfriend.
Sid and Erna were married on New Year’s Day in 1941 at twenty and nineteen years old and Sid took a job in the Tacoma shipyards. Sid’s parents attended the ceremony, but Erna’s parents did not and they did not speak to her for over a year until after their first of five children was born. Sherie was followed by a son, Sid, Jr., a second daughter, Vicky, who they lost on her sixth day of life, followed by two more sons, Rod and Jeff. Over the next few decades, in whatever town they settled, the Morgan home was filled with love, acceptance and an open-door policy that always included a hot meal and well-told stories by Sid followed by Erna’s hearty laugh that could be heard from blocks away.
About 42 years after those two seventh graders first laid eyes on one another, lightning struck again. This time for me.
I was a naive twelve-year-old girl who believed in whimsical fictional clichés like unicorns, white knights, magic and soul mates. My childhood “love” fantasies were never about the wedding. I could not have cared less about the cumulus circle skirt, the stilted aisle parade to the familiar tune by Richard Wagner or the ensuing party. So it was ironic that I ultimately had more than one wedding.
During my daily piano practicing, I stared at the ocean and view of Catalina Island beyond my keyboard and secretly fantasized about impenetrable alliances I had only read about. I craved the boy who would see all the way to my center and love every part of me. I told myself that when I found him, I would know. It was silly, really. Completely outside the realm of even the most relaxed ideas of reality. I had a better shot at catching the next flight on the neighborhood dragon.
Cutty was magnetic with a positive energy, a smile that dared you not to smile back and eyes combining mischief and kindness in a way I had not seen in other boys. He had a quick wit, but never used it as a mechanism for bullying. He knew details about nuclear testing and the oil crisis, but cracked me up with Saturday Night Live Conehead impressions and when he looked at me, I thought I might melt. Whenever I passed him in the halls, he shot me this cool flip of his blonde hair and quick chin-up nod like his friends, but looked right at me, eyes daring me to flirt while never quite going there himself. He made regular appearances in the band room to listen to me play the piano.
“Can you play that cartoon piece again? I love that piece.”
I wanted to impress him, so I immediately launched into the dramatic opening of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I honored requests for other classics, Scott Joplin rags and current popular songs and I loved that he never asked me to play Freebird or Stairway to Heaven.
I read Teen and Seventeen to learn how to feather the layers of my long blonde hair with a curling iron and then petrify it with blankets of Aqua Net. I begged my mother for Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, a royal blue satin Members Only jacket and I inwardly squealed over the deep violet of my mood ring whenever Cutty was nearby. He signed my eighth grade yearbook with “will you go around with me?” in black ink and later added in thick blue ink, “just kidding!” I wanted to cross out the blue and pretend it was never there.
Dropping him crush-revealing hints felt terrifying, let alone actually speaking of it, so my secret stayed locked away.
He remained in my circle of closest friends throughout junior high, rapidly acquiring one-of-my-favorite-people-ever status through the connection I felt every time we spoke and his persistent ability to make me laugh. There were weekly “get-togethers” and dances where we embraced under the disco ball as though we had always been connected and as one party ended, he reached for a hug to say goodbye while my parents sat watching from the car. Embarrassed and afraid of my audience, I pushed him away and left, feeling haunted by his confused expression.
In high school we traveled in different circles and drifted apart. I occasionally saw him on campus, but he hung with the stoner crowd and always seemed to have a girlfriend. I loitered with the artsy nerds, began wearing make-up, traded my Members Only jacket for torn sweatshirts and leg warmers and took awkward stabs at dating. Most of my first dates did not become seconds and I cringed at my father’s expressions when meeting suitors like Rick, the horny cop who hung his heavy uniform on our dining room breakfast rack and drove me straight to a make-out point. Tony, the mobster wanna-be who wore a stick-pin in his tie and said with a wink and a nod to my parents and their dinner guests, “you guys have a good time, now, alright?” And Aldo, the handsome Italian fisherman who merited more than one date, but stopped on the fourth after I received a call from his unrevealed girlfriend.
As seniors, Cutty and I both landed jobs at the Orange Julius down by the San Pedro Harbor where the hunger for his presence increased and I routinely checked the schedule, hoping for simultaneous shifts. I was overwhelmed one week by visits and flowers from four other boys, worried he would see and misinterpret, wishing he had been one of them. I imagined after-hours scenarios exploring each other in the locked upstairs office, but felt self-conscious in my brown and orange polyester uniform, thick grease on my face and hair from working the grill and deep-fryers, so the encounters remained imaginary. During one shift when we were alone together, we launched into a discussion over the lack of conscience in both Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby albeit presented in very different behaviors, both disturbing in their own ways.
“Which is worse?” he asked.
