Have you ever made a friend with, or fallen in love someone you met online?
I’ve actually done both. At the same time. Story time
The year was 2001 and I was around 11 years old. My grandparents had just bought a new computer and with came the introduction of dial-up internet. Back then, America Online or AOL was the trend paving the way with new innovations. One of those brilliant ideas was internet chatrooms and instant messaging.
I cannot tell you just how influential AOL was to my life. The scope of that very concept would be far too much for this post but my story will tell you how it all began.
It was one of those evening where I had nothing better to do with my life. Homework was done. I wasn’t allowed to go outside for long periods of time like the others kids and even if I could go outside, there wasn’t any kids on my block outside of a really cute redhead who lived down the street but my grandparents took alarm to me hanging out with someone who was outside of my race. They never expressed it openly and if you weren’t paying attention, you could have easily missed their subtle discouraging hints. But I noticed and told myself that even though I liked hanging out with her, the process and argument to even make that happen wasn’t worth it. And besides, if I really wanted to, I could just sneak out later on.
Tonight was a night to explore the AOL chat rooms in hopes of some meeting new people and some meaningful conversation. That was me being extremely hopeful because a usual night on Friends section of the listing usually devolved into people constantly asking for you A/S/L(Age/Sex/Location) and bombarding your with random attempts at debauchery. But tonight, something felt different.
I hopped into the usual frequented rooms, greeting those that I knew and the others newcomers that stumbled into our realm of dirty jokes, random questions, and nonsensical talk. I had moved on from the usual rooms that were simply searching to hook up and cyber each other like mindless drones. Curiosity had lead me astray for awhile. Pretending to be older just to talk to people who were probably pretending to be older was getting pretty old. Here, in the user generated room called simply The Pub, we were a bit more sophisticated. This room was only did it half of the time.
There was a girl with the screen name Crowclaw Black who had been chatting with everyone since I arrived, spouting my nonsense about creating a pop-tart bazooka and firing my creation into people faces. She joined into horrible idea and we started creating an arsenal of weapons that involved breakfast food. The room was in tears, creating obscene scenarios where these weapons would serve their purpose of providing breakfast to hungry individuals while also sending them to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
CrowClaw instant messaged me shortly after that idea died down, asking the usual because I stop jumping into the rooms and leading with my A/S/L. It made me appear more mysterious. Because we were having so much fun, I didn’t even think about lying to her and told her the truth. She in turn told me hers and she was two years older than me. I thought that was pretty cool. I was interesting enough to have someone two years older me approach me? If she wasn’t lying and being a catfish.
She told me that she really had fun and even though she doesn’t really get a lot of time to spend on the internet, she was happy about our conversation and wanted to talk again sometime. Seeing no reason to say no, we added each other and continued to talk to earlier hours of the morning about any and everything that came to mind.
But just before we got off, she told me something that I couldn’t believe. She told me that she was institutionalized at a hospital for the mentally ill and that her time on the internet was timed and enforced. She didn’t know when she would be able to get online again but hoped that we would be able to talk to each other again sometime.
Pretty heavy, right?
Now knowing exactly what to even say, I informed her of my situation. I was currently living with my over-protective grandparents and wasn’t even suppose to be on the computer. At least not at three in the morning on a school night. I wouldn’t be able to sneak down two flights of screaming stairs every night, but I would at least try to do it every other night from that night moving forward. At least that way, she would know the days I was suppose to be on. With that agreement made, we said our goodbyes and disconnected.
Two nights later, we were together again and happily talking about life, dreams, our desires for the future, and what we thought life would be like we finally was able to do the things we wanted. Though we came from different backgrounds, our answers were very similar. Some of them. She told me that she grew fond of reading because it was the real thing she had outside of her time on the internet to picture the outside world and interact with it. With AOL, it was actual people. With books, it was through the characters and the worlds they were in.
I hated books. I hated reading. I hated everything about sitting down in one spot and reading words on the page. I had too much energy for that. I need to be active and moving. My brand needed to firing on all cylinders. Games were my choice when I wasn’t getting trouble at school and cartoons were my second if I couldn’t play games. But to be honest, I think she was the person to point in that direction of books and writing. She wasn’t able to play them. We both wanted to travel the world and see the different cultures, people, and cities. Get lost and interact with the locals, learn what it was like to live differently from us. Those conversations were the best when we had them.
But one day, she just disappeared.
Weeks had gone by without her hoping on and whenever I annoyed whoever was on the computer, they would inform me that she wasn’t available. I became so annoying that one of the nurses had to explain to me that what I was doing would hinder her chances of getting on. That hurt. I had grown so used to talking to her every other night that it felt kinda empty going back to AOL rooms without her to bounce off of. To crack jokes with. To have fun with.
Following the nurses advice, I only bugged them three times a week. Which was an improvement from my everyday approach. Eventually, I would get to talk to her again but the conversation was totally different from before. She told me how they were treating her. She spoke about how she was being abused and how some of the other staff was tormenting her. She explained that every time she tried to speak up about it, they would rob her of her privileges of using the computer, reading books, and activity time. How I played a part in her suffering because my foolish attempts to talk to her.
And my response was maelstrom of emotions that ranged from pure rage to utter hopelessness. Infuriated, I apologize for my actions and the damaged it may have cause her. Though she told me it was all right, I continued to type out why I felt bad because it was all I could feel at the time. I felt like shit. Selfishly thinking about myself while not ever once considering her. And that was with her nurse warning me about it. Then that pain ebbed into anger. I started to think about ideas to get her out. I started making plans to run away to come and get her.
And I was able to sell that dream to her. We started planning. She nearly three hundred miles away. Not only did I have to run away from home but I would also have to figure out a way to get there. Then hope that our plan to get her out worked. That was all we had. We would figure out the rest as we go. Our planning phase lasted for like two weeks with her only getting on twice during that period.
However, a week before we were to set our master plan into motion, it was called off. On January 16, 2004, my life would forever be changed.
And I think this is a good place to end this for now.
Do you have anyone that made an impression on you during the early days of AOL and other instant messaging platforms? I must be really showing my age here but who cares? I’m curious because I know I can’t be the only one… right? *Looks around for someone to raise their hand* Ironically, I just the rare opportunity to link up with all of my childhood friends from that era of my through Discord and it quite the experience to see how much we’ve grown.
If you did, I would love to hear about in the comments below. As always, thank you for stopping by and reading. You are awesome and I appreciate it!
Until the next post or Part 2 of this…