I got back from the dining hall a little after 6:00 and went straight to my room. I had math homework that was due tomorrow. Math was easy for me, so I cranked it out in about half an hour. I turned on the computer and logged into the school network. As the computer connected, making a long series of dings and buzzes and whistles, I turned on the radio. I flipped to the classic rock station; Pink Floyd was on. I had gotten into Pink Floyd senior year of high school; they had a new album out for the first time in seven years, so they were getting a lot of media attention. And they spent much of 1994 touring, for what would be their final tour together as a band. But I’m getting distracted. I’ll tell more about my Pink Floyd phase later. It came right after my Queen phase and right before my… well, my next phase in music is also a story worth telling later. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I got a new computer as a high school graduation present. Having Internet access and service wasn’t a given when you bought a new computer in 1994, like it is now. There was no wi-fi, no cable Internet, nothing like that. You had to connect your computer to a telephone line. And you had to have some kind of service to get connected to other computers. I subscribed to a prepackaged service called America Online, along with millions of other people. It had chat rooms, email, information services, and fora (most people would say “forums,” but I’ve always been the type to use Latin and Greek irregular plurals for effect) that were part of the service, and a feature had recently been added allowing users to connect to email and fora that were not part of their service. Back in 1994, it was used by a lot of people as a gateway to the Internet and online communication because it was easier to use than most of the alternatives. Of course, this furthered its bad reputation among real techies, as AOL users were often unfamiliar with the etiquette of the Internet outside of AOL’s in-house features.
I spent much of my time online in chat rooms. Random strangers said whatever they wanted, and in between all the posturing, bullying, and pointless swear words, sometimes a useful conversation would arise. I had a few friends I made in chat rooms whom I still sent emails to. Like this high school girl from Texas named Brittany whom I met when I was still using AOL. But I’m getting distracted again. Brittany is another story for another time.
I ended up canceling my AOL subscription before the end of my first quarter at UJ, since everything I used it for I could now do on the UJ school network. I discovered Internet Relay Chat early in my first year, and I wasted, I mean spent, a lot of time on it over the next few years. The Pink Floyd Usenet group also took up a lot of my time that first year, and there was some interesting stuff going on there… again, another story for another time. Sorry for all the distractions.
I connected to Internet Relay Chat and watched the chat scroll by. A few people said hi to me, and I said hi back. Someone named Cutie asked how I was doing, and I said I was doing well. For me, much of the appeal of chat rooms was talking to girls, since I wasn’t very good at that in real life, and when I did, things often went horribly wrong.
I sent Cutie a private message. People who call themselves Cutie are usually female. She asked if I was a guy or a girl. I told her I was a guy, and she said she was a girl. She asked where I was from. She asked what I looked like. She said I sounded very attractive. That was flattering. She did too.
Next, she told me she was lying in bed in her underwear, and asked what I was wearing. She also said she had big boobs. This was unexpected, but exciting in a way. I could feel myself becoming aroused. And this led to my first sexually explicit online conversation. Back then it was sometimes called “cybersex,” functionally equivalent to what the next generation referred to as “sexting.” I’m not going to give you a transcript of the conversation. This story is going to stay PG-rated.
At some point, I asked Cutie what she did, if she worked or was in school or what. She said she went to Harvard. “Wow,” I typed. She replied, “Scholar by day, naughty girl by night.” I emailed Cutie once a few days later. She wrote back once, it was one sentence, and I never heard from her again. Given what I know now, looking back as an adult, I’m pretty sure she just made that up. She wasn’t really a student at Harvard, and she might not have even been a girl. People lie about who they are on the Internet all the time.
I kept thinking about what happened for the rest of the night. It felt good. This was a new way to masturbate that felt more real than fantasizing about girls who barely knew I existed, or looking at the bikini contest pictures in the car magazines that my dad liked to read. But I also felt dirty. I grew up in a very sexually repressed environment, partially because of my Catholic upbringing from my mom’s side of the family, and partially because sex was just never talked about in my family. No one ever gave me The Talk; I just kind of learned it on my own with my hunches confirmed in science and health classes in school.
I felt like I needed a shower after this. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, hoping no one would see me, as if I was taking some sort of Walk of Shame. And no one did see me until I walked into the bathroom. Ian was washing his hands, and he said hi, and I said hi back. That was all.
As I’m writing this now, I debated for a long time whether or not to mention this at all. It’s still not something I talk about much. But even so, I’m here to tell my story, and this is definitely an important part of my story, of understanding who I am.