“Is it better to see your psycho coming right at you? Or never really know he or she was there?” I replied.
We couldn’t decide. We agreed on the shocking yet titillating aspects of the sociopathic behaviors of Alex and his gang and commiserated on the terrifying but brilliant use of Singin’ in the Rain during the rape scene. We discussed Daisy’s selfishness, materialism and coldness somehow being ultimately responsible for the death of Gatsby. And we spoke of the horror of Kubrick’s use of Beethoven’s ninth symphony as a means of torture and the thing that drove someone to attempt suicide.
“Oh! Did you notice the piece they used for the doorbell near the end of the movie?” I asked.
He laughed. “Beethoven’s Fifth!”
Spring arrived with the news we would be attending the same university and I laid awake nights, thinking about my exciting future and the possibilities open to the two of us. Then one afternoon my parents showed up during one of our shifts.
“What are you guys doing here? Is something wrong? I can tell something’s wrong.”
“Hi honey,” said dad. “We’ve been going over it and over it and we just can’t cover the tuition requirements in addition to your piano lessons. You’re going to have to come up with an alternative. We’re sorry, we know you really wanted this.”
I was quiet for a minute, because to speak would open the flood gates.
“It’s okay. I have to finish my shift,” I managed.
“We love you so much.” With an awkward hug, they were gone.
Cutty saw the look on my face when I re-entered the kitchen.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Looks like we won’t be going to the same school, after all.”
“Oh, man. What a total bummer. What’s your back-up plan?”
I turned away towards the sink and the dirty blender pitchers, concealing my tears as they dripped into the soapy water, realizing I didn’t even have a back-up plan. I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed, which only made things worse. I scrubbed away at Orange Julius residue, attempting a smile and a steady voice.
“Oh, I’ll figure something out.”
The dream was short-lived and soon after graduation, we lost each other.
I went on to two degrees and a career in music while he majored in science and flew jets off of aircraft carriers for the Navy. We both survived unhappy marriages, but wound up with amazing kids. Three for me. One for him.
In 2010, and through the miracle of Facebook, I heard from him. We exchanged a few private messages, catching up on life in a nutshell. A couple of years later, we finally made plans to meet for lunch. It had been nearly thirty years to the day since we graduated from high school.
I spotted him immediately in a university baseball hat at a table near the front of the restaurant. He smiled and hugged me and I melted into him while thirty years dissolved. We stepped back into one another’s world and I became lost in his eyes and his laugh, conscious of only his presence in a room filled with people. We parted on promises of a future date and I left feeling altered. He had stepped inside of me, peered through my two blue windows and I realized he had always lived there. He looked at me with that familiar smile and those twelve-year-old eyes, holding some thirty plus years of love and pain and failure and growth, just like mine, but they were his. I sat with him, picking up where we left off and somewhere deep inside of me, I knew something had just changed forever.
A few months later I opened a late-night email from him that read, “Amazing how when push comes to shove, you really find out who you can rely on. Not parents, friends, not bosses, not ex’s…it’s almost enough to make a person give up. But then Pandora slams the box closed, and lo and behold, you know what’s inside. Hope. And a picture of you in my box. And a picture of me in yours.”
Late in life, Erna was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the way Sid took care of her was a lesson to his family in patience and unconditional loving care without expectation. He would take her out for long drives, sometimes two or three hours, and point out all the eagle’s nests in their final home town of Juneau, Alaska. When they would arrive back at the house, she would forget, so he would take her back out and do it all over again. A few days after she passed, she was cremated and he sat for a long time looking at the box she was placed in on the living room coffee table. When he finally spoke, all he could communicate was his worry over her being in that box all by herself.
Sid and Erna Morgan were my grandparents and on a Sunday evening, my whole family (which included my parents, sister, brother-in-law, all three uncles and their families) joined my grandfather at the weekly wine-tasting at his house. After a few tastings, he turned to me, removed his emerald ring and presented it to me with the wish that I wear it around my neck every year on the birthday that we shared. I choked back tears and placed it on my middle finger, right next to my grandmother’s engagement ring my mother had given to me a few months earlier. Thirty hours later, my grandfather peacefully passed away in his sleep. He was my greatest role model for unconditional love and the most non-judgmental, accepting person I have ever known.
Cutty and I were not quite as lucky as my grandparents. But thanks to you, we have a shot at coming awfully close. The ring that was once a symbol of commitment to a couple who fell in love in the 7th grade is now repeating that pattern.
So, Mark Zuckerberg. I guess this is actually a “love letter,” because I love you (not like that). As far as I’m concerned, you’re worth all your billions because what I have now is worth so much more. From the bottom of my overflowing heart…thank you.