Today, I discovered the completeness of Chlöe's love for me, and
thereby brought the reconciliation of my grief another, blessed step closer.
Chlöe died, what, it must be three weeks ago now, but it seems - feels - like forever. She was killed by a barrister, who had popped one too many happy pills at a party and had consequently mislaid the ability to discern where road ended and pavement began. "Tragic", the local newspaper called it, that being their standard term when anyone under 30 suffers fatal or near-fatal injury. Me, I was desolated. Tragic? All I knew was a gaping void in my soul where once shone the wonderful joy that was Chlöe.
I came to know Chlöe at school. We both took the same A-levels - Maths, Physics, Computing - and thanks to the accident of alphabetical order were seated next to each other more often than not. I realise that most women and many men may find this strange, but, much as we boys all liked Chlöe, we didn't regard her as a sexual object of any kind; in environments where males outnumber females by more that five to one, the males treat the females as if they were also males. We'd no sooner have made a play for Chlöe than we would have done for each other (and that would have been unthinkable).
I won't pretend I have a psychological explanation for this behaviour; it's just the way things were. Oh, maybe there's some academic out there who might claim it was a conspiracy of male subconsciousnesses to cope with the fact that no way would any of us stand a hope of winning anyone like Chlöe's heart, but then there's probably someone else who'd insist it was a concerted attempt by the masculine species to keep women out of the sciences by steadfastly denying them affection at an impressionable age. Yeah.
It's true, though, that most of the boys in my circle must have concluded that they stood no chance of finding love when up against the superior fire-power of the ubiquitous, good-looking, smart-talking, rough-acting hip kid who always seems to be the subject of teenage female attention. OK, so I know now that his admirers are only practising their charms, and that the poor girl who he finally does decide to shack up with will rue it until the day of the divorce, but at the time, well, it was just something we all accepted. We were doing sciences, the only girls with whom we came into contact were unattainable, so we didn't try to attain them. Besides, who'd want to fool around with a friend just because he happened to be a she?
And being logically-minded types, when our hormones did get the better of us and we did suddenly fancy someone for their physical hardware, we bore our torment stoically. Maybe at parties one of us would drink too much and try it on, but it always ended in ridicule: the desirable stunner would flaunt her new toy for half an hour or so, then shred him through her humiliation machine the moment she grew bored.
All this changed for me around six months before our exams, when I fell in love with Chlöe. We were on a school trip to Heidelberg, of all places, and after some kind of festival firework display found ourselves sitting on a bench in the old town square outside the cathedral, talking beneath the stars about our thoughts, our passions, our hopes for the future, our dreams... She opened up in a way that snatched at my heart, brimming me with excitement and awing me with wonder, giving me a sense of being that was almost overwhelming; it was the most elated night of my life.
I sensed that maybe Chlöe might have fallen for me, as I had for her, but even in my state of adoration I realised that this was impossible. Hey, she could pick up a guy ten times my better if she wanted; it was stupid to consider myself as some kind of candidate for her affections. You have to understand that not only is - was - Chlöe bright, but she had a rare and exquisite beauty that lifted her into the stratosphere. I attributed my belief that she in some way reciprocated my feelings to an inability to interpret the signs, borne out of never having had anyone possibly find me desirable before. Over the weeks that followed, though, I kept returning to the idea that perhaps she might like me more than just as a friend; nonsense, surely, but where's the harm in wilful self-delusion?
Now it's often supposed that fear of rejection is what stops boys such as I was from approaching girls. Whereas I do confess that the thought of trying to date Chlöe was not one I relished, she having doubtless heard it all before whereas I was a complete neophyte, nevertheless that alone wouldn't have prevented me. No, my barrier was knowing that any approach I made would be a one-off. If I did try to start a relationship, and was rejected, that would be it, no second chance. All that need happen would be for me to make some awful misinterpretation of her emotions and she'd close the door forever; any mistiming could lower my chances of success, and I'd never ever be able to recover them.
I decided, then, to follow the well-trodden path of keeping my feelings at bay and throwing myself into my schoolwork. It's always preferable in such circumstances to love someone from afar, with the distant, comforting prospect that one day you could conceivably find it requited; the alternative, which may well result in turning your love against you for the rest of eternity, is rarely attractive.
So I did what I was experienced at: I concealed my infatuation, betrayed no outward hint of its existence, and rode the wave after wave of emotion that surged at me whenever Chlöe rippled by.
Then, one day, when following a thread from an MIT resources website we'd had to access for Physics homework, I discovered LoveMatch.
LoveMatch billed itself as an assistant for those inexperienced in love (ie. me). All you had to do was send the email address of the object of your affections to the LoveMatch server, indicating what kind of client software they used (chosen from a list), and it would set up a monitor program. Whenever your loved one received personal email from you, LoveMatch would cause their PC's camera to activate, capturing their image as they read your words. It would run this series of snapshots through a neural net trained on thousands of examples from psychology archives; from this, it would gauge your specified individual's emotional disposition towards you, and note any change from your last email. You could query LoveMatch as often as you liked for its current assessment of your status, but when the time finally came and your loved one loved you back, you'd be told by email from LoveMatch itself. Then, well, it would be up to you.
