The Story of Us : Part One

So many times over the last few years people have asked for this story; the story of how Curtis and I met and fell in love, and what it was like meeting him in person after never having seen his photograph.
I’ve summed it up a million times, but haven’t ever told the whole thing from start to finish, though I’ve been trying to write it out for almost a year.

The last six months of our relationship, and all that we’ve gone through together to achieve, has revived such an intensity that the details that once escaped me came easily again. It renewed my want to write and relive. Much selfishly celebratory sex came from going through it all over again, re-reading the conversations and logs and really feeling that incredible tension that plagued me for the four long years it was between falling hard, and finally admitting it to him… but going through it gives me a new appreciation every day. Every time I lose myself in what it was once like, and he makes his way over and sits down, I see his face a new way: are you really here? Sometimes I wonder if he really exists, even after all this time… coming up on our 7th wedding anniversary and so many more years together and yet I don’t think it has truly hit me how it all came together, to arrive at this place, through the devastating lows and the wonderful highs…

All of that aside, I worked in my spare time over the last week in particular to finally finish this part: the story of falling in love, and the day we met.
I want to save some other stories; the ones of being caught red-handed after keeping our visits a secret for weeks, the hilarity and awkwardness that was when I met his mother, the first time I slept over at his house, and the night of the Northern Lights for another entry.

For now, here’s this part. Be warned that it is long, and raw, and contains all the angst you’d expect from this kind of experience – but I think it’s worth the read. Let me know if you make it through.

– Falling

Pieces of my youth are written over the years of this journal, but I haven’t given much of a view into the events that have shaped me. Before I found stability in adulthood, I was a very troubled and isolated teenager. I rapidly became agoraphobic and obsessive; I had few friends, and immersed myself in character romances on television shows, devastating poetry and writing an equal mix of science fiction and erotica. I spent hours every day crafting great novels hundreds of pages long that I rarely shared; most of which have now been lost.
My first computer was an Atari PC with a keyboard I’d painted with celtic suns, phases of the moon, stars and a sunset trailing over the keys in over 37 shades of nail polish. The Atari took 15 minutes to load my novels, and 25 to save them. It was too primitive for internet access, but I was no stranger to the growing trend. I’d spent a few years in and out of chat rooms and fan sites from libraries, friends homes and computer cafés (a rising fad at the time that has since almost completely disappeared with the invent of wi-fi). I subscribed to a few newsgroups, back when the “alt dot” groups were big, I socialized through Deja, Usenet and a few fanfiction circles, I spent time in chat rooms but was not able to get on with as much regularity as I would have liked as we had no home internet access and our small island community had few options for it anyway.

I was in high school when I finally had a computer that was capable of internet access from home regular access to the internet was in my mom’s house. I had a 14.4 modem and the stunningly amazing Windows 3.1 (soon after, a pirated copy of Windows 95). I was quickly learning things like HTML, Javascript and my way around reprogramming the OS; things that lonely nerds tend to do. I began making small websites and contributing to others’ sites with graphic design and (online) community organizing.
The internet seemed like a very different place back then, when animated gifs of dancing hamsters and poorly crafted midi files were so hot we were willing to wait the half an hour it took to download them.

My usual hangouts were a few Star Trek sites and small communities of fans. I only had a few hours online every night, as at that time we were charged by the hour for internet access.
When one of my favourite sites opened a brand new chat, I invited myself in to say hello. It had been established for a few weeks, maybe months, prior to my finding it, so the regulars were already a closely-knit community of friends and relatives all under fan names like Defiant, JamesTKirk, Doctor and McCoy.
They spent a lot of time “simming” (short for “simulation”): a sort of virtual role-playing in a world they had created out of the chat room. It was an extension of role playing lists that many of them were involved in, except more silly. Just being in the presence of their antics was a hell of a lot of fun. At any given time there were massive role-playing conversations creating an entire world (or rather, space station), small personal conversations, trivia nights and group games. It was like being in a party full of your best and oldest friends, without the downer of alcohol or risk of reckless behaviour.
The first day I spent most of my two hour limit alternating between quietly lurking and getting to know some of the regulars there. I added the chat room to my list of daily hang-outs and said I would return the next evening.

During dinner the following night I was getting excited about finding my way back into this room. The people there were friendlier and more interesting than any other group I’d ever encountered, and I felt like even after one day there I had a place with them.
When I arrived that evening, I was not greeted warmly. Everyone seemed angry with me, and those that weren’t yelling at me to leave, ignored and exiled me. I was told I wasn’t welcome, but no one elaborated on the issue. I didn’t understand; I’d been social and polite the day before and as far as I knew I’d got along fine.
I held my head and cried, frustrated and devastated. I was very sensitive at that time in my life, and their bewildering and aggressive response to me after such a warm welcome the night before was a blow to my fragile state. I begged and pleaded to know what had happened, I asked for forgiveness for whatever I had done, but they were a tightly-knit group and very protective: they were firm that I should leave before I did any more harm.
I continued to plead, but eventually fell silent. I didn’t leave, but watched silently, hurt and confused.

