I’d like to tell you about the first relationship I ever had. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of stories about first loves; in books, on the TV, via grandmothers and close friends. Everybody has a story to tell, whether it’s theirs or someone else’s. Lend me five minutes of your time and I’ll tell you about mine.
Let’s introduce ourselves. My name is L and it has always been L but, to her, I was M. A lot of couples have their own names for one another, don’t they? As time passed, we had ours emblazoned on keyrings and charm bracelets, but in the beginning, they were just our internet names. Were you around for the early 00s? They were a magical time. I’m fairly sure, on my deathbed, I will hear the dingdong of MSN and stick up straight, convinced I am thirteen and someone is waiting to speak to me. Those were the days when we had usernames like AngelL and Lolzfaerie and passwords that were pets’ names. They were simple times, my friends. That relationship blossomed on MSN and it wasn’t the only one. Why, a dear friend of mine met her husband on MSN when she was sixteen. MSN was the Snapchat of our day.
I can’t tell you how many hours we spent talking on that messaging service, exchanging favourite music and TV shows, deep thoughts and personal feelings. Anybody who’s had a close friendship on the internet can attest how quickly you can fall into a sort of intimacy with another person. So you don’t know what their perfume smells like but you know their mother died when they were eleven and they’ve never really recovered. What’s more important?
Do you remember, when you were a little kid, thinking about how amazing it would be to meet Father Christmas or go to Disney World? Something so extraordinary that it didn’t seem possible and yet you hoped beyond hope that it would happen, because it would be the GREATEST THING EVER? That’s what it was like, meeting her for the first time in real life. I couldn’t believe she was real. I couldn’t believe I could smell her perfume because she was here, with me, in real life. It was insane.
Those weeks were something else. We watched movies she’d saved on her laptop holding hands, we’d stay up all night until we could barely sit upright and we’d play games she’d devised. We had days out around the city, around the shopping centres and the local parks and if I’d ever known I could have been so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I’d like to tell you about the first relationship I ever had. Sure, you think you’ve heard mine but let me try again. I told you my story through the eyes of the fourteen year-old I was. Let’s retell it, through the eyes of the adult I am today.
Let’s introduce ourselves. My name is Lola and if nobody is allowed to call me M. That name, which once held such a positive association for me, is now dead in the water and if I could set fire to it like I did the keyring, I would. The early 00s were a different time; the world hadn’t fully embraced the internet yet. We were the pioneers, the first, and as with any new world, there were few rules and even less security. Why did you think we could get away with passwords like Fluffy?
I met her in circumstances no different to what you may do now. A shared fondness for a TV programme, an easy enough explanation, but you tell me; how many adults are devoted to children’s programmes? She used to send me episodes that hadn’t yet been aired, a privilege that set me above others my age and bonded me closer to her. An artist could twist it, extending a drawn hand, offering a shiny lollipop, and I think you’d get the idea. Perhaps we’re not on the same page yet?
She used to tell me about her life – tell me a lot more about her life than you’d probably deem appropriate for such a young friendship – but isn’t that what bonds people? In return I gave her my life; my quarrels with friends, my worries about exams, my disagreements with parents, all things she chucked back in my face because they didn’t rate beside her adult problems. I didn’t mind. She was right, after all. How can a failed exam compete with the death of a parent?
I say we exchanged music tastes but that’s incorrect. She wasn’t interested in mine. She sent me woeful, lyrical music that I’d never have discovered on my own, songs of despair and loneliness, songs with too big a feeling for a girl whose main worry is her Neopets. She sent me other things, too; pictures and drawings too old for me to understand over the internet and gifts through the post; little mice holding hearts and perhaps a necklace, too? And words, words like ‘only you, only ever you, you’re the best, you know?’
She also used to phone me when drunk, laughing and shouting until I’d beg her to go home before she hurt herself. Other times she’d call me out to shout abuse, to accuse me of betraying her. She’d leave spiteful messages to keep me in line and exchange them with adoring notes to keep me still.
The first time I met her wasn’t the greatest moment ever – did I tell you that I missed it? I missed her coming through Arrivals, because I was in the toilet, sick with nerves. When she saw me, she threw herself at me. There were more gifts and more babbled declarations of joy and I drank it all in, because why not? I was fourteen and I believed the world to be pure.
We spent nights watching movies of her choice, movies that frightened me and made me afraid to sleep. I never was good with horror. She declined invites to meet my family or hang with my friends and kept me to herself, even matching our clothing down to accessories as if I could doubt who I was with. And the games, the games she devised, where she’d pretend to be a man, dress like a man and use a man’s voice. I remained what I was, a fourteen-year old, but that was what she wanted me to be.
And at night time, when the world was still and the laptops stowed, she’d creep into my bed and press herself against me, acting out what it would like to be a man. I was fourteen years old. She was nineteen years-old.
This carried on for years. I probably don’t have to tell you that, by the time I turned sixteen and started to question this, she turned against me. She dropped me like a hot potato and vanished into the dark side of the internet, into that place where they now warn children to stay away from. But the devil doesn’t come in the shape you expect and what you believe to be true in one decade, you can realise to be false in another.
Once upon a time, all I wanted was to know the smell of her perfume. Now, if I am out and I catch the merest scent of it, all I can do is panic. And those conversations I used to save, the same ones I deleted in the immediate aftermath, they’d be used as evidence now.
Note: This piece is probably the most personal I have ever written but it’s a story I have wanted to share. I hope I’ve managed to portray what happened throughout the story, but if you are confused and would like clarification, please feel free to ask and I’ll explain in the comments. In another blog, I will speak more in depth about the ramifications this had on my mental health (which I’m sure you can imagine) but it doesn’t hurt to have some backstory. Thank you for taking the time to read this, I always appreciate it.
Lola Deelay, of Of the Light and the Dark