The sound of my fingers flying across the keyboard of my laptop. Too many times, Paula hadn't been out of the house more than five minutes before I had hooked the computer up, plugged it into the phone jack, hooked up the box that would alert me to any incoming calls and settled onto the bed for a full night spent in the chat rooms. And I mean FULL night. On many occasions, it would be 5:00 AM by the time I closed the computer so I could get an hour of sleep before I head back to work.
As I reflect back on those days, I can still remember the pull toward that place...a place that ended up being darker than the blackness of a deep cave. It was like I could hear the voices calling me.
"Josh...come chat with me."
"Danny, where are you? I thought you'd be online tonight."
"Dammit Conner...come on. Get your butt online so we can talk."
I had so many names, I couldn't keep them all straight. So many friends, I would get confused about who I was chatting with and say something that simply didn't make sense. So many lies!!! At times, I wish I could tell everyone of the people that I chatted with what a fake I was. How sorry I am if I hurt them in any way. How dangerous it is to pretend to be someone you're not. How probable it is that if you get too close to the edge of the abyss, you will fall in.
That's what I did...I fell in. And like a blind man walking along a narrow path, I never saw what was coming. In fact, I was so confident in myself and how well I was hiding what I was doing from everyone who cared about me, it never occurred to me that the FBI might be the one that caught me. In my blindness, I never thought that was even a remote possibility.
But I'm slowly discovering why I was so blind. I was in need of a relationship that I couldn't find any where else. They say that if you isolate a person (such as solitary confinement), he will eventually go insane. And if possible, he will do anything to find a relationship, even create an imaginary one.
In the year 2000, Tom Hanks made a movie called "Castaway",that was a box-office hit. In it, he plays a character whose plane crashes on an isolated island. He finds himself there all alone for four long years. Eventually, not able to tolerate day after day alone, he creates a friend to talk to. A volleyball named "Wilson" (after the brand name stamped on the ball). He becomes so attached to his "friend", that when it gets lost, he becomes exceedingly distressed. In the natural, it doesn't make sense to make friends with a volleyball, and believe that it is human and that it can actually carry on a conversation with you. But one of the reasons I think the movie was so popular was because many of us can identify with that kind of lonliness.
Thankfully, I was never that alone. But I'm coming to recognize that at times, I felt extremely alone...even when surrounded by other people. Even when people that I cared for talked to me and spent time with me. I would find myself looking for something more, and when I discovered the chat room, I found myself like a piece of iron being drawn to a powerful magnet.
All night long, my fingers cramping. My eyes red and bloodshot. A chat over....searching for the next person. It didn't matter who they were...as long as they would talk to me. As long as I could believe they were who they said they were. No matter that I was lying through my teeth to each of them. If I got any indication at all that they weren't a teenage boy, they were history! And I wasn't too kind about telling them how I felt about them lying to me and deceiving me. How blind could I be! I hated them for being exactly what I was!
There were times when I was on the edge of that abyss and my foot slipped. I could feel my stomach up in my throat as the fear overwhelmed me. But I would always catch myself. Get my feet back underneath me. Tell another lie to explain away why I was home late from work. Another lie about why I didn't answer the phone. Another lie about how great the football game was when in fact I was on my computer in my office chatting. I always caught myself. I never got too close. I was like Boris in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye", whose famous last line was "I am invincible!" He thought he had made it...but ends up frozen stiff when a vat of liquid nitrogen explodes on him.
But like Boris, I wasn't invincible. I got too close to the edge of the abyss too many times and eventually fell so deep I couldn't lie my way out of it. Sometimes, I wonder if I'll ever go looking for that abyss again. I know how dangerous it can be...and I know how tempting it can be.
But the truth is, I don't think it has the same attraction any longer. I am so much more alone now than I ever was during that season of my life. I have literally no intimacy. And I'd be a liar if I said I never got lonely. But that need for a relationship isn't as strong as it once was. Probably because I've found relationship with One who is always with me, no matter what. He will always listen when I talk to Him...and if I am willing to listen, He will talk to me. Sometimes, just simply talk. He's led me away from the edge of that abyss onto much more solid ground. My prayer is that I remain there in His presence.
Photo from Flickr