I was never actually interested in her.
I certainly didn't love her. Not for a moment. Loving someone you've never
met comes close to lunacy, and besides... that's
not why I talk to them. Not any of them.
You meet a lot of women like Serena in IRC, if you avoid the more blatant of
the sex-soliciting channels. There's always a lonely woman waiting for a
sympathetic ear and a virtual hug... and sometimes... usually even, for more.
You can use a lot of your life up having cyber with women you'll never meet,
never touch. It's not the same as having someone to hold at night... but it's
more fulfilling that just cruising the porn sites and using up all your tissues
alone. I dunno, it feels less... dirty... less pathetic somehow.
In the beginning Serena was only after a person to unload her troubles on.
They all begin that way. And I listen.
I listened for endless hours as she poured out her life story. An unhappy
marriage. Sexually frustrated. Ambitions crushed. Lonely. Embittered...
Just like a dozen other women I've known and talked to.
I had the patter down.
I listened to her.
And if I sometimes left the TV on while we chatted, if more of my attention was
on whether there was a slice of uneaten pizza
left in the fridge than on her troubles, she never realised.
I hugged her. A lot. And whenever she looked as though she might want to take
it another step, I backed off. Right off. I told her I was confused, vulnerable,
not ready for this. I was zealous in my support
of her, my condemnation of her husband.
And, like all of them, she lapped it up.
Soon, she was eating out of my hand.
I manipulated her into complimenting me by telling her how pathetic I was,
how useless. How alone.
Even backhanded compliments,
worked for, dug out of lonely women are rewarding for an ego as alone and desirous
of boosting as mine.
One night as we were chatting, she asked me if I would like to see her
picture, and I casually agreed, not allowing the trembling of my fingers to show
in my typing. This was always the make or break stage. If I reacted properly,
she'd be hooked, and mine for... for as long as I wanted her, really.
I looked up to the corkboard by my desk, looking over the souvenir
photos of woman I had known like this over the last two years. Each photo was
printed out with dates and comments. Some of the comments were about where I'd
got it right. And a couple were about how I'd get it wrong.
Sometimes I feel those pictures and I have some sort of complicitous
relationship. Each one helps me refine my touch, hone my skills. Samantha tells
me not to push for too much too soon. Tabby tells me never to accept that
"I'm ok" means "I'm ok" Elizabeth reminds me that attacking
a husband, even a brutal one, tends to backfire. And Erica jogs my memory about
the Healthy Lifestyle people and how to get them. Be enthusiastic about lentils.
About walking. Even about soy. I don't know where I'd be without them.
I was determined not to get it wrong this time.
The file finished sending, and I opened it at once, keeping up the flow of
sympathy and gentle touch I had been working into all this week, and as I looked
at Serena's face for the first time I knew I had to get it right this
Serena was exquisite, doll-like. Scarlet
lips and nails. Trim waist. Tiny, delicate hands. And a look of such wistfulness
that I almost felt myself feeling all the sympathy and care I'd been
showing her. And I began on my piece de resistance.
In the chat client, I took her hand. I kissed it, softly.
"My gods... Serena... I'm speechless...You're beautiful"
I told her I was in awe.
She didn't reply.
I couldn't have blown it this time. Not with this woman.
She didn't reply.
She didn't reply.
But the chat client did.
"Serena: No such nick/channel"
I swore. How had I managed to scare her off?
I mailed her at once, all concern, restating how lovely she was, and asking
if she was OK. I had no reply.
Three days later I received an email couched in frosty tones. It seemed
Serena had asked a friend to write to me.
Serena is dead.
Her husband came home early and was most unhappy with what he saw on her screen.
She died this morning.
This is all your fault"
It was unsigned, and the address was unreachable.
That was four weeks ago.
I still can't get to sleep.
I can't eat.
I never loved her. Not for a moment. Not me.
Oh god... I miss her so much