During a long car drive from Santa Barbara, I remember staring out the window at the rolling hills of yellow wildflowers. I was a few years shy of entering the realm of being a pre-teen. While listening to some 90’s jam from a boy band (which may or may not have been Nsync or Backstreet Boys) I glanced back to my parents in the front seat. For a brief moment, I watched as my dad held my mother’s hand. My dad would look at my mother with these loving eyes that said nothing more than, I’m glad you’re here with me in this moment even if we’re just in this car together. My tiny girl brain began to wonder what that felt like–to have someone look at me the way my parents looked at one another. There was this look that my dad got in his eyes whenever he looked at my mother–the love of his life. Maybe this moment existed between them countless times and I just never paid attention or maybe it was the romantic lyrics flowing through my eardrums–but I saw an aura that existed between the two of them and I wanted to feel that way.
I won’t beat around the bush here– I met my first love on the internet. It probably was one of the riskiest things I’ve ever done. But when you’re young–you’re dumb and you’re blinded by hormones and naivety–sue me. At this time (now that I reflect on it) I was very vulnerable. Truth be told–I hadn’t ‘blossomed’. I was an overweight, self-loathing 16 year old with acne and depression–I wasn’t exactly ‘lovable.’ While my peers enjoyed their teen years, I was just waiting till I could end it all. At this time when I was chatting with this person online, my mother was currently diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt alone and absolutely terrified at the thought that I may not have a mother anymore.
I would practically race home, log onto AOL Instant Messenger and wait for him to log on. Derek** and I met on a social networking site and after talking for a bit we exchanged usernames. We would talk about almost everything; school, video games, movies, anime (whatever, don’t judge me) music, etc. Our conversations would last for hours. Him and I would schedule when we would both be online. I’d feel bummed when it was time for me to log off and I had to wait an entire day to talk to him. When I was at school–I would think about him all day. I found myself racing home just to hop online and see his username.
I knew the risk when it came to talking to ‘strangers’ online. I’ve seen my fair share of Lifetime movies, but I did it anyway. I was aware of the repercussions but nothing inappropriate occurred. He wasn’t trying to get explicit pictures from me and if he was–I would have ceased all conversation with him anyway. Things between him and I were different. He seemed generally interested in what I had to say and at that time–I just needed someone to talk to. And above all else–I just wanted to disappear for a moment out of the hell I had been going through.
After several months of chit-chatting online, I took my risky behavior a step further–we exchanged photographs. I’m always harsh on my outer appearance–I never truly received praise about my looks from my peers or at home. I was always greeted with some cold, judgy response from my mother and passive aggressive comments in the locker room from other girls. In this moment, I knew that my photo to this person, this guy that I had connected with before appearances, would see me–for me. Derek thought I was beautiful no matter my appearance. Beautiful. I never truly associated myself with that word–it seemed like such a foreign concept to me. But here it was–someone out there thought I was beautiful.
Soooooooo–I decided to meet him. Derek and I had been talking about the ‘big day’ for quite a while. But how would we pull this off? Neither of us had a drivers license and he didn’t exactly live ‘nearby’. And there was no way I was traveling there by train (by myself) that far from home. Completely aware of the highly dangerous situation this could be for me on public transportation, he agreed to hop on a train early in the morning and endure the nearly 5-hour commute to meet me. I was excited and extremely nervous. This could actually work, but there was one small problem. The train station was far from my house and I was still super uneasy going alone. It’s not like I was completely blind to the possibilities. I knew this was dangerous (for all I knew, he could have been a 40-year-old married man and cleverly used someone else’s photos). But something deep down just told me–yo, just fucking do it. So, what did I do? I fucking did it. I just had to somehow get my mom on board with this idea. And then there came the lie. During my teen years–I had excelled in the profession of lying to my mother. I was a natural pathological liar. I had to think of something believable and I had to really commit to the lie. I had said that he used to attend our high school but had moved away in the middle of the year—and as I’d hoped–she bought it.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely terrified in that car on the way to the train station. My mom was hitting every single green light as we were on our way to pick up my ‘friend from high school’. Really universe–you couldn’t spare at least one red light so I can have a second to breathe? Figures. My mind was racing. Would this turn out to be okay? Or are we on our way to pick up a 40-year-old axe murderer? I was filled with uncertainty as we approached the metro station.
