Saturday, July 17, 2004
Internet friends
My family first signed up for the internet when I was 12 years old. It was called "Prodigy" and it took about 8 minutes to dial up into it from the DOS prompt screen. The background was entirely black and the text was red and green. It was a world of difference from the internet of today. It had daily news and entertainment news that was updated every 5 hours, and it had bulletin boards where you could leave messages for other people. No images, no Instant messaging or chat rooms. It cost about 12 dollars a month.

There were different bulletin board clubs you could join and since I was 12, I was restricted to the teen areas. I had to create a screen name, I chose "Leaf Girl". I posted a note, with a description of myself and a pen pal request. I remember, I was so excited, when I checked back on it the next day and saw a handful of responses.

One of them was a 13 year old "skaterboy" under the name "King Space Monkey". We instantly clicked, we started writing E-mails back and forth once a day. I remember the anticipation for his notes. I had to babysit alot and my parents were strict, so basically the internet was a big source of entertainment for me. We logged on nearly every day for about a year until my parents cancelled prodigy due to it's increased cost. . He was a true friend.

So "King Space Monkey" if you're out there, give me a call. This is your old pal "LeafGirl", I'd love to know where your life took you.

But there also is a dark side to the internet, which caused me to stop writing to anyone new online for over 9 years. I've only told a few other people in my life about this, so it's really not the easiest thing to bring up.

When I was 15, My parents signed up for AOL and I was pretty excited about it. It was so different from prodigy and had actual Chat rooms, with real time discussions. (that blew me away) I went into one of them, and met someone..whom, I'll just call "Jake".

Jake seemed like a great guy, sensitive, sweet and understanding. He was 4 years older than me and lived in Rhode Island. After about 2 months of writing E-mails back and forth. He asked me to send him a photograph, which I did, on an envelope with my return address.

When he received the picture, he called me on the phone. Which surprised me. I never gave him my home number. I didn't know what to say to him. He told me that he was in love with me. I was quiet and just responded "oh..wow..um..". I felt uncomfortable, it was all moving too fast. I was too young to really understand what I was getting into.. We wrote back and forth through snail mail for a month, and things seemed to cool down. I was relieved.

At the end of that month, I was home alone, babysitting my brother and sister and sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework when the door bell rang. My brother and sister were splashing around in the swimming pool. I went to the front door.

When I opened the door, There was a guy standing on the stoop. I squinted at the stranger in confusion, He smiled and said "Hi, It's Jake"

I panicked and slammed the door in his face. I leaned against the front door, my heart pounding so hard and I felt like I was going to hyperventilate. I whispered "no..no..no". He hadn't even called to warn me that he was coming or ask if it was okay. This was too close for comfort and I was only 15, I only had kissed one other boy in my life. He was older than me, I was terrified. Suddenly I felt the door knob twist..

I ran away from the door and hid in the hallway. Jake actually entered the house! "Clarity?! hellooo". He called out. I could still hear my brother and sister playing outside in the backyard from the open window. Jake started walking around the house searching for me. I was so seriously freaked out at that moment. When I saw his approaching shadow on the hallway wall, I nearly had a heart attack.

He came around the bend, and when he saw me he smiled "What the hell was that all about?", He asked calmly. He grabbed me and pulled me against him, hugging me. I reluctantly hugged him back, still feeling uneasy.

I tried to laugh nervously "I was just surprised to see you.."

"I wanted to surprise you", he responded

"Well..it worked"

He sat in the kitchen, and I paced nervously. I wasn't even old enough to date yet. (according to my parents) or go out with anyone without my parents meeting them first. I knew they would freak out if they saw him in the house! I was trembling. I tried to explain the situation, but I could see after driving all those miles, he wasn't going anywhere. So I told him to wait in his car at the end of the street, and I would figure something out and meet him in 15 minutes.

I grabbed my brother and sister and brought them to my friend's house down the street. "hey, you want to go play with sarah's little brother?". I asked her if she could babysit them for a while, until my parents returned from work and then tell them that I had to go help out a friend..for an emergency or something.