Just when I thought I’d been forgotten, someone sent me a private message. A “JamesTKirk” asked me if I had been there earlier that day. I said no, and explained that I was not able to have internet access until six o’clock in the evening due to the cost of our plan. The local provider had a monopoly on the isolated village, and their prices were rather exorbitant.
He explained that someone had come in under the username I’d used the night before and caused trouble, slinging insults and eventually getting themselves booted from the room. JamesT was a ‘chat guard’: someone who tracked IP addresses of users and kept an eye on the behaviour for the owners when they weren’t around. With some sleuthing he found that the two logins were different, and presented the evidence to the room, then forced everyone publicly apologize to me.
“My hero!” I called him, and feigned swooning. I asked for his name, but he wouldn’t tell me – so I told him that until he did I would simply call him “Hero”. I made a show of welcoming him into the room every night by calling out, “My hero is here!”. He seemed the type who was easily embarrassed, and I was only doing it to tease him: it took less than two weeks before gave in and told me to call him Curtis.

Six o’clock was my solace, my deep breath at the end of the day. The promise of friends and loved ones was what kept me going every day through a traumatic period of my life filled with social exile, vicious depression, over-medicating, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and thoughts of suicide. I was able to hang on for the sake of having a small group of people who understood and accepted me for all my nuances and baggage – in all honesty I owe my life to their company.
I dropped away from most of my other regular hang-outs in preference for spending my daily two hours there. We would go months without a new face to the chat, which made us a very close group who openly shared the personal details of our lives. We knew each other’s names and ages, where we lived and grew up, our collective struggles and dreams; we coordinated our time zones so we were all on at the same time each evening to spend those hours together, working through the weight of the day.
One one of our members died in a car accident, we held a vigil for her that her twin brother invited their parents to witness. They were moved to tears.

Most of the regular members were in their teen years, between 14 and 19, but the ages ranged from 11 to late 30’s. Many began experimenting in online relationships with each other: some that lasted, and some that didn’t. The two owners of the site and chat room had met there some years back and were now living together with plans of marriage – they were in their mid-20’s. They were an inspiration to those of us who felt we had no hope of ever finding love.
Some nights we did nothing but joke and “sim”, laughing until we cried. Other nights we held a virtual campfire and supported each other through difficult times in our lives. We all felt the strong sense of community, and loved each other dearly.
I spent much of each evening sharing private messages with Curtis, slowly becoming aware of my budding infatuation as I learned more about him and developed a deep friendship. Each time we spoke I was filled with butterflies. As torturous as unrequited love was, I craved the nightly tide of emotional turmoil, it was immensely wonderful.

Some evenings I stayed on past my time limit, into the late evening. The chat room was quiet and there was almost no one there except a few pairs of people; the energy was low and our conversations were light and quiet. One night Curtis and I talked privately about our dreams for the future. At the time I was seriously thinking about a career in the medical field, I was beginning to study psychology. We talked about having children, and I expressed how deeply I felt it was part of my fate to raise children.
He was the first man I’d ever met who could speak honestly about wanting a stable relationship, marriage and children – it seemed most people only thought about fleeting sexual encounters or practice dates. Even more rare, he didn’t tie in a religious belief to it, which would have made it less sincere for me: it was just his natural ideal – no dogma. He spoke to me about my dreams and summarized them in a way that sounded like poetry, and it made my heart soar – I realized then that I was falling in love with him.

We had a mutual friend, Martin, who was a little older, a little eccentric, and valued honour and trustworthiness more than a lot of other people would – so when I was so full of restless energy I could burst, I told him how I felt. “I think I’m in love with Curtis.” I made him swear never to tell anyone, but I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore.
With this awakening every night felt like a dream. We spent hours and hours talking, thinking, playing and I was more enamoured with him each passing eve. We invented a sort of environment we could interact around: a room off to the side of what all the members imagined to be our single “bar” that held a single couch, the kind that every home had in the 1970’s with the torn yellow striped exterior and removable square cushions. We referred to it as “The Couch”. The Couch was the our home base, we would greet the other’s entry online with a message about where we were on The Couch, waiting for the other.
Other members of the chat began to lightly tease us. If one came in, the other was soon to follow; we were always together, we were always quiet and whispering to each other, but no one went so far as to shout out what we were oblivious to.

