I miss AOL.
I know I don’t miss all of it and I am glad for all that has come since those days, but back in the AOL days there was something I miss today. It was still around in the AIM days, but now it is gone. Perhaps it exists in some scary dark corner of the internet, but I used to find random girls on the internet to talk to. There are 3 that I remember so amazingly well,
There is one that I would chat with online for hours at a time 3-4 nights a week. I was 14 or so, and had a 33.6k modem connection to AOL. I remember her full name and that there was small “guest house” at the end of her driveway. We flirted and talked passionately about so many random things over the years. I don’t remember why we stopped talking, but she was a sweetheart. I sent her a silver locket for her birthday one year. I never met her.
There was bathtub girl. I was probably 17 or so when I started talking to her. She was 12 or 13. We had some of the most inane and insane conversations imaginable. There was never any flirting and I never knew what she looked like. She was so much fun to talk to because we would get into conversations like surviving cyclones by getting into a bathtub and covering yourself with a mattress. To this day, I think of this little girl whenever I have a grilled cheese sandwich and/or lemonade. Years later, I stumbled across her online and she sent me some pictures(nothing dirty), but if those were really pictures of her, she was a stunner. However, she always was and always will be “bathtub girl” to me and I will picture her hiding under a mattress in a bathtub with a flashlight, a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of pink lemonade.
Last but not least is Sarah. I won’t change her name because good luck finding her online with just that first name. I had been talking to Sarah on and off for at least 5 years by 09/11. When 09/11 happened, I was a mess. I didn’t feel like a mess, but I was. The day it happened I was at college and ran into this girl I had met 3 days earlier, a cute little greek freshman, with all the wild greek hair that was mysteriously blond. It was about 1 PM and I ran into her at the Student Union. She complained to me about parts of campus being closed down for a bomb threat and how inconvenient it was. I told her it wasn’t important and that no one was going to blow up a college 70 miles from Manhattan after this morning. She had no idea. She wouldn’t believe me when I told her. Then she ran off to call her father who worked in downtown Manhattan.
As she ran off, I ran into another girl. She was a little high strung, but she was doing a great job of supporting people. She wasn’t a local, so she wasn’t as immediately absorbed as everyone else was. I have a gift of detaching and executing in crises, so we were both functioning as counselors for friends. After talking to her for a while, it felt like I could put down the baggage for a moment and that’s when it really hit me.
After a few days of shock, I reached out to Sarah. She was originally from upstate NY, but was in Boston for school. She told me to come out. I listened. I had researched train times and set aside everything to coordinate the trip when it dawned on me that I had known this girl for 5 years and was going to go sleep in her dorm room(at an all girls school, no less), and I had never even seen a picture of her. Shortly after that, I realized I had never heard her voice or spoken to her on a phone. Oh well. If the serial killer had spent 5 years getting to know me I guess he’s earned it.
When the train from Long Island got to Penn Station, I stepped off and walked to the Amtrak terminal and bought my ticket. Then I walked to the stairwell with my bag in hand. I looked up the stairs. The sky was a color that I’ve only ever seen near the pit of a peach. I walked, step by step, halfway up the stairs. I chickened out. I didn’t know if I could survive the silence upstairs. I don’t know if I could have gotten closer to that sky. I chickened out halfway up the stairs. Until 09/15, when I walked in Manhattan, I’d always felt that if the sky should fall the buildings would catch it and save me. 09/11 did not take it from me, 09/15 did.
I got to Boston and met this girl at the train station. She was not what I had expected on the outside, but I knew her the moment I saw her and we talked and hung out like old friends. It was amazing. It was what I needed. I don’t know if I’ve ever given her thanks enough. She was one of those awesome people, but I knew that, years before I heard her voice or saw her.
Her school was actually in a dry town outside of Boston, but we did see a little bit of Boston. I wasn’t much of a drinker, so the dry town aspect was just a minor inconvenience. I remember thinking that the atmosphere was very blech. I remember it was pretty deserted and the quality of the Thai food was only so-so. I can also tell you that Boston left a bad taste in my mouth. After that weekend I didn’t want to go back there ever again. I can’t think of Boston without seeing that sky and feeling the silence crushing me, ever so slightly.
I’ve been to Boston since then and the second trip was outright amazing. However, the stigma remains. Writing this though, I realize that I should get over Boston. This is not the story of my trip to Boston. This is the story of seeing someone you’ve known so well and have known for years, yet have never met. This is the story of a friendship that was strong enough and a woman awesome enough to offer me a reprieve from a life that I needed to step out of for a moment. This is a story of friendship and hopefully I will learn to think of Boston as the City of Strangerly Love.
Dear Boston, I am sorry for holding a grudge and for the bad rap I have given you. Thank you for being there when I needed a friend.