Did I already tell you everything about the West Virginia guy? I don't think so... anyway: I didn't have internet access at home until Autumn of 1996, and at that point I looked at the free installation disks for AOL and CompuServe (I suppose they must have been stuck to pizza boxes or something), shrugged, and inserted AOL. Almost immediately that path began to diverge in a yellow wood and so forth and so on. I really had not been interested in chatting or meeting people, I thought. I just wanted to look things up. Of course, AOL meant an instant barrage of cybersex offers from every 15-year-old kid in North America. So I started to fill out my profile to make it clear that I was old, serious, and boring and that I taught junior college. And that's what must have attracted Dick.
Yes, that was his real name. I probably should have stayed with the 15-year-olds. Dick was married and admitted this, but pretended he and his wife were all but separated and lived unhappily and platonically in the same house until he could steel himself to get out of her hair and let her find happiness again. He was several years older than me -- I guess he'd be 55 now.
For a few months we chatted as friends; he always seemed to think of some way that I was really helping him, serving as a connection to a more meaningful life or some kind of nonsense, and here I was living in Seattle, such an exciting place, so unlike West Virginia where he'd only gone to make his wife and in-laws happy, felt trapped, doomed, washed up, crushed, suffocated, destined to die of sorrow, even suicidal -- but then he came up with the perfect solution! He could marry me instead. Yessirree, he could bring me to West Virginia (he was only a few years away from federal retirement), and it would be difficult at first, but gradually everyone would come around to the idea and be so much happier, and I would have saved his life, and there was certainly something in all this for me too but I don't remember what.
I shucked off my jobs and possessions and financial responsibilities as if they'd been on fire, and we went to Huntington, and nothing turned out to be true, of course, except that I really liked the apartment he'd found us. Alone in it with no furniture, I felt like a child in a playpen. He did stay around most nights for the first three weeks. Things were very, very not platonic, but our brief life together was pretty awful. He looked at me as if he hated me all the time, and cried about his family and how I'd tricked him. Finally he said he couldn't do it anymore, and went home. I cried all night, mostly from fear. I hoped I'd never wake up.
He promised to help me pay the rent, but changed his mind, of course; he couldn't maintain two households. I had nothing, but I scraped by on gifts, plasma donations, and odd jobs I did for my new friends in the environmental organization -- babysitting, cleaning, typing, stuffing envelopes, anything people needed, and then the next winter I was lobbying the state legislature and earning $700 a month plus Taco Bell coupons.
Those enviros were wonderful to me. And I was damned if I'd slink away, and I was too ashamed of myself to go back to Seattle or seek refuge with my family. I had friends, and I did lots of stuff, even if I was eating beanie-weenies and wearing holey shoes. So were most people. It was a good year, really. As wrong as my original actions were, I can't bring myself to regret what happened there. I'm tempted to say I never should have left, but that would probably be a mistake.
But I wish that I had stayed close to my West Virginia friends. I only returned twice. Ultimately I guess I felt too nervous in Huntington, because it's a small place and I never stopped being afraid of running into Dick. The first friend I made there is dead now. Laura was only 39, seemingly in perfect health, a beautiful wife and mother whose child I babysat sometimes, but she basically worked herself to death for the cause. And I didn't even go back for her funeral. I hate that about me.