This was a miracle come true for me. No longer did I have to fret that I might spill my heart out to Chlöe at an inopportune time and lose her - LoveMatch would tell me exactly when the right moment came. I could email her at home, find out the effects of each email, and adjust my strategy accordingly. If I made no progress, or, worse, went backwards, I could stop and leave things as they were before any further damage was done. If I did advance, however... The mere thought tingled me with anticipation. With feedback, yes, who knows, maybe I could succeed? Perhaps - slim chance that it was - I might, somehow, cause Chlöe to love me as I loved her?
Well it was worth a try, anyway, so I filled in the online form and waited.
The programmer in me, of course, was somewhat dubious that this would work. What exactly was LoveMatch doing? It definitely had to install software onto Chlöe's PC, because otherwise it couldn't covertly activate her camera and send on the images (or a pre-processed summary) to the server. How it could achieve this installation in secret, though, was a mystery. An executable can be piggy-backed in on junk mail, OK, but how could it ever be triggered to run? And by what means could it evade any anti-virus programs that may be watching, come to that? There must have been one seriously good hacker behind it all, that was for sure.
I had intended to use the maths project that we were working on together as my pretext for emailing Chlöe after school, but happily Chlöe suggested it herself and I didn't have to risk making her suspicious. Each evening that followed, therefore, I emailed Chlöe with the latest batch of work I'd done, adding at the end a few sentences of chat. Then, each succeeding morning, I consulted LoveMatch to see how I'd done.
Early results weren't encouraging. I started off with a rating of 43%, which apparently fell at the top end of the "normal friendship" band, but it wasn't until the third day that it rose to 44%. Progress seemed slow, yet at the end of the month I was up to 58%, and after six weeks I hit 70. Whatever the secret of wooing Chlöe was, I seemed to have stumbled across it, and although we handed in our joint maths project around then we kept on exchanging daily emails "out of habit", as Chlöe put it. After two months, LoveMatch gave me a rating of 92%.
I was stuck on 92% for almost three weeks. Nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I tried sending longer messages, shorter messages, messages with lots of humour, messages with no humour, messages all about me, messages all about Chlöe - but there was no effect at all. None, that is, until the end of the eleventh week, when I logged in to find the following email awaiting me:
We passed our exams, and both went to Cambridge - different colleges, but close enough to keep in touch. I stayed on for my PhD, but Chlöe took the more fiscally sound route of setting up her own company, contracting out mathematicians to software houses. We married five years ago, and life became Heaven.
I never figured out how LoveMatch worked. I broached the subject occasionally with my peers in the AI group, but it was kind of hard to get very far without admitting to the embarrassment of having availed myself of the program's services personally; besides, most people had never heard of it. One of the people I came to know at MIT did tell me she'd seen somewhere that it was written by a sophomore hacking in his spare time, so I knew it couldn't have great AI smarts, but there must have been a tremendous embodiment of knowledge in the data it was using. Where had it all come from? And how can you get a program to assess, from facial expressions alone, various degrees of love? At one point, I even put forward a research proposal to try get some funding to replicate LoveMatch's results, but it was turned down. Just as well, really, considering what I know now..!
I've heard it said that the longer you're married, the further you and your loved one grow apart. Well, that's not my experience. Chlöe and I became closer and closer over the years. I adored having her near me, and I still thrilled every time she looked at me that certain way. Chlöe, Chlöe, you had so much love, so much vivacity, I delighted in you, I'm incomplete without you. Chlöe, I'm alone - I miss you like life itself.
At times like this, when someone you love has been killed in such a senseless fashion, there are phases you go through. Yes, yes - anger, denial, I was over those within hours. Guilt, though, preyed on me. I didn't feel that I was in any way to blame for what happened to Chlöe, because I knew I wasn't; it was more subtle than that. I felt guilty for having robbed Chlöe of the future she could have had - the future she deserved to have had - by causing her to love me. Maybe it was some kind of self pity, I don't know, but the conviction I bore was that selfishness on my part in my desire to have her had prevented her from meeting and marrying someone else who would have given her far more joy. I had to woo her to win her; I made the decision that she should love me, not her. By using LoveMatch to inform me exactly what effect my actions were having, I could emphasise the positive at the expense of the negative, and sooner or later I was bound to hit on a successful strategy even if I wasn't sure what the details were. She didn't really stand a chance.
And that's how I felt until this morning, when I was in the attic going through some of Chlöe's things, sorting out in as cold a way as I was able those objects which were useful or valuable from those with only sentimental relevance. I beat back the tears as best I could, but when I came across that box of hard copies of the emails that I'd written her, I was beaten; all I could do was sob, hold them to my chest, and think of the monstrous injustice I'd done that most darling girl.
A slip of paper fell from my arms. I could barely see it for weeping, and was on the point of scrunching it into a ball when the header seemed to leap out in letters ten inches high. I put down my load, picked up the loose message, and read:
21st January 1999: chloe.htm