This week, friends and I attended a live taping of “On the Media” at the Greene Space on the subject of whether the internet will deliver or destroy us, after which I read the Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker on the same topic.
Many of the points raised in both forums were interesting (avatars vs. our real life selves), timely (Watson vs. Ken Jennings), and significant (the people of the Middle East vs. their dictators). But to me, it was all so much background noise, because my decision was made a long time ago. The Internet delivered me — absolutely, over and over again, beyond question.
The Internet gave me Mr. Ben.
We did not meet over the Internet, not per se. The first time I remember seeing him, my freshman year of college, was on a Septa train platform. His dark hair stood out against colorful clothes and he had a camera slung around his neck. We were both going to Philly, so we chatted for a bit, though as he was going to see about a girl there, it was not romantic. Still, since I always got a bit swoony over the idea of meeting some dashing stranger on public transportation, my heart beat a little faster.
(Why public transportation? I can only assume that because my adolescence was so proscribed — for 13 years at the same school, I saw the same Jewish faces get a little bonier, a little hairier, a bit more pimply, but never change in fundamentals — the Metro was basically the only time I was guaranteed a glimpse of something new.)
Mr. Ben does not remember meeting me on that train. He does remember the next two times we ran into each other, casually, on campus; neither encounter amounted to anything. Then a friend told me that Mr. Ben kept a blog.
Naturally, at the time, it wasn’t called a “blog” really so much as a “web journal,” and it was a pretty rare thing to have. I was impressed. When I started reading, I was more impressed, because the boy could not only take pictures and wear vivid colors, he could express himself in words, and words are the Most Important Thing to me.
On Valentines Day, he wrote that he offered a girl a rose, and she declined. He was very straightforward about it, not at all maudlin or self-pitying, but, for all that, sad. He used the phrase, “a requited love interest.” I knew exactly what he meant.
How awful! I thought. Who turns down a rose? My friend K. Ross was in my dorm room with me when I read the entry, and ranting to him only made me more incensed. Before I knew what I had done, I had posted in his guestbook expressing my sympathy & outrage, and saying, “Don’t worry — I’ll be your requited love interest.”
Dear reader, this was BC — Before Comments. There were no comments, there was only a guestbook, and I opened myself in it for the world to see. Once I had done so, there was no turning back. K. Ross gave me an uncertain look, because I am not usually so bold, but it was too late.
Mr. Ben replied by email, and we corresponded — commiserated — for a couple of days. Then, that Saturday evening, he invited me over. No fool, I. Several unfortunate encounters with boys over the course of that year had taught me to be wary of such invitations. Yet something about this particular boy compelled me to go.
That was exactly ten years ago, today.
When I say the Internet delivered me, I don’t mean I have succeeded in the game of Life because now I have the blue peg beside me in the car and I’m all set to stock up the back seat with little pegs. Fuck the blug peg, and fuck the little pegs in the backseat too, for that matter. That, to me, is not success.
The Internet delivered me because, in helping me not meet but really connect with Mr. Ben, it gave me someone who would watch my back, lift my spirits, make me laugh, be there for me when my dog died followed by all the men in my family, one by one, and just generally make me a better person, a cleaner, saner, happier, honest, less sarcastic and more vulnerable person.
He also brought me to New York, where I wouldn’t have had the courage to come on my own, and I am as enamored of this city as I could have ever hoped to be.
Happy anniversary, baby. I thank the Internet for you.