She gave me a worried look "what are you up to, Clarity? Who's that man waiting for you in that car?"

I didn't tell her, I just thanked her for helping me out and left.

So Jake and I went to the movies and than went bowling. It was fun, But the way he kept staring at me made me uneasy. It was my first "date" outside of school and I was nervous. I told him I had to get home, and instead he asked if there was a place we could "park". I told him about the duck pond near our house.

We sat in the car, listening to music and he kept gazing at me. He started stroking my shoulder and I nervously stared ahead. He leaned in to kiss me, and I kissed him back for a few minutes than pulled away. I was looking for a way to escape, so I got out the car but there was nowhere to go. .."I feel like going in the pond", I lied.

I pulled off my socks, which he eagerly took from me and put in his glove compartment. Than I went into the water up to my knees, splashing around. He watched me, sitting on the hood of his car. I remember not wanting to leave the water and feeling this knot of fear in my stomach.

Finally he took me home, parking the car outside my street. He got out and opened my door for me. Than hugged me, tightly and his hands roamed in some areas that I wasn't used to having someone touch. He whispered "I love you.....". I pulled away from him and than ran to my house.

I was punished, and questioned by my parents. I didn't care. I lay in bed that night, trying to make sense of what occured..For a few days I thought maybe I SHOULD love him and maybe I needed to give him a chance. But when I talked to my bestfriend about it she freaked out. "break it off NOW" ,she told me.

So I wrote him a letter telling him that things moved too fast, I wanted to return to being friends and just writing letters like we used to.

3 days later Jake showed up at my front door holding the letter in his hand. "What is this all about? Can you explain this to me?". he sounded angry and hurt.

Somehow he convinced me into sneaking out of the house again and seeing him. It was uncomfortable and he kept pressuring me for sex. He kept pushing things to the limit, until I nearly cried. He made me feel as though I had led him on and I was the bad person. He acted so vulnerable.

The worst part was, that I was hiding this whole thing from everyone. the only person who knew was my bestfriend and The next day I was afraid to tell her that I had seen him again because I knew she would be angry at me. He would call all the time, he kept just "showing up" at strange hours. One time at 2AM knocking on the bedroom window. I felt trapped.

One time he came while my family was having dinner. My dad sent him away. He came back to the table "Who is this Jake guy?". Everyone looked at me. I just shrugged nervously.

"someone from school..I guess"

I stopped taking his phone calls and wrote him a letter that it was over. He came to my school in September and was waiting for me at the bus lot. He gave me a tape with the police song "Every breath you take". He dedicated it to me. I loved the police and he knew it, but now I can't hear that song without feeling creeped out.

He wrote me all these letters "why are you doing this to me?", I apologized over and over in long letters back, I just told him that I wasn't ready for a relationship like this.

Eventually his letters came less and less frequently, and his final letter was sent to me while I was in college. It was short and the final line was "..I still have your socks"

That gave me chills..

After that experience, I stopped joining bulletin boards, stayed out of all chat rooms and only wrote E-mails to my friends from school. The internet was just for information purposes and had lost it's "magical appeal".

So, can you make friends over the internet? Yes. Is it different? Yes. I think in many ways it's more open. the essential part of making friendships work is honesty and respect. the anonymity on the internet ,which has it's good and bad sides, makes it easier for many people to talk about things which our culture sometimes doesn't allow to be discussed. How often do you hear the sentence "too much information" when you're just trying to communicate something that's a bit more personal. On the internet however you can share the most intimate thoughts. As long as honesty and respect is present, a lasting, meaningful and strong friendship can come from the internet.

You just have to use common sense and caution.

Looking back I cringe at how naive, trusting and foolish I was as a young teenager. Today I realized that this story could have ended up with a search party going through the forest on Channel 5, My face on milk cartons with age progression. I wouldn't be around to tell this story.

You've heard about others that weren't so lucky and made the same mistake I did.
 
posted by Clarity25 at 8:48 AM | 9 comments
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