Several years passed and we were introduced to a few supplementary chatting programs, like ICQ98 or Yahoo! messenger. Around this time Curtis entered an incredibly difficult and emotional time of his life. Our deep conversations were less frequent, and publicly he was becoming a little snide and strange. One evening with a note of finality, he burned his bridges and left. He didn’t return to the chat room, he didn’t log on any messaging programs, and effectively disappeared. While my friends ruthlessly teased him, I was terrified and betrayed. I emailed him repeatedly, at first softly and then more aggressive after I received no response. I don’t remember what I said to finally break him, but I know by reading his vague references from old conversations… it wasn’t nice. I wanted to make him angry, and force him to respond to me. Weeks went by before I finally received a response I didn’t want: “Leave me the fuck alone”.
Enraged, I wrote him a long and furious email calling him on his childish behaviour. I told him he was too old to act like this, that he had people who loved him and cared about him that he had a responsibility to say something other than spitting epithets and curses at anyone who tried to reach out and bring him back. He emailed me back almost immediately, and finally began to open up. He apologized profusely for what he’d said, but despite the longing for companionship he wasn’t really clear about what was going on in his life or what had caused him to break – he only said he felt confused, depressed and alone. With years of reflection between those events and now, he and I can look back and liken it to watching the sand fall through your fingers; you might as well throw it away before you waste yourself trying to catch the last of it.
We corresponded for weeks. It was the most intimate exchange we’d had in months, but I felt abandoned. I loved him dearly, but had no wont to say; he would not have tried to leave so readily if he’d cared for me. He never would tell me why he’d left, only hints at shame and fear; the truth of it being that he felt so hopelessly lost in love that he wanted to leave everything that ever was connected to me before it inevitably fell apart at his feet. He guarded his secret with everything he had, but couldn’t stop himself from continuing to correspond with me daily after I told him I needed it.
To respect his privacy and his want to have time to himself, I didn’t tell anyone among our friends that I was in contact with him, and avoided conversation about his whereabouts. Other members continued to tease him ruthlessly about the circumstances of his departure; they were angry he’d left.

A newcomer came into the chat: Kara. I invited him there, but I do not recall where I originally met him. He was a sweet sounding young man from Minnesota, he struggled with his Christian faith and how it applied to his life, he was smart, he was there often, and he very quickly became a friend of mine. We chatted often over ICQ, and within a few months the innocent conversation turned to awkward flirtation. He told me he loved me.
“I want to go out with you,” he said. No one had ever said that to me.
“You’re beautiful,” he said. No one had told me that, either.
I said yes.
I didn’t tell Curtis, or anyone initially. There was a part of me that felt deeply ashamed over accepting his advances. I struggled with my apathy toward him; he was a nice person, and a good friend, but I did not love him. Even months into the relationship. We talked on the phone often, exchanged photos daily; I knew his parents and his sister, his parents knew mine, and we were soon arranging a visit where I would fly in, though no one could afford it until the following year. He sent me his class ring as a symbol of his care and loyalty. I wore it on my thumb, tied with string because it was too large for my fingers.
He asked me to marry him.

Months passed. Curtis and I continued to exchange emails on a daily basis, but I still had not divulged to him the relationship that now everyone else knew of. In the end, I convinced him to return. He asked for a reprieve from our daily exchanges so he could gather himself for the stir he knew his entrance would cause, awaiting the barrage of vulnerable and embarrassing comments; he knew he’d deserve them. Initially he tried coming back under an alter ego to avoid the fuss, but everyone saw through it and his denials only made the situation worse. Again he backed off for a breath and a moment alone so he could finally, officially return as himself and face what he’d done to everyone.
He was an extremely shy and vulnerable person at that time of his life, and finding the motivation through the letters we’d exchanged for months was the only thing pulling him forward. He left because he loved me, and through our letters he saw something in my words, my ill-conceived anecdotes and awkward way I wrote to him. He came back with the admission on his lips, ready to tell me everything.
On the day he came back he waited for me in the chat room.
Kara came in first, and greeted me publicly, affectionately, when I arrived some minutes later.
… and I still hadn’t told him.

Curtis was always cordial, but he was a bad liar and I was not blind to how much I’d hurt him. I never said I was sorry.
All the letters I’d wrote him in those moths, even the most nasty and vile of them, he put in a folder and saved for years.

I was in this relationship with Kara for nearly a year, throughout which I questioned my commitment despite playing the role. I was open with him about not having any deep feelings, which in retrospect was a little cruel, but blamed it on myself and my difficult history with sexuality. I told him that eventually it would come if we were patient and willing, that it was merely my baggage and had no reflection him. I cared for him as a friend, but had no romantic feelings for him at all; I thought something was wrong with me and that I was incapable of having a normal relationship.
Here it was, my ideal and my dream: a person who said he loved me every day, who said wonderful things about my wit and beauty, wrote me poetry and sang me songs… and yet I felt nothing for him other than the warmth of receiving compliments.
He made constant reference to our eventual sexual relationship, and often tried to convince me to have phone sex with him. I compromised with cybersex – a sort of crossover between “simming” and voice chat – and while I did agree to participate I would literally be chatting with my friends at the same time because the idea held so little interest for me. It was humiliating – I told my friends I loved him dearly and was honest with no one about what I was going through.
It felt adulterous when I talked to Curtis, and Kara hated it when I spent so many hours awake with him. I’m sure he was not naive to the connection between us, though I was loyal to a fault, and it never went any further than painful flirtation. He began to ask me almost every day how I felt about Curtis by comparison.
“I had a crush on him once, that’s all. It was never anything more”.

