Had Facebook existed in 2001, my sons Jackson and Teegan would not exist.
They wouldn't be here because I would have never met Sheri Smith, their mother and my wife of 10 years.
We encountered each other by accident in 2001 because of an error in a newspaper.
Sheri had placed a notice for her 10-year high school reunion in the Moncton Times & Transcript in New Brunswick, Canada. It included an email address for her classmates at Riverview High School to use for communication leading up to the event. The address was firstname.lastname@example.org, but the paper published it as email@example.com.
At the time, I was working for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and I was in charge of organizing Nickerson High School's 10-year reunion in Hutchinson, Kan. I created an email address for the event as well: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first email I received was from a photographer soliciting business for Riverview High's reunion. It was followed by more from people I didn't know, living in places I'd never heard of.
Sheri emailed me for the first time a few days later. Her note was short but kind, explaining that the photographer had called her and mentioned that the Riverview email was going to the wrong person. I replied, acknowledging that I was all too familiar with newspaper mistakes.
It could have easily ended there.
Instead, we corresponded almost every day, the emails growing longer and more personal.
It turns out that getting to know someone via email can strip away a lot of awkwardness that goes along with first (and often last) dates. In less than a month, we knew one other's greatest fears and frustrations, and had happily confided our hopes and far-fetched dreams.
Part of an email from Sheri on May 14, 2001:
"I agree that the many miles that separate us will probably make for a tough friendship, but I realized something yesterday. I know more about you than I do about some of my friends who live here … I tell you things I don't even tell my closest friends. Why is that?"
That was written less than three weeks after the mistaken email. Things were moving fast, but neither one of us had an endgame at that point. Then we spoke on the phone for the first time — a conversation that lasted for hours — and I knew I had to meet this girl from Canada.
On July 6, 2001, I nervously shook my legs as I waited for Sheri's plane to arrive. What if it was all wrong? Emailing back and forth is one thing. Spending six days together is another.
My anxiety vanished when Sheri appeared. From the moment of our first contact, she made me feel good and comfortable. About everything.
When we got back to my apartment, we listened to a message from one of her friends in Moncton: "Sheri, this is Leslie. I hope this guy is not a serial murderer who has chopped you up into tiny bits. Please call and let me know if you are OK."
After a good laugh and after a few calls to calm family and friends, we embarked on an amazing six days together. We went to the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis, had some great food and kicked back on my balcony with two of our favorite beers.
I excelled at getting her to try new things — like a noodle bar in Minnetonka — and she was even better about getting me to truly savor and talk about them.
On the way back to the airport, there were tears and long silences. We wanted to continue to explore this newfound thing. The thought of retreating to a world of email and phone calls was unbearable.
Shortly after our first Christmas together in 2001, we agreed to live together. By the end of the next September, Sheri had quit her job, sold nearly everything she owned and came to live with me. She could stay only six months, the limit for visitors coming to the United States. By February, I knew I wanted to ask Sheri to marry me. I proposed on Feb. 15.
We had grand plans of getting married on a beach in Hawaii, but an immigration lawyer suggested we get married within the next few days. In a post-9/11 world, the immigration process had become a lot more difficult. If Sheri returned to Canada, it could take up to a year and a half before she would be able to return.
We settled for a simple ceremony on April 25, 2003 — the second anniversary of the original email — at Hennepin County Courthouse. Our honeymoon was a weekend in Duluth, with a thick blanket of ice still on Lake Superior. Not exactly Hawaii.
On our 10th anniversary, we celebrated our marriage, the life that we've made together in California and the mistake in a newspaper that made it all possible.
Derek Simmons is a deputy design director at the L.A. Times.