[The original title of this was Why I Hate the Internet. After five days, I realized the new one is the right one.]
I’m thinkin’ about my doorbell,
When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it?
—White Stripes, My Doorbell
DON’T. FUCKING. CRY.
You are the Marlboro Man. Dirty Harry. Chuck Norris.
You are almost in the lap of the guy next to you. Press your face against the glass of the oval window and look down at the clouds. Imagine the wing ripping off, sending you and everyone else spiraling down from 36,000 feet to certain death.
You are a Vulcan. You are the ragey-green part of Bruce Banner.
Are you serious? Suck that tear back that’s dancing on the edge of your eyelid.
STOP BEING EMO. Did your balls fall off? All you did was meet someone. It was like ten hours tops that you spent with her.
* * *
I vacillate between using my iPhone as an electronic crack pipe and wanting to throw it as hard as I can onto the sidewalk, watch it shatter into oblivion, and then run into the woods forever.
The internet is no different. Infinitely connecting. Instantly gratifying. Supernaturally informative. Deceptive. Shallow. A cancerous magnifier of disconnection.
It’s wonderful and horrible. Wonderble.
It is what it is. I can’t imagine life without it, even though I know it’s possible because I WAS BORN BEFORE IT WAS INVENTED.
There are rare occasions when I get to know someone virtually who compels me to know them in real life. The motivation is not fandom, not celebrity worship… It’s because they had the courage to share themselves beyond the self-serving veneer of Facebook or Twitter. It’s the fact they use these and other virtual social tools in an act of ironic rebellion. Instead of pictures of their “best side” and insincere candied optimism, they offer their blood and guts.
They share themselves in the most beautiful way. The real way.
Like Erika does.
Beauty is messy and raw and ugly and sad and tragic and weak and vulnerable and foolish and unpopular and lonely and weird and irreverent and fearful and wounded and painful. It’s not just the sublime or benevolent things we typically pin to its definition.
Because life, man. Life is beautiful. All of it.
So, instead of business as usual in Sacramento, I found myself in Chicago last week to meet Erika—a woman I’ve only known online.
I travel like I have sex. Never. Which made this all the more spontaneous. Still, there was a grain of doubt in the decision. Shouldn’t my money be used on things more practical and justified, my time and energy be spent on something more reasonable and productive? What are my real motives and expectations? Am I doing this just because I’m lonely? What if things go sideways?
Have you ever done something impulsive? Not something reckless, but on a lark? Just because? Without agenda or expectation? To see what happens when you surrender yourself to the tide?
Do you ever just want to slay the unknown?
Call it romantic curiosity, call it foolish. Pathetic, even. Say it’s the universe calling. I don’t know. There’s just an itch. Who feels an itch and doesn’t scratch?
Oh yeah. Chicago. Turns out I arrived in time for the fifth worst blizzard on record. It started late in the day I arrived and I loved every second of it. Snow, snow, snow. It swirled around the buildings, carried by the wind as it snaked randomly through the tall right angles of concrete and glass. It was cold as balls. I had to concentrate on keeping my balance while walking on the sidewalks blanketed with snow. O’Hare shut down the day before I left. The next day the airport was purring again and the storm was gone. I left without delay or fuss.
When things go right in the midst of chaos, it’s hard not to attribute the grace of it to something meaningful.
I’ve been reading Erika’s blog posts and online articles since at least 2011. That’s how I’ve come to know and admire her. Truth be told, my admiration leans a bit towards crushdom. I know, it sounds creepy. I don’t know how to address that other than to say it’s innocent in nature. It’s the way she draws the shape of her heart with her naked words, mostly. But she rides bikes too, so there’s that. And that’s how the Internet disappoints. I mean, how can you really begin to know a person without meeting in the flesh?
Because it’s the Internet, there’s a leap of faith when the “IRL” happens. Reality is the Death Star. Illusion is Alderaan.
Erika was absolutely likable. She was warm and kind and generous with her time. She was funny as fuck. We had fun. We made 12 year old boy jokes out of priceless art. In fact, the IRL Erika made the virtual one look like tarnished silver. And that was unnerving.
They say be careful what you ask for.
There was a part of me that wanted to be disappointed, or indifferent at least. It’s the part of me that likes to stay safe. If things ended up meh, I could write it all off and spend a whole day at the Art Institute ogling over multi-million dollar paintings before I went home. It didn’t happen.
I’m not stupid. I still don’t really know Erika. But what I saw in her made my heart ache. Life’s a tough go, you know? I want someone to share the road and the load. She represents a life-to-date Unobtainium and that’s a level of frustration that makes me want to break all the things.
That’s why it’s a wonderble life.