Another unedited excerpt from Wrecking Ball
The Slow Parade of Fears
I get the internet relationships confused now. There were several, in an uninterrupted stream, one after another. For a while, I e-mailed regularly with a woman my age from New Zealand. She lived in an isolated part of the country, if not the world, a small town on the South Island. She also enjoyed frequent male company, even at a severe distance. I was her favorite among all the others, or so I was told. The confidence boost was most appreciated.
Those of us in internet relationships, be they platonic, romantic, or (what was normally the case) some combination thereof, constantly drew a divide between IRL (in real life) and online. This regular redrawing of boundaries was partially a way for us to not feel the ache of separation, the knowledge that we were miles and miles apart. The frustration would build up to toxic levels otherwise. When the longing and pain of separation became too much, one could always tell oneself that this was all a deliberate fiction.
And we did. The problem is that the line we skirted round and round was by its nature somewhere between fact and fiction. In real life, I was a self-doubting failure at love. Or, at least, that is how I perceived of myself at that time. Online, however, I was in demand. This is why I always returned to the instant attention I could find easily.
Though developing a relationship with someone nearby was always preferred, I took what I could get. My online world was in effect a set of training wheels for later. When I could have fallen farther and farther behind in an understanding of the unwritten rules of dating and human interaction, I learned substantial lessons, albeit in an unconventional, unprecedented fashion.
And in the meantime, I was forming my own identity in difficult circumstances. I sought to maintain a kind of private life away from my parents. This was quite difficult due to the nature of my illnesses. My father was actively involved in every aspect of my care, pulling double duty as nurse and psychotherapist. Maintaining secrets, in his mind, could be eventually lethal. In this situation, what I was attempting to keep to myself was harmless, not a plan to hurt myself.
Dad still kept close tabs on me. Psychologically very much touch-and-go, I hid what I could manage and came clean with the rest. There were momentary periods of health interspersed between the suicidal thoughts. It’s easy to forget the breaks that separated the two, because they were always overshadowed by the drama of another severe episode to follow.
Even so, I was a teenager, and not especially different from any other. Nor was she. The New Zealander annoyed my parents when she called at 2 am, apparently unaware of the substantial time difference. Though the expense was extreme, I sometimes called her myself. The frequency of these telephone communiques created expense for the family and a series of long-running arguments between myself and my father. I promised to stop many times, though I had no intention to do so. I was addicted to feeling wanted, desired, and needed.
It was a compulsion on my part. I felt empowered and good about myself, for once. Tomorrow I might be too depressed to even dress myself. I might as well take what I could get when I could appreciate it. My father, naturally, didn’t see it that way at the time.
My Kiwi friend courted many guys about her age online, but I was again always her favorite. We exchanged periodic letters through the mails in addition to daily online correspondence. I believe we met through a website where one could put a listing out for e-mail pen pals. I recall that her ad asked specifically for men to write to her. In time, we’d share pictures of ourselves and a few samples of the money in our respective countries. She marveled over American coins and bills, and I felt the same regarding New Zealand currency.
Eventually, I knew she was bound to see me in a depressed state. The thought frightened me, especially because I knew it was likely, and that there was little to nothing I could do to hide it from her. The worst case scenario happened a few months after we met. Under the sway of depression, I wrote her a bleak e-mail full of fears. A week later (it took a while for letters to make the long journey), she expressed considerable concern for me, even printing out the entire letter to make pertinent comments every few sentences.
“What happened to that happy guy I always talk to?” She wrote that in large letters at the very bottom of the second printed page. It only made me feel worse. I’ve always been a moody person. At that time, I swung back and forth between pain and the more tolerable times with much frequency. Though not intellectually voracious as I was, she had an excellent, instinctive grasp of psychology and the motives of others. Out of her interest and desire for me, I think, she recognized such things about me with time.
Sometimes I’d self-sabotage. Feeling myself to be not worth anyone’s attention, I’d try to scare someone away. One letter listed the sum total of my personal flaws, one right after the other, reasons I just wasn't worth it.
She knew me well. She was not fooled. “Your letter didn’t work, my love.”
Even now, I’m terrified of being abandoned. I’ve been overly nice and accommodating many times, clinging to others so that they won’t go away and never come back. Paradoxically, I’ve also devalued myself, seeking to push people away so I won’t have the opportunity to disappoint them later. My Kiwi friend saw both sides and still, amazingly, loved me in spite of them.
She became a close confidante. I confessed everything to her, including my attraction to men. Our letters were copious and frequent. My only regret is that I should have used greater discretion; I left the letters on my desk after I read them. This way they were open for anyone to see. My youngest sister discovered my bisexuality that way, though I’m not sure why she had been in my bedroom. At least she kept that knowledge a secret for now.
The last time I spoke to my online friend, she’d moved to the United States to be an au pair. I noticed a distinct change in her personality and even the way she talked. Before, she’d been so shy she could sometimes barely raise her voice above the sound of a whisper. Her accent had also rounded out and sounded more American. She’d been forced to cast aside her natural shyness and reserve, though she mostly sounded tired. Whomever she was working for kept her constantly busy.
That was the last time we spoke. Wherever she is, I miss her. I’m extremely thankful that she cared for me the way she did. As I’ve been contemplating this particularly scattered, confusing part of my life, I’ve recognized that lots of people kept me alive. She was one of them. If I didn’t have the resources the internet provided, I might well not be here today.