It wasn’t a 40-year-old ax murderer. The guy who I had been talking to for months was right there. Climbing into our car, Derek and I looked at one another–in the flesh–for the first time. I worried that things would be awkward in person–but I was wrong. It was just as fluid as it was online. I couldn’t be happier. We did it. Every weekend, he would hop onto the metro and go through the long train ride to my house. My mom still refused to drive me to his house. Neither of us had a driver’s license or a car–we were at the mercy of public transportation–or at least–Derek was.
My senior year of high-school became a little bit more bearable. Derek, no matter the distance, gave me this unbelievable amount of strength to get through the dark moments of my life at the time. I shared with him what was happening at home and he would offer his own advice or just–listen. I knew that whatever I was dealing with–I could talk to him about it. He was like this indestructible safety blanket that understood me. I would stay up late on a Friday night because I knew that Saturday–he would be here.
Eventually, this presented a multitude of problems (and I should have seen it sooner). There were constant arguments between the both of us and it all had to do with distance. He would argue with me about never making the effort to see him and as a result–I felt guilty. In an effort to salvage what I could and prove that I was making an ‘effort’, I constantly got in ridiculous arguments with my mother. No matter how much I pleaded with her–I was stuck. No lie was going to allow me to hop on a metro train to see him nor convince either of my parents to drive me there. As our relationship was hanging onto a tiny thread, I found out (through mutual friends) that Derek was striking up flirtatious conversations with someone he met at work. This whole relationship was slipping through the cracks and I could feel it. I was terrified. Was my relationship in trouble?
During one of his weekend visits, we decided to venture out to a local Japanese Garden. But it wasn’t like the typical day that we usually spent together. For the first time in our relationship, I immediately sensed that something was wrong. Derek was extremely quiet and incredibly distant. As a result–my gut was freaking out the entire time. Something just didn’t sit right. And based on my freakish intuition and what I had heard from our friends, I kept asking if everything was alright and he assured me that we were fine. But even though he reassured me–I couldn’t help but think his response was bullshit. When he hopped back on the train and we said our goodbyes, I felt a slight ping of uncertainty and I had this feeling that I was never going to see him again.
Shortly after he arrived home, I quickly gave him a call. I couldn’t shake this unrelenting sense of doom that seemed to overpower me. My gut was shouting at me to resolve it. And if your gut is ANYTHING like mine–it is very demanding and if you don’t address what it’s trying to tell you–your gut will keep you awake for the rest of your life until you’re dead. Something was wrong. We weren’t fine. He was incredibly distant all day. I had to know. And then it happened…
When I get angry–I tend to think of some dark shit. I often draft up horrible hypotheticals about the people who betray me. I’d be lying if I didn’t envision the two of them getting into a massive car wreck while suffering from some flesh eating virus. I wasn’t just mad at him–I was also furious at her. She knew we were together. She was just as guilty. It felt like a punch to the gut–I had never had someone cheat on me before. The whole thing made me reflect on when I had this strong inkling that something was going on. And when I confronted him about it at the time–he lied to me. He said nothing was going on. And now he was in a relationship with this person. In that moment, I could see the clouds parting as a ray of glorious sunshine cast itself on my awe stricken face. And then it dawned on me–this shit was never my fault. There were many nights where I would lay awake at night while the waves of guilt consistently crushed me to sleep. I’d put on some song with some heavy lyrics to add to the sad ambiance that was my life. It all made so much sense as I sat there on my bed–the wheels in my mind spinning at full speed. I was coping with something that was thrust on my shoulders for no reason at all. He must have felt so god damn guilty about what he was doing during our time together that he had cooked up some bullshit reason to make the whole break-up appear as if it were my fault so he could justify being with someone else.
Several months later, I had moved on from Derek. I was meeting new friends in college. My grades were improving (sorta). And I even joined a sorority. I actually made an effort to put myself together and pay attention in class. I was completely involved in my college experience. And I was finally out of the hole of used tissues that I was laying in. I went from having Derek on my mind to not really thinking about him at all. At first it was hard. I was definitely angry. And I was filled with incredible sadness and guilt. But with time–I had finally picked myself up off the ground. Things were finally starting to feel better…
As the months progressed, I had received a phone call. It was Derek. He had pleaded with me that he wanted to make things work. I couldn’t believe that he was crawling back to me 6 months later. He told me he regretted everything and he just wanted us to be together again. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some sort of smug look on my face during that phone call. There I was sitting on top of this elegant throne glaring down at Derek–this peasant who didn’t deserve a second more of my time or energy. I took it all in–and the groveling was most pleasant (since I am evil as fuck). But as he waited for my reply, I had this weird inner conversation. Usually my heart and my mind are on two different wave lengths, but this time my heart and my mind finally agreed on one thing…
“You don’t need him.”