It’s a cool spring night in L.A. I should be outside kicking back, holding up the wall, chugging on a 40, instead, I’m sitting in a stuffy, cluttered little room, typing my screen name and password into my computer so I can log onto AOL. I’m bored. I’m restless. I’m lonely. I’m depressed. Once I navigate through the pop-up advertisements AOL throws at me almost daily and slog through a couple of digital reams of junk mail I pull up my shareware IRC chat program (which rather silly and pathetic, like ” I have yet to register, shame on me) and connect to an EF net server. I’m one of the gazillions of schmucks out there looking for love in cyberspace. If I think about it too hard, it becomes why the hell are you here when you should be out meeting people in real life?” So I don’t think about it. I just cruise. I join a couple of different chat rooms. I make a little idle chit-chat. I get in some of the naughty channels. I don’t care what you’ve heard unless you have the intelligence of a cabbage, cybersex gets real old, real fast. There are only so many ways you can type, “oh yes, baby, do it just like that.” I’m one of those weirdos who think that our biggest sexual organ is the brain. I get bored, so I start showing off on a channel. I defy gravity, I make things appear and disappear, I dance all over the room.
A little voice in the back of my mind tells me “you do realize you’re just trying to get attention because you’re lonely, don’t you?” I tell the little voice what to go do with itself. But there’s someone in the room who likes my shenanigans. Her nom de cyber is Abby, and she joins in the fun. And after we play for a while in the public room, we create a little private room for a more intimate chat. Our chatting becomes incredibly naughty, only this time it’s actually interesting. The woman on the other end has intelligence, charm, and a sense of humor. Frankly, you don’t find too many of those in the naughty chatrooms, because they’ve been chased away by HNG’s who have the personalities of leeches and the imagination of slugs. We continue for a while, enjoying the role-playing aspects of our cyber sexual fun ‘n’ games. I suggest that what we’re doing shouldn’t be called cybersex, it should be called Interactive Participatory Erotic Literature, and LOL’s fill the screen. And at last, when sleep beckons, we say goodbye and promise to meet again in the same channel.
I turn off the computer and go to bed. Abby isn’t on the next evening, and I call it quits early, bored with it all. I get a little reading done–I used to read a hell of a lot more before my Internet addiction claimed me. I bury my nose in a novel and try to forget the singleness that I seem to be eternally trapped in. The next night I get lucky. When I log on, I discover she’s been waiting for me. We go back to our private room and pick up from where we left off two nights before. We play for a while, but the lure of good conversation eventually draws us away from the naughty stuff. We chat about everything under the sun. As the conversation flows along, I am amazed at how close we are to temperament, desires, tastes, ambitions, and philosophy. We share so many things, and I’m so excited. I try to reign in my eagerness it’s too easy to get burned. What if this is some clever 15-year-old boy having a laugh?
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What if it’s Hannibal Lecter trying to invite me over for a gourmet meal? What if it’s a NASA computer passing the Turing test with flying colors? But our conversation is so damn amazing that I don’t want to believe any of those possibilities. Abby Cat has to be a real person. I will it to be so. “Look,” I tell her, “I’m going to go get a post office box tomorrow.” I have a rather overdeveloped sense of paranoia, and I don’t much like the idea of issuing maps to where I live over the cybernetic ether. “Please write me, okay?” She says she will. Her first letter arrives. I can’t believe it’s actually real. I open the envelope and a waft of perfume hits my nose. It is utterly enchanting. Her letter is written on light gray stationary with a delicate silvery embossed border. Little cutout paper kisses fall to the floor, and I pick them up and smell the perfume on each one. Tucked in the fold of the letter are pictures of her. She’s very attractive. Her name is Kathy.
Kathy’s letter is wonderful, confirming all the opinions I developed of her in IRC. Here is absolutely everything I’ve ever looked for in a woman–beauty, intelligence, wit, sense of humor, a loathing of pettiness and deceit, and a love of simple pleasures. Of course, the paranoid part of my brain keeps whispering it could still be a hoax. “These are just pictures,” it whispers. “They could be of anyone. Hannibal Lecter could have written this letter and included photos of his last meal.” Paranoia can be such a downer. I sit on the edge of my bed with a spiral-bound notebook and write a response to her letter. An actual hand-written response, from a person who never ever, ever, writes actual hand-written responses. I want to go slow. I want to be cautious. I want to handle this situation with delicacy and care. Oh, who am I kidding? I want to jump straight into the fire and buy a plane ticket. But my paranoia reigns me in, just a little.
My letter goes out, I wait, a reply comes back. After a couple of exchanges, I even go out and buy very pretty stationery with dolphins and seagulls on it, simply because I think she deserves it. Each letter becomes slightly more intense, each letter reveals a little more about the writer. The more I learn about Kathy, the more I like her. I quickly discover we are cut from the same cloth, even down to our shared paranoia. There is a rather frightening word that begins to hover in the space between us, both of us thinking it until I finally name it: SOULMATES. Both of us believed in SOULMATES back when we were young and idealistic and openly hopeless romantics, before the scars of bad relationships and bad luck, in general, turned us into bitter cynics. SOULMATES! A very big word, that.
The day comes when writing letters is no longer enough. I have to talk to her on the phone. And so we exchange numbers, and when she calls for the first time, I do not put down the phone for the next six hours. A week later we’re making plans for her to come to Los Angeles to visit me. So much for caution! We each take turns racking up enormous phone bills, and we both worry about how fast things are going, but neither one of us can stop. Kathy tells me we’re like two cars hurtling toward each other with no brakes. In fact, it’s worse than that, because both of us have the gas pedals pressed down to the floorboard. It’s a scary feeling, but I can’t wait to crash into her. A few days later, Kathy’s paranoia gets the better of her and she decides she can’t come to Los Angles, because what if I turn out to be an ax-wielding maniac? Even though she knows I’m not, she’s still afraid to come here. I understand this fear, all too well, and it’s quite reasonable in this kind of situation.
As much as I hate to fly, I have to see her, and quickly. She has gotten completely under my skin, and I’m going crazy. I’m drowning in her, and I haven’t even met her. These impulsive things are the actions of the Romeo and Juliet age bracket, not of supposedly sensible adults. I don’t care. I’m head over heels in a delirium of emotions over this amazing woman. And so we make plans for me to fly to Maryland. Now it’s my turn to be paranoid. What if I get there and she turns out to be the ax-wielding maniac? What if I get on the plane only to have my hacked-up body discovered days or weeks or months later? What if I just disappear off the face of the Earth? Not to mention the fear of flying I’ll have to overcome just so I can risk being dismembered. I’m in for a hellacious emotional roller coaster.
It certainly doesn’t help my mental well-being when I happen to read a magazine article about a woman who had done exactly what I’m getting ready to do, and who had been tortured and murdered by the man she had gone to meet. Sick, gruesome, horrible, and not at all conducive to a happy flight into the unknown. I have to call Kathy repeatedly just to hear her voice because the simple act of talking to her washes away all my doubts and fears. Besides, I tell her a couple of days before I fly to meet her, “if there’s only a fifty percent chance that this is real, and there’s also a fifty percent chance that the Spanish Inquisition will be waiting for me when I get off the plane to take me to some secret dungeon and do unspeakable things to me, I’ll still go.” She thinks that’s sweet, but my stomach does some amazing acrobatics once I hang up the phone.
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