I used to blast Enya while floating on my back in our above-ground pool wondering if I was alive or just a construct. I was 9.
I would ask my mother HOW AM I EVEN ALIVE?!
She would talk about God and love and something about being a twinkle in my dad’s eye. So I’d bust into the bathroom, curl up on the vanity and stare into my own iris searching for the truth.
When someone this prematurely existential (aka fucking weird) hungers for love, she doesn’t think about it in the physical sense. At least not immediately.
I’d already invented my someday sweetie who I talked to routinely while sprawled on my parents’ checkered couch.
How’s your day, my person?
Is it nighttime where you live?
DON’T TELL ANYONE BUT ONE TIME I PAUSED SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 3 AND MADE OUT WITH MARIO.
I wasn’t delusional. I just felt if I put these conversations out into
the world, something real would come back to me. I guess I considered it
free air time in learning how to love and be loved.
Fast forward to the year 2000. We survived Y2K. My parents finally stopped buying dented canned goods and sprang for dial-up. I was drunk with power!!!!
CHATROOMS WERE EVERYTHING. I could be anyone, and someone always answered back!
I could duck into HOT LA TEENS as Glitter_Gurl or spend some time brushing up on my German as WunderFrau.
11 text boxes would blink back at me, fascinated about my 14-year-old life, most likely just looking for a tit pic, but I didn’t care! Come at me, freaks! I know things!
I wish I could remember how or when or what chatroom it happened in – but I got a message that shook my badly shaved knees.
Shimmering_Blonde: Hi! ASL?
Original_Doofus: 16/m/Darlington UK
Shimmering_Blonde: OMG YOU ARE FROM ENGLAND KEWLLLLLLLLL!
Voomph. I checked out of every conversation that was active and zeroed inon this dude. I loved that his screen name wasn’t hot_guy_69.
I’m sure I asked him all the terribly sheltered American things there are to ask like DO YOU HAVE SCHOOL THERE. But he soldiered through without complaint or judgment.
Let me tell you right now that yes, he was a real person who was 16 and not a creeper named Bruce.
Mark became my first real human obsession. Move over Jonathon Taylor Thomas. DEAL WITH IT RYAN PHILLIPE. I’m putting a cutout heart of this actual British dude on my wall!
If you’d all be so kind as to check underneath your seats, you’ll see the photo in question. The first photo ever received by original_doofus. It feels a little creepy sharing this shirtless photo of a then-minor with you all, but there you have it. Please recycle.
The first time Mark called me, I was so nervous that I answered the phone in the fetal position behind the sofa. I closed my eyes, said hello, heard his deep proper voice and just shouted OMG before hanging up. Nicholas Sparks would not be impressed.
This continues on for years. We web-cammed, emailed, MSN Messengered, sent each other letters. I’m not proud to admit THERE WAS an eventual boob pic, but I was older and artfully added a blue filter so basically Avatar was my idea.
I never really thought about meeting Mark – that seemed like such an impossible intersection of worlds. He was this perfect assortment of good hair and charm that was over there, and I was this strange, loud American all the way over here. I assumed we’d just stay in touch and I’d always think of him when Colin Firth graced my screen.
Boyfriends happened. College happened. My first career job happened.
An important breakup happened. I sent an email to Mark the next day.
Subject: I am single.
Message: How are you? It’s been a minute. Are you ever going to come and meet me? I broke up with my boyfriend.
Alas, tickets were booked and hearts leapt into throats and we both knew we’d breathe the same air at Chicago O’Hare in May 2009.
Fuck that was a life moment. Engulfed by every scene from the opening and closing of Love Actually, a Brit far more drool-worthy than Hugh Grant strides toward me in European denim. I turned into dust. I was trying so hard to be chic on the outside but inside I was the guy from Indiana Jones whose face melted off when he drank from the wrong Jesus cup.
It wouldn’t be okay and calm until we kissed and boom-towned (feel free to use that verb) and that was very much true. And then it was just like, k, when do we get married?
All of the parents in this room must be equal parts moved and terrified. But I was very smart about all of this. My mom even gave me a safe word the first time I visited Mark in case I was sold into trafficking and need to call home to wire money.
We married after meeting exactly twice in real life, after 10 years of correspondence online. Next June we’ll have been married 10 years. We have 10 children – kidding. That was just a lot of ten references.
If I could go back to my weird-ass child self, I would tell her that hunger pains are meant to be shared.
And that they turn into smoke signals when we say them aloud.
Say them aloud.