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How I lived for those words, the tiny mailbox icon waiting to be checked. Inside, messages arrived for Veronica, Helena, Sabrina — and then there was me.
More often than not, I had an from somebody; with a little luck, I had an from Tony. Logging on to AOL was the first thing I did when I got home from school, blasting Bikini Kill while debating the greatness of obscure indie bands across a maze of message boards and chatrooms.
AOL brought everyone online, together, for the first time, and I befriended people across the country who liked the same things I did. Armed with a keyboard and an Ethernet cable, my friend Marie and I had quickly begun testing the limits of what we could accomplish online. And for two bored girls living in North Carolina, AOL was a crack in the biosphere of our hometown, a window to another world, and we made a run for it. Was it a group shot with co-workers, a snapshot beside the Golden Gate Bridge?
I think he lived in San Francisco, or maybe Los Angeles. She thought it was cool that I was so young and into fun music and mailed the mixtape, and more mixtapes, stickers, and buttons. Soon we were chatting regularly, even though Elena was in her mids. She worked an admin job in Oakland and her boyfriend was planning on proposing. I was the girl with pink hair who lived with her dad and wrote abortion poems in creative writing class.
I was restless, itching to start living. Hordes of musicians and industry people frequented those AOL message boards, which made it easy for Marie and I to contact them. Because they needed constant ego-stroking, musicians made easy targets. I never felt guilty. At one point, I was chatting with a singer in Canada who wanted me to him in his hotel on the Chapel Hill stop of his upcoming tour.
We got so deep into catfishing another singer that he once showed up at the UC Berkeley dorm room where we claimed to live. Tony arrived some six months after my heart had been wrecked by Jeff, the first boy to show me his penis, in a Buick behind the church on Friendly Avenue, the first boy I claimed to love.
We called ourselves Peter. We were terrible. School was spiritless and bland, but talking to Tony was fun, and I often skipped class just to chat with him. I ed him copies of my poems and expressed writing aspirations. I detailed my weekends with friends, cruising town, a bottle of Two Fingers tequila passed between us. Languishing inside their apartments, we watched them play video games from a nearby sofa while we chain-smoked and awaited our turn with the blunt. I loathed those men and those nights — the epitome of feeling stuck.
I preferred attending shows in Chapel Hill with Marie.
I told no one about Tony. Not even Marie.
With their monster trucks and unearned pompousness, no hometown boy stood a chance of enticing us. At night, undercover, I was having cybersex with musicians a coast away. Marie never went this far, it was only me, and I was still. Yet for all our online meddling, we were naive when it came to being preyed upon. We started corresponding with an aging record label exec with a mansion in Southern California who proposed an internship for Marie and me — only if we were OK with sleeping in the basement and without a peep to his wife.
I actually broached the idea with my father, who looked at me sideways. Then one day he offered to mail us disposable cameras so we could snap pictures in our underwear. I was a pal.
We discussed music and movies. He made recommendations; I sought them out from the video and record stores immediately. And still a fuse had been lit; our exchanges were laced with a humming electricity. We had the fluid, easy banter of old friends with nicknames and time-worn jokes, not the stilted conversation between a different teenage girl and grown man.
Once, he told me that he and Elena had discussed a visit to California.
The idea of a visit excited me some days; others, I felt nauseous. In the meantime, Peter was flailing. Tony had an on-again, off-again girlfriend named Alyssa. A few times I let my favorite in my coterie of musicians call me, always in the middle of the night, always while he was drunk.
He was the only one I ever met, on the North Carolina stop of his tour. I flagged down the bartender. After all, what would a year-old be doing out on a school night? If I looked likehe never mentioned it. Before taking the stage, he ran his hands through my hair.
A rut. Things with Alyssa were off-again. This was his chance to start over. In Europe! I was stunned. It was inexplicable that I already missed him, but I did. I waited days for the phone to ring. I told myself he was taking his time, settling in. He said it was how he felt about me:. I dropped a penny and you picked it up you want to be something when you grow up you make me laugh and you don't even try you say that sometimes you just like to cry I'm in love with that I'm in love with you. I wondered sometimes. About Elena, too. Maybe I was catfishing while being catfished also.
The probability was high — Marie and I were clever but our techniques were far from sophisticated. Tony never phoned from Amsterdam, and I never talked to him again. At least I knew someone was on the other end, even if I never quite knew who. I sometimes wonder if these men secretly knew that we were teenagers hiding behind facades, merely phantoms in pajamas, snickering wickedly. In those days the Internet was the Wild Wild West.
Marie was a senior applying to colleges. I was still bored, but having a was by far the most fulfilling of adolescent victories. At the Toyota lot with my father, I chose a used Corolla, and later strung furry pink dice on the mirror. So much about being young was biding time, uncovering the escape routes, crawling on hands and knees toward any sliver of light. Because of that, I never took driving — nor the power and independence it offered — for granted. Visit her online at www. Sticky Header Night Mode.
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My "Ghost World" years: Confessions of a teenage AOL catfisher