In 1997, the internet was still in its infancy. So was I… at least sort of… at the age of fourteen. I’d grown up in a small town, had never contemplated leaving it for more than a minute, had been exposed only to what was there and what I’d seen so far. I was, to put it bluntly, naïve. In the summer of 1997, my father got a subscription to the dial-up internet service that was relatively new to the county. We were one of the first families that I knew of that had access to it. To this day, the sound of the dial-up connection still makes me smile (though I am still much happier with my high-speed cable connection than I was with dial-up… if I had to go back I don’t think I’d survive). At any rate, because of all of this, that summer, I was introduced to HTML chat rooms that, very quickly (and in some cases cruelly) broadened my experience and rewarded my quick and painful education with the realization that not everyone in the world was kind, trustworthy, and without ulterior motives. But despite that education, despite all the “baddies” that lurked behind their own internet connections and who, a few times, made themselves more real than I care to recall here, I did manage to meet some people who were decent. It’s true, they were human also, and by human I mean they had their faults, the same as I did, but they weren’t trying to engage in sex talk every minute of every hour of the endless nights I’d spend chatting with them (and others). We talked about other things, day to day things, stuff you’d talk to your “real person” friends about. And due to that, I was able to strike up as genuine a friendship as possible with them.
When the summer was over, after the drama that provided the education on just how cruel the world could really be, the internet was disconnected. Because I could not fathom a world without my friends in it, I set up a system. It wasn’t easy – it took a lot of hiding, a lot of lying, a lot of sneaking around. It kept me very busy and it was questionable, during those days, whether I thought of much else beyond my next phone card, my next stamp, beyond the next letter that would find its way through the channels. But, despite the difficulties, despite the amount of red tape I had to circumvent just to keep the system alive, to keep the communication flowing, it was worth it. It kept me busy, and it gave me something to live for when I didn’t feel that there was much else.
Of the two I managed to keep in contact with during that time, the one I now call 1.0 was probably the most constant. He was, for all practical purposes, in those days, my moral compass. I went to him for everything – told him everything. He was like an older brother to me. Only three years older than myself, he had just started college and was, at least it seemed, trying to navigate his world as much as I was now trying to navigate mine. We were close… We had emailed all summer long, once or twice a day, every day, and when we could, we’d chat. We finally moved the conversations to phone, first exploiting the 800 number his mother had set up for business and, when that situation changed, he took advantage of 5 cent Sundays and called me as often as he could. Once the internet had gotten disconnected, he was the first that tried to reach out, and once the system was instituted so that we could send mail back and forth, I truly lived for the days when I’d get his 4-6 page, handwritten letters.
But things changed, as all things do. A couple of years passed, and I got involved in my own things – I started working at a camp, I made more friends, and the school year became less about managing mail and phone cards and more about just getting through the days so that I could get to camp in the summer, and the blessed freedom that promised. We never had a falling out, exactly, but I got busy and he got busy and we just sort of lost contact. It had gotten to be too difficult for me, I think, ultimately, to try balance everything. And I became involved in my own love affairs that left little room for anything that involved long distance connections.
The goal, though, ultimately, had always been to get to college. College promised a freedom that I didn’t have, even at camp – the freedom to come and go as I pleased, to talk to whomever I liked without having to worry about my phone conversations being monitored, without having to give the internet friends a cover to assume when they called (and having to worry about them forgetting to use it – as one did once, and the damage control was unbelievable). Once I was at college, I could reassume responsibility for all of the communications. I could have access to the internet, and to email again. And once I got there, I immediately started trying to track them down – the two I’d kept in contact with.
One was easy to find. He found me. 1.0, on the other hand, that was a gamble, as I knew he’d graduated from college at the same time that I’d graduated from high school, and as all I had was his college email address, I wasn’t sure that it would still work. I took a chance. And it worked. And we started talking again – it was as if nothing had changed, as if we’d never missed a beat. In October of 2001, he decided to come visit me for the first time.
I was excited up until the day he was due to arrive. Then I was just nervous. I didn’t for a minute think it would end up in the same way that it had in 1997 when one of the “baddies” from the internet ventured down. But all the same, I was nervous. And when I picked him up from the airport with a friend of mine, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to do with him after that. I think we checked him into the cheapest hotel we could find, since he had no money (seriously this place was gross), we took him back to campus, and he and I walked around awhile until I dropped him off back at the hotel.
The weekend was good, in its way. Awkward for awhile. We did not have sex… I think I was more experienced than he was, and that’s not saying much, though we did make out in that filthy hotel again. Regardless, when he was due to leave the following Sunday, I did not want him to go, and we had an “understanding” at that point. We were together. No words needed.
We saw each other, when we could, for the next few months. He sent me a HUGE box for my birthday, packed with all kinds of things I’d mentioned wanting over the years (and a lot of things I hadn’t, but which were equally awesome). He came down again for finals and while I stayed in his hotel room with him this time (and while we fooled around), we didn’t have sex then either. He’d brought condoms. I guess, looking back on it, that was his intention. But despite the fact that I was not a virgin, and had not been since I was sixteen, I didn’t know what to do about it. He WAS still a virgin, and he knew even less than I did. So the evenings were more about making out, fooling around, and talking – that was fine with me… I hadn’t learned the meaning of the word “orgasm” yet, and sex was, at that point, just a memory of something very awkward that seemed to end well for the man but was just “eh” for the woman (yes, I told you, I didn’t know what I was talking about).
I made plans to visit him in NYC that following January. When I went home for Christmas, knowing that I wouldn’t have access to the internet from my parents’ house – at least, not unmonitored access, I did what I could do to mitigate that circumstance. We managed to get through the holidays, but at the beginning of my second semester, he broke up with me.
I was devastated. Not just because I’d bought those tickets to go to NYC (which were nonrefundable), but because I’d truly loved him… at least to the best of my ability at that time. I could not imagine going through a semester without his support, I could not imagine what my life would be like without him in it, and further, I could not imagine how awkward that trip to New York was going to be now that he and I were not “together.” I did not want to cancel it, and I did not cancel it. But when I left for the trip, there were many questions in my mind, none of which got solved, most of which were made more confusing by the fact that we were still fooling around, he was still holding my hand, and his uncle groped my ass when he was helping me get into a larger overcoat.
The trip was fantastic, in that I got to see the city (though I was too poor at that time to see it properly). It did not help me get over 1.0. It only served, once I got back into Louisville, to make me miss him even more… but I kept my distance, as much as I could. I knew I needed to get over him, and while we still talked, the frequency of those conversations, and the content, were nothing like the way they had been the previous fall. Still, I’d made the resolution to get over him. Somehow getting over boyfriends back in those days was easier than it is now… I found someone else. Someone who taught me the meaning of the word “orgasm” and I was satisfied. 1.0 was, if not a fading memory, at least, right then, not a dominating entity.
At least not until 2003.