As my relationship with Kara grew more and more strange, with promises of marriage, children and moving countries on the horizon, I began to divulge to Curtis my discomfort and worries that there was something wrong with me for not feeling the way I should. We were up every night for hours at a time, often until two or three in the morning. I don’t even remember the things we used to say, but I still have our chat logs: all 44’000 pages. When reading through the tension is painful, yet we somehow remained blissfully unaware that the other felt the same. Love is blind.
Kara became more and more jealous: as the months passed he saw clearly what I did not. When I wasn’t around he and Curtis were often not in the best of spirits, sniping at each other with bitter sarcasm in the way only two teenage boys sharing the same affection for one girl can. I was never around to see any of it, as they had more of a strained neutrality between them whenever I was around, though others told me they were often strange when I wasn’t present. I was constantly on Kara’s case to be nice to “my best friend”.
I didn’t do anything to discourage Curtis from his side of it.

When things in my life became dark, and my depression increased, I was institutionalized after suicide attempts and prescription abuse spiralling out of control. I wrote about that experience extensively some time ago. At the time I was deeply ashamed of my situation, and Kara was one of the only people who knew, yet he told no one and seemed largely unconcerned over the whole ordeal… suicide attempts included. It was then that I began to notice him pulling back. Despite the circumstance, he tactfully chose those moments to spring devastating revelations on me, like how he would never come up to live with me – or unless I moved to Minnesota with him, he would not stay. At that time in my life I was easily swayed and manipulated, I was desperate to acceptance and love, and only after he began using these control tactics did I begin to feel glimmers of feelings for him.
I ran to Curtis for support, who was furious with Kara’s actions. The final straw for Kara was the night I attempted suicide in the institution, and chose Curtis over him.

The relationship with Kara dissolved two days after I was released, when he “left” me for a 14 year old girl who was “athletic” and looked “just like me”; which was wrong in all sorts of ways. He wanted sex, despite it being statutory rape if he succeeded with this particular girl. The karmic justice came when she apparently slept with three or four different men while stringing him along for months, and he never got his share.
The day he broke the news I sent out a mass message to my closer friends over ICQ telling them what happened so I wouldn’t have to talk to them one by one, retelling the tale over and over again… I remember logging on the next day to a single offline message from a friend, McCoy, who had just earlier that day reassured me that Kara would never break up with me. His message read : “Oh, shit. He is a dead man”.
I was upset for three days, to the point of crying, curled on the kitchen floor in very real agony over being abandoned – it was a very typical, melodramatic, teenage break-up event. My best friend then came over with a movie that I didn’t really watch, ice cream and some companionship to help me through the next week. Strangely enough, after the first few days of grieving the loss of what I thought was my only chance at happiness, I felt fine. It took until that point to realize there was more to the fact that I’d never cared for him in that way; that I was attracted to the idea of affection rather than to him as a person, and potential partner. Despite the drama, I felt relieved.

By now our internet provider had advanced over the years and instead of 40 or 60 short hours I now had closer to 100 every month, allowing Curtis and I to spend all evening and sometimes into the morning talking. Once they offered free service past midnight, we were up until dawn many nights a week.
Over the following weeks the sexual tension between us was thick and palpable. Every time we spoke I felt the clawing, desperate need for more; the kind that feels like torture and yet a part of you loves every second of it. Though I still wondered if he felt the same, it was difficult to remain blind to the flurry of emotion when not-so-subtle hints of desires and fears became a common theme to our conversations. Reading through that section of our ICQ logs is embarrassing. Things I remember literally swooning over now are so groan-worthy that I can barely read them without laughing uncomfortably and hoping that no one else ever has to see it.

I don’t know what gave me the strength to finally do something, and to this day I don’t know I’d have that courage again – but I said it first. Out of nowhere, in the midst of one of the more intimate conversations we’d had, I told him that I loved him.
In the three minutes it took him to respond I had an entire conversation with a mutual friend, Jenna, who was screaming at me in another IM window to tell her every single detail of what was happening after I suddenly sent her the message, “I did it. I told him”.
I was terrified he would just get up and walk away, and was almost convinced that was what had happened as the minutes ticked by… before I finally received his reply: “I love you, too”.

I sobbed. I told him everything: years of history, and pain and exhausting, tearing desire, adulterous thoughts and everything I’d been wanting. He cried, too – and told me all he’d held back. I felt high; I was spinning in a dream. When I finally got offline that night he said goodnight with a kiss and another affirmation: “I love you”.

– Meeting

Furiously we planned how we would meet, while keeping the relationship a secret from friends, family and the rest of the chat room to avoid the inevitable teasing we’d receive after our years of blissful ignorance. That didn’t last long; soon everyone knew, and we withstood the wall of, “I told you so”s that trickled out over the following weeks.
It was almost six months before a plan for a visit came to fruition. We lived over 1500 miles apart, and each of us had only small, low-paying jobs. He was working as a host at his father’s restaurant and I was the web designer for a growing natural beauty product company. We were holding a small savings, but nothing significant enough to afford the luxury of multiple plane tickets, hotel fare and travel to meet up. I paid a portion of the rent and bills with my money, and if his suddenly disappeared to pay for tickets it was likely his parents would catch on.
My family knew all about him, but I remained a secret from his. Similarly, he always had an excuse why he couldn’t talk on the phone, or give me his photograph. I knew he had some, and frequently suggested places he could get them scanned to disk, email them, anything… I hadn’t seen a single image of him and when I asked him to describe himself he would only say, “I’m tall, and I have brown hair”.
Months went by while I pushed and pleaded for something to recognize him with, and over time he became reluctant about the plans to meet. I feared the worst, one evening I stayed up all night with panic attacks, just knowing he’d break up with me. As old as I was I even crawled in bed with my mom at six o’clock in the morning to cry and beg her to tell me it would all be okay.

