Before there was Twitter and Tumblr and Flickr and Facebook, before the web could even been used in a graphical user interface, there was irc, Internet Relay Chat. Now it depends on how low you have been using the web and how old you are, you may have even used irc, a UNIX based chat client. It was all forward slashes and dir and rm and texty goodness. It was on this nerd saturated platform that I met my first love, John. We spoke for almost two years before we met in 1995. I will let that sink in. We were both channel operators on The Undernet on a channel called #chatzone. It sounds nerdy, but I was in it for the social media-ness of it all before there was social media. I was working at the university, making web pages in hand coded html, using tables and columns, advising young computing science students, ahhhh those were the days. (I married one of the young Grad students eventually)
You see I had a teeny tiny pick-up-and-through Mac SE I bought in 1987 and used for my internet shell account provided by the university and a 14.4 baud modem ( I did eventually get a better MAC). I had graduated with my BA in Communications in 1992 and fiddled around with service jobs and a couple of contract research jobs and then I started at the University in 1995. We didn’t have a romantic relationship at first. I was having a very torrid chat affair with a man from Kentucky who turned out to be married. Who turned out to hold a gun to his head now and again and who was arrested just before he was about to visit me. I found out from his wife who he was more or less keeping hostage. She was afraid for my safety for he finally had a plane ticket to come and visit me. Short version of THAT! After talking to John for about 2 years, we finally met. He came to visit me in the great white north from Alabama. Literally a world away.
Anyhow John. Funny as hell, smart, charming, and “back in the day” I didn’t even know what he looked like until we had been chatting for almost two years. We exchanged photos the old fashioned way, we used a film camera, had the photos developed and MAILED THEM to each other. We used stamps and shit. We chatted on irc, email, on the phone. At one point I sold my bike to pay for my phone bill. Long distance also used to be way expensive, especially internationally. Oh ho ho ho, how you kids must be laughing at us. Anyone who has had friends made online knows that it can be a very intimate experience and you can get to know someone quite well despite the lack of physical presence.
Finally John was able to visit. Neither of us were particularly financially flush, but he came here for 10 days and it was one of the most wonderful times of my life. For you see, by 1995, I had never been in love. I was 25 years old, but never loved a boy. We met in person, we hugged! We got along! We played Trivial Pursuit (I could rarely find a suitable adversary), he won most, but not every game. We drove to the rocky mountains, we saw bears, we hiked, he mocked me for not being able to canoe, we had sex. I had never had sex with someone sober. I was always drunk. I don’t mean to make it sound like I had a huge double digit list of lovers, there weren’t that many, but all were one night stands previous to this experience and I was super nervous. He liked me and HE wasn’t drunk. I liked him and I WASN’T drunk. We had a great time, never at a loss for things to talk about, joke about, we watched The British Open (it was on tv?), we had a loving time. John was a tall guy and once put me over his shoulder and it was the coolest thing, I felt like a cave woman. My car broke down somewhere between the rocky mountains and the city. My dad had to come and get us. It was embarrassing, but my dad was cool and didn’t ask too many questions. We made it back to my apartment and finished out our visit.
Eventually, it was time for John to go and although the romance and story of the first love of my life doesn’t end here, it ended there. We loved each other, but he lived THERE and I lived HERE and I guess the universe (and our our decisions), made it impossible for it to be THE only and final love of my life. It was difficult, I was lonely, I thought I would be alone the rest of my life, yes I was 25, but I didn’t think anyone would ever get to know me the way John did, see me the way he did, love me. But the relationship, for it was one, was one of the most important of my life. It proved I could love and be loved. Just as I was.
Not the best photographs, but I believe we were using disposable cameras. Yes, John is a hockey fan, no, not my team.
Updated about Kentucky guy with gun:
There really wasn’t much more to it other than me being stupid and desperate and him (the Kentucky gun lover) saying all the right things and me totally ignoring the warning signs. Other people knew about him and he was apparently manipulating other girls/woman and one did tell me to “step off” (it was the 90s). It was hard to get information about his criminal activity during or after our “affair” due to him being so far away and I didn’t know who to trust. We did talk on the phone a lot and email for quite a while before he was arrested. It was very painful and I felt very stupid to realize I had been conned/duped. It was one of those things that brought John and I closer, he understood how you could get so seemingly intimate with someone on irc, though email, on the phone and have them turn out to be a completely different person. In my case, he turned out to be a psychopath with a history of such behaviour.
Also, I have recently been in touch with John, which is pretty much what prompted this post.