In 2002, I published a story online at a rather popular website. That same day, at around 3:30 p.m., I received an email from who would become my first girlfriend. I can still see the subject heading, bolded with mystery: hi. “Who are you?” the email read, which began a six month correspondence, until I moved in with her. First it was emails, then gradually, with worn out fingers and softened hearts, phone calls. This was before texting. The first time I called her at 7:02 p.m., two minutes late from our agreed upon time, she said with a tiny voice that she had been staring at her phone waiting for its light to shine. I was that light.
This was also before wi-fi, when having internet at your home was sort of a “big deal,” like only .com-ers or very well adjusted yuppies had it, and so I — unemployed at the time, with grave and unsound artistic ventures — went to the public library two or three times a day eagerly and obsessively checking my hotmail for the latest installment of our wordy courtship. Seeing her name, swollen, bold with hope; clicking on it, holding my breath at her words, until rested assured that things were fine. Very lonely people tend to find each other, like a split atom trying to be whole again. Yes, it was sad, but wonderful.
She kept our entire correspondence in a folder and printed it out for me upon my arrival. It was the size of a novel manuscript, a complete ream of paper. Backwards meta, we read it together in bed. I’ll fast forward here and simply say that “life” happened. Or, insert the scatological expletive. We lived together for a year, she broke up with me, I moved out. Simple stuff here. Turns out we just liked each other. If you had asked me to recount what happened back then, I would have typed you another novel, but today, ten years later, I can only spare you these little sentences. Feelings die, and when they come back to life, they are less angry and more tired.
We broke up during Friendster, as I remember obsessively checking her friends’ comments in order to gather details of her life to fully torture myself with. Her friends, it seemed, corroborated scripted comments directed at me. We somewhat made up on Myspace, an exchange of two or three quick cordial messages noting how we were. Too much time has passed for me to friend her on Facebook, though I occasionally find her profile, just to keep up with how she looks, where she lives, etc. Her face is the same one I looked into at the airport — the magazine not-being-read in her lap, the getting up and walking towards me, the soft smile before the hug, the hug before the kiss, the kiss before the breath from which it came was done.
In 2012, today, I publish a piece of non-fiction at a rather popular website. At around 3:30 p.m., I may receive a “like” from someone, her disqus avatar a tiny portrait floating as a raft on the sea of this white background, above the flotsam and jetsam of comments. I will click the link to her twitter, or tumblr, or whatever, to glean her impossible somethingness — that imposition of one’s nothingness — taking into morose consideration how this picture is likely self-curated, the best out of a set of half-a-dozen pictures taken that night, for the very purpose of extending her tiny effigy into this world, in her room, her macbook’s tiny cam the unblinking cyclops she is currently in a relationship with.
Ongoing romantic failures with those whom I’ve met online by way of my writing will flash quickly through my head, like some manic multi-frame animated .gif repeating in an ennui loop. A young woman recently said that I’m not the writer I am online: less confident, less humorous, less sexual, less thoughtful, less glib, more just me. My heart and erection sank. Perhaps every word ever writ is fiction. Or, truth is oddly difficult to mime.
Things were different back then, I was less broken, and so was the internet. It was just a baby; now it’s an angry teen. Tonight I’ll go back to all my likes, like a sick dating site only I’m taking part in. It’s easy to obsess about strangers. You just pour nothingness outward, as if, through some accident in the universe, that very act could somehow fill you. I will look for warm clues scattered behind her — the blurry spines of books I sort of recognize; the posters of vaguely alternative bands everyone knows too well; the clothes hanging in her closet I can almost touch and smell; the plant she nurtures in place of me, its soil darkening with care — as if the mystery of why she liked this, why she liked me, could ever be solved.