One evening, maybe a week before our travel plans, I interrogated him for hours until he finally admitted he was terrified that once I saw him, all of my feelings for him would float away with disgust for his appearance. I’d turn around and leave him forever. He had lied all this time about how much he weighed, and was actually over 350lbs. He was convinced that once I saw him, I’d realize I couldn’t love someone that looked like he did. As much as he was in love with me, he didn’t want to be so hurt, and as the date rapidly approached he was increasingly terrified.
Once he started telling me about his insecurities, he didn’t stop, and soon was pouring through all of his fears and worries, from a family history of adult acne to an overbite (which he never actually had, but was once told he did and became obsessed with the possibility afterward). No amount of reassurance would convince him that it was safe to send me a photograph. I never did get to see one. Despite my assurances, he remained cautious as the days rapidly approached.
“You could be the elephant man and I’d still love you more every day that I was with you”.
I packed up my things and left the next morning, terrified and more excited than I’d ever been about anything. People have often asked me if I was worried, or surprised, or shocked when I saw him for the first time… but not a single ounce of me was worried about what he looked like: I loved him, and that’s all there needed to be.

My mother and I travelled together. Originally I was going to go alone, but my mother was not at all happy about me travelling across the country with nowhere to stay and with no one I knew. The furthest I had ever travelled on my own was to a rural airport in Alberta, where I waited two hours for my father to pick me up. Travelling over 1500 miles to another country was an entirely different matter.
When I told her of my plans, she used her incredible manipulative mojo to dig up some cousins she hadn’t seen in a decade and arrange a surprise visit with them. Suddenly we had a place to stay for two weeks that was a mere hour and a half away. Unfortunately, a plane ticket was still out of the question: we’d have to bus it.

The bus ride was 36 hours of absolute hell, save for a few diamonds in the form of interesting companions that came and went. I kept a journal as we travelled, and collected stories from a woman from the Philippines, a family immigrating from Egypt, a man couch-surfing around North America (originally from Australia) and many others. I sketched in my spare time, and listened to CDs while my mother took shots of straight, ground ginger juice that she’d made herself and put in a washed out ketchup bottle. It was the only way she could survive the trip with her severe Meniere’s.

We arrived in Temecula, California two days and a packet of Gravol later. We were picked up in an expensive car by my mother’s cousin Larry, who I had never met before and had no idea existed prior to this meeting. I greeted him with enthusiasm, as though I’d been told all about him.
He drove us back to what might as well have been a mansion where he and his wife lived in neurotic bliss. They owned pugs that they took Christmas photos with (instead of their children), opened their own doors with their elbows to avoid touching the knobs, they had a panic room with a gun rack and their home was surrounded by a seven-foot-high chain link fence that had a two inch gap between it and their neighbour’s identical chain link fence; god forbid they share a side. They were the epitome of every negative, white American family stereotype held by other countries. It was almost funny, if not for being so fucking odd.
Upon our arrival they treated us to Sobe and gas station food before putting us in front of their giant plasma television and showing us hours of incredibly boring, monotonous wedding footage from two of their daughter’s ceremonies, which were almost identical, right down to the colour scheme and the tens of thousands wasted on mindless formality. Not a single photo was shown of their other daughter, who remained unattached and worked in a…. hair salon. She was the black sheep of the family, and I quickly bonded with her.
When I could pull myself away from the wedding montages set to Pachelbel’s Canon I hid in a guest bedroom watching their vast collection of movies. I didn’t sleep at all. In the middle of the night I went sneaking onto their abandoned office computer and downloaded AOL messenger to arrange the final details. Curtis had given me the name of a park, vague directions and a time to meet him: 11 o’clock.

In the morning my mother and I rented a car for a whopping $81 and drove up into the high desert, promptly becoming stuck in the worst traffic jam I had ever seen. We were just outside of Curtis’ home town, delayed almost 45 minutes. With no cell phones, I had no way of letting Curtis know I was going to be late.
As we idled on the highway, I was consumed with the fear that he’d think I stood him up. I could visualize him sitting on the ground, consumed with the knowledge that his worst fears had come true: I didn’t love him anymore.
At one point, trapped in bumper-to-bumper gridlock we were so close to the park that I could actually see the road we should be driving down. I felt like opening the door and fleeing, there in the middle of the road, and running to the park to find him. I would have if not for the inexplicable presence of a very high barbed wire fence separating each side of the highway.
Meanwhile, Curtis was also running late, but for entirely different reasons. He’d taken the longest shower of his life, scrubbed every square inch of his body as many times as he could before the hot water ran out, and his skin was red and raw.
“I shaved, I plucked my eyebrows and even my nose hairs. I combed and styled my hair a hundred different ways, I cleaned my glasses, changed my clothes, sucked in my gut, watched myself in the mirror from every angle and prayed to any God who would listen that it was good enough”.

