Thursday, May 2, 2013
The green glare of the laptop monitor illuminated my features in the dark room, my hand moving the cursor to the next link…and then the next and then the next. It was my last night alone in the hotel room. A deep panic seemed to be welling up inside me driving me on, but everywhere the next link took seemed to be as empty as the webpage I’d just left. More emptiness. More images. Time passing…the night dark night hours slipping away. An inner voice screaming that it’s there, keep searching.
I don’t know when the voices started…in fact I’m pretty sure that even though they were there, I don’t think that I audibly heard them until only recently. Before that, I would have simply defined them as a desire, or a want…or in some cases, a strong need that I couldn’t explain. For years, the voices led me down a dark, twisted road. I didn’t really think about where it was leading me because the voices wouldn’t let me look up or forward. They would just keep drawing me to the places where they wanted me. It was a place of blindness and self-centeredness. The voices were like the blinders on a yoke of oxen or a team of workhorses…only allowing me to see where I was being led. There would be too much danger to the author of the voice if I looked around to see where I was.
There was another voice too. Always there, never screaming. Always there, at times in soft and gentle whispers. Always there, even in my deafness. Always there, often not heard…only felt intuitively. Always there…always there.
I was ready to give up. I had to be up at 6:30 and the red glow of the hotel alarm clock numbers was getting ready to push into the 2:00 hour. I clicked one more link and suddenly my laptop froze. I laid on my bed waiting, fighting the need to see what was on the page that seemed frozen in time and an inner awareness that it wasn’t what I was looking for…that it wasn’t going bring satiation.
I pressed the power button for five seconds until I could hear the laptop turn off, the screen giving me a faint wink. I started to fold the top down but suddenly had an urge to try just one more time. I rubbed my eyes and once again pressed the power button and waited. Subconsciously, I moved the cursor to the AOL icon and waited for the phone line modem to engage and entered my password, waiting for the home page to appear.
As I got ready to enter a familiar URL into the navigation bar that would take me back to the images, a banner on the AOL seemed to jump out at me. “Find New Friends With The Click Of Your Mouse! Explore AOL Chat.” I’d never been to a chat room and didn’t really know what could be there. Earlier in the summer while spending a couple of weeks at my brother’s beach house, our teenage son had spent hours chatting with girls he’d somehow met in these chat rooms.
I wasn’t looking for girls, I was married to the most incredible woman I had ever known. A voice screaming, “let’s go there!” I clicked the mouse on the banner and the screen filled with lists of rooms…every topic you could think of. I scanned the list, wondering why I was here. Sports. Cars. Food. Religion. Relationships. Politics. The list seemed endless. I kept moving down the list and one seemed to call out to me. “Teens”. I clicked the link and the page filled with more lists, these with names that were more descriptive. “Holly’s gf’s”, “the boys room”, “gamers”, “bff”, “gurls who like gurls”, “14yo”. The list seemed endless, almost in a foreign language. I would randomly click one and another list would appear with even stranger language…most of them a series of numbers and letters. I clicked on that read “15m/ga”.
A small window opened asking for my screen name. Screen name? I began to type my name into the small rectangle…and then stopped. “I” can’t be here, I thought. My mind started to scramble…thinking. After a few seconds, I entered “Josh” into the small window and a different type of window opened on the laptop screen.
The window seemed to have three parts. On the right was a vertical box with a couple of entries. “15m/ga” and “txboy”. To the left was a larger square with lines of text appearing, and apparent conversation between these two. At the bottom, a long, slender rectangle with the cursor bar blinking.
I lay there for a few moments, watching the chat between the two teen boys. A line caught my attention. “hey josh, asl?” I stared at the words. Someone had sent me a message. My fingers moved to the keyboard. Tap tap tap. “Hey”. I watched the screen and once again the same question “josh, asl?” ASL? What’s that supposed to mean? My mind searched for something in my memory that could answer the question. Suddenly, a message popped on the screen. “You have been booted by 15m/ga” and the text window disappeared.
I found myself back at the top of the previous screen of descriptive names…at the top. I started to search back down the list. “What was the name of the room?” the voice screamed! My fatigued mind tried to work, the time bar at the bottom of the page reading 3:24 AM. I clicked on a couple of rooms that sounded familiar, but it wasn’t the same. I finally found it. "15m/ga". I clicked and entered the room. The same two names on the side bar. “Hi”. Once again the message popped on my screen, “You have been booted by 15m/ga”.
I could feel something building inside me. A mixture of anger and pain. "What had I done wrong? Why does this teen keep kicking me out." Once again I scrolled down the page until I found his chat room. They didn’t seem to pay any attention to me as they entered their chat conversation. Finally, I asked the question. “Why do you keep booting me?” No answer. Was I being ignored? Finally, the one called 15m/ga typed,
“whats your asl?”
“What’s asl?” I typed back.
“age sex location”
I lay there, thinking. How do I answer this? This is a teen room. I’m 44 years old. I looked at his name.
“15m/Washington state” The words came off my fingers more easily than they should.
“kewl josh. welcome to my room. im john”
For the next several minutes I watched the screen, mesmerized by the conversation taking place between the John and “txboy”. They didn’t send me any messages and I didn’t know what to say so I just watched. Words on a page. No images. The minutes passed. After a while, “txboy” disappeared from the sidebar.
“Hi. I’ve never been in a chat room before. Sorry, this is all kind of new to me.”
“that’s kewl newbies are welcom”
“so do you like guys too?”
I sat there, staring at the screen. My mind suddenly numb. I’d never heard that question…at least not audibly. My fingers went back to the keyboard. Poised but not moving. The room seemed to close in on me. Suddenly, it felt as if my veins were being filled with ice water, my body shaking as I lay on the bed…my fingers moving. Tap tap tap.
“Yea, I think about them sometimes.”
“kewl josh, so do I”