Finally we made it through the gridlock and into the suburbs. We followed the confusing directions Curtis had left me, once ending up on a dead-end residential street that faded into a vast desert. I remember sitting in the car watching the rows of houses on either side of us disappear into sand; my mother hit the brakes, silently the two of us looked out over the vast, endless rock and sand and simultaneously whispered curses.

Once we finally found the right park, my mother pulled into the far lot and turned off the engine. She made no move to leave, though I still gave her strict instructions to not come out for at least fifteen minutes so that I’d have a chance to find Curtis and have the moment I’d been waiting for for over four years. My heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t hear myself speak.
I was wearing a long, flowing white summer skirt and a loose-fitting top with a meshed beach shawl over it. My hair was long and auburn, almost to my waist. I was so excited, and at the same time so terrified.
In his last message, Curtis had told me, “Go to the trees, by some picnic benches”. When I came up over the hill from the entrance to the park I found myself in a valley with two rises on either side of me. There were picnic benches in front of me, there were picnic benches to my left, and there were picnic benches to my right. All of them were surrounded with small clusters of fir trees. On the way through the city my mother and I had remarked on the absence of greenery. I cynically thought to myself that I had just found it all.

I chose a direction at random and went up a hill to my left. In the distance I could see a baseball diamond and a few old, fat trees. I headed toward them. As I crossed over the peak of the hill, the automatic sprinklers came on and showered me in a wall of water. To avoid getting soaked I had to jump between the streams, spinning and twisting like a dance. What I didn’t know is that he saw me then, as I danced underneath the water. He recognized me instantly and watched me move toward him, searching, for as long as he could before turning away before I felt his stare. He sat down and waited for me to find him – he wanted to give me the chance to change my mind.
I stopped just in front of a low-hanging branch to survey the area. I froze. Just ahead of me I saw a young man sitting on the ground, against a tree. His back was to me. He had dark hair and glasses and wore shorts and a black shirt. His legs were bouncing up and down nervously and he was rubbing his palms against his knees. He had not seen me – at least, as far as I knew – but from where I was standing I could see his eyes were closed and his head was tilted up. He was taking slow, deep breaths, trying to look calm – but his trembling legs betrayed all attempts to quell his nerves.
I tried to call out, but could only make the smallest squeak before I lost my voice. I could barely breathe, let alone speak. I tried to step forward, to reach out and touch him – I was only a few metres away – but my legs wouldn’t move. Instead I stood silently, shaking and paralysed, underneath the branches of a great fir tree and I waited for him to notice me.

I didn’t take my eyes off him, praying that he would feel my gaze, or somehow hear my thoughts, know my presence — anything. Finally he turned and saw me. He slowly stood up and took one step forward.
“H-Heather?” He was stuttering. I opened my mouth to answer but nothing came out. He took another step forward and stumbled, fell onto his knees, picked himself up again and reached out to touch my hands so carefully I almost didn’t feel it.
Finally I found my voice. “Yes,” I said. He touched my cheek with trembling hands.
“You’re… so beautiful.” I fell onto him, and he wrapped his arms so tightly around my body I felt I was a part of him. We stood that way forever, not speaking, not breathing. I felt him kiss the top of my head and smiled.
After what felt like an eternity had passed I suddenly remembered: “Oh my god, my mom!” I grabbed his hand and started leading him down the hill, “I have to tell my mom it went okay otherwise she’ll worry.” He didn’t say anything. I looked back over my shoulder and he was smiling brightly. He squeezed my hand.
I heard my mother’s voice in the distance, “Oh!” she cried. We stopped and watched her approach. She was skipping, holding her hands clasped together against her chest, crying and sniffling. “You’re so… Happy!” she exclaimed. She hugged us both, cried a little more and then jumped away, “I’m leaving! I’m leaving!”. She got in the car and drove away, promising to return some hours later.

We slowly walked back to the tree where Curtis had been sitting and curled together on the ground. For two hours we said nothing, just lay together and touched each other’s hands, fingers, feeling skin and breath. I pulled his arm over me and ran my fingers up and down his skin, watching his hair rise and reveling in how real this was.
Every time I tried to look up at his eyes I found I couldn’t. I felt shy, and embarrassed, and the intensity of the situation was far beyond anything I’d ever experienced. If I looked him in the eyes I really thought the world might fall away around me. My strongest memory of that day is every detail of his lips, from the chapped corners to the imprints of his teeth where he’d been biting as he waited for me. I couldn’t look any higher, though I tried, so I stared at his mouth instead.
I don’t remember when it started, but somehow we were moving closer. I had one hand over his chest, on his heart, and as we met in our first kiss I could feel the pounding beneath my fingertips. Even so many years later I can remember every line and texture of his lips in that moment; I remember the way he smelled, the way his hair felt in my fingers, the sound of my pulse in my ears and absolutely nothing about the world around us.
There was no one else in the park, on the street, there were no children playing, no picnics, or groups or other couples – there were just us, and this kiss, and the sensation of his heart pounding against my chest when he held me closer. It was not only our first kiss, but the first kiss either of us had ever had.
At some point we came up for air, and food… we walked to a Jack-In-The-Box and a corner store. Curtis bought me Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, which melted in the 115 degree heat before I ever even opened the package. I had to end up licking the melted chocolate out of the torn wrapping. Suddenly feeling embarrassed at doing something so undignified I shyly looked up at Curtis, only to find him watching me rather intently. He blushed and looked away as soon as he realized I’d noticed. I was blushing, too.

My mother came to get me three hours later, and when I failed to show up in the parking lot she went looking for me, only to find us sitting at a park bench kissing. When she called out Curtis jumped right out of his shoes and stood straight up, lit up red like a Christmas tree, staring at his feet. I pulled myself away with a promise to be back the next day, even earlier.

I came back almost every day for two weeks, spending hours and hours with him in that park, on walks around the area, kissing and exploring and learning each other’s bodies in the most incredible way.
On the second day I vaguely remember hearing a group of young children off somewhere near us yell out, “Eww, they’re kissing!”, and laughing as they ran away.
I have small, sporadic memories of all the little moments of the next encounters: touches, food, walks, him taking me for ice cream and walking by a run-down hotel almost every day… but almost no memories of our conversations. I don’t know that we had that many that were that long, or important. So much time was spent in the physical; not necessarily sexual but a sort of shifting of all we knew of each other into the body in front of each of us. It’s more difficult than you’d imagine to make the change. It took me days to finally look into his eyes.
I remember things like on the second day, the way his fingers stroked the underside of my breast beneath a white halter top, and when I motioned for more, he got too nervous and moved his hand away. He still uses that same touch now, before we make love, and it makes me quiver to remember it.
The third day, laying on a blanket under that same tree, kissing passionately with my legs entwined with his, feeling things I imagined I shouldn’t be after only three days, and very intentionally pretending to unintentionally rub my leg against him just to see if he would react, to satisfy my own curiosity of the complexities (or simplicity, as it were) of men and sex. I never spoke my desires aloud – not then, and not for a while. But once again, I was the one that made the first overtures.

The days that followed were like dreams, so enraptured were we that I forgot I had to go home at some point… and I never questioned not meeting his parents, I knew he was too afraid something bad would happen: they would disapprove, or forbid him from seeing me, or forbid him from being on the computer… something terrible. Irrational fears, none of them based in reality or on any past experiences – he was just afraid of losing me in one way or another.
The whole idea remained in the background, and never a concern, until the day we were caught by his mother, almost two weeks into the visit.

A continuation which will follow in another part, as it has already taken me too long to write this one… but I thought I would at least leave off somewhere interesting, given how many times this story has been requested, and how often I’ve been wanting to write it.

For part two, [ click here ].




  • […] is the second part. Don’t read it [without the first], in the prior entry. I would have put them up all at the same time but I had not yet finished the […]

  • bluealoe says:

    I finally got a chance to sit down and read this, and wow does it ever take me back.

    I remember those days of searching for belonging on the internet, of endless ICQ conversations, laughing and crying and staying up all night just to have contact with someone who cared.

    I remember when you told me you once had a crush on Curtis but that was long over…

    One one of our members died in a car accident

    I remember that…Andrea, right?

    We had a mutual friend, Martin, who was a little older, a little eccentric, and valued honour and trustworthiness more than a lot of other people would

    Hehehe, what a perfect description of Martin.

    I remember after the first meeting when you first told me how it went. For the first time since I met you, I could tell you were happy.

    I knew you and Curtis’ story before, but reading it again has brought back SO many memories.

    You’ve come a long way, Heather. *hugs tight*

    • admin says:

      Andrea yes. And her brother… fuck. Andes? Andre? I can’t remember, except that their names were very similar. They were twins. The only other thing I remember is that they were located in Mexico. We talked to their parents and stuff.

  • What a beautiful, intriguing story. What got to me was your mother’s reaction to seeing you two together for the first time… wow.

  • This is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, thank you so much for letting others be a part of it.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. My girlfriend and I met in a similar way, and I hope we have half as successful a relationship as you and Curtis in the future, and that someday I can tell “our story”, too.

  • _tzigane says:

    Reading this brought back so many memories for me. I met my first boyfriend on a roleplaying chatroom as well. I was head over heels for him. Didn’t see his picture until we began planning his trip out to meet me. I’ll never forget how nervous/excited I was to meet him. I could barely eat the week he stayed with us, I was so overwhelmed (in an awesomely good way).

    I’m so glad you shared this!

  • onelargecat says:

    I made it all the way through…I’m about to go read part two now. 🙂 Love reading the story.

  • sualkin says:

    Aw, I’m all tearyeyed. That picture of you two is just amazing.

  • door says:

    I’m so happy you’re finally sharing this story! I’ve wanted to know about it since you started using “my favorite” icon: the one of you two as teenagers. ;o)

  • I wanted to leave you this little screen cap I took of your journal. I thought it was completely appropriate. 🙂

    On that note, I just wanted to say that the story of how you two became you two made me tear up and I hope I’m as lucky some day. 🙂

  • I’m a quiet lurker of your journal. Always read, never comment. I think I’ve been around since Tempest was about a year or so old.

    I didn’t finish this yet but you made me think of things from my teens years I hadn’t thought about in years. I was a frequent user of ICQ as well and had a tight knit group. Reading the beginning of this post about chat rooms and private messages, brought back many memories. I miss everyone so much and wish I knew how to get back in touch. I only have contact with one person and we’ve met on three seperate occasions over the last eight years.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say (through rambling) is thank you for sharing your story. I can’t wait to finish it. And thank you for bringing back wonderful memories.


  • This is so, so beautiful; the reverence with which you write this makes this so much more than just “the story of Heather and Curtis.” It’s incredible how many tiny bits and pieces and details you can capture after such a long time, which only goes to show how very meant to be the two of you are.
    I know you end up living happily ever after, but I still can’t wait to read more!

    • admin says:

      While writing it I had to refer a lot to our history log to remember the proper timeline of events, or certain things that happened which were important to us coming together. I got totally lost in reading it way, way too often.

      It actually helps that so recently I went into that whole shit from my teen years… because that was deeply tied in to us getting together, and a lot of it hadn’t come up in a LONG time. It wasn’t until I directly dealt with a lot of that that I was able to remember a lot of the really negative and painful details… like not telling Curtis about Kara for five months which left him absolutely devastated, and humiliated.

      He didn’t tell me for years but once it was clear Kara was not treating me well, and I still wasn’t seeing it, he developed this grandiose plan to come and take me away when we were going to get married. Seriously. He thought about it for MONTHS and had every. last. detail worked out. He was going to be that guy in the movies that kidnaps the bride the night before her wedding because he’s the one she’s really in love with. And he really, truly was going to do it.

  • Okay, I cried! I just love the story of how you met. I, too, met the man I’m living with (and engaged to) on the internet – in a Buffy chat on IRC, actually – but I lost every single log in The Great PC Suicide of ’04. We were absolutely terrified when we met, and it took us two days just to have an actual conversation with each other. The transition between Online and Offline is ridiculously intense. I still have moments where I pause and think, wait, is this really happening? How did we go from chatting in #buffy/angel all those years ago, to actually living together? It’s surreal. 🙂

  • Oh my God Heather, I cried. And relived all those heartbroken, half-dead moments before the Boy and I got together.
    I guess it needs a few years of being together, and being one before it’s okay to write about these things and let the world read them.

    Bless you both 🙂

  • riela says:

    I got to the end. You’re one of my favorite writers on my friend’s lists. Your post reminded me so much of my first real romance, with a guy I was too shy to talk to in public, but talked daily with online. Our relationship was always a hybrid of online and real life, with most of the intensity online. The relationship ended badly when my mom forbade me to see him anymore and then the stress and pain made us turn on each other. It’s been 10 years and I have a wonderful family, but I still love him in a way and always wonder what would have happened if we had been more mature.

  • robynz says:

    This is so beautiful. I completely lost it and cried my eyes out when reading about your mother finding you. That touched me most of all.

    • admin says:

      It’s funny so many people have commented on that part, and Curtis says he just hates reading that part because he was so completely embarrassed. By that more than her walking up on us kissing, even! I thought it was funny even then.

  • great post! This brings back so many memories of the early icq and mirc days for me. I met my husband online when I was in highschool too! Crazily enough I now live practically in Temecula, Ca.

    Great story!

  • tawnithan says:

    This is so awesome. ^_^

    Is your userpic from the same trip?

  • letitshine says:

    OKAY I WANT PART TWO!! hahaha

    so adorable… <3

  • Totally takes me back to high school – it’s so odd how different “online” is now. I wasn’t in the same rooms you were, but reading this feels like getting the “happily ever after” to the stories of the people I *did* chat with.

    Thank you!!

  • aunt_heather says:

    are you still in contact with your old chat room friends? do they know you two got married and had kids?

    • admin says:

      Many of them were actually at our wedding. Martin (AKA. “Defiant”, whom I also met on the very same day in the chat room), the original person I told when I was first in love with Curtis, was his best man.
      Turns out, you see, that that VERY SAME WEEK Curtis came to Martin and said, “I think I’m in love with Heather, but please don’t tell her”. And he didn’t. So even though he received the same news, in the same week, from both of us – he never said a fucking word and just watched us suffer for FOUR LONG YEARS. So, naturally, he had to be the best man.

      However, many others we lost touch with when the chat software up and died… months went by before anything was replaced, and we ended up losing the cohesion of the group, though I still know some here and there.
      A few I miss deeply, and really, really long to find again: McCoy, Nephlite, Species 0313…

      I have however, while writing this, looked up and found the original chat owners: Connie and Kail. Who are still together (they also met there, but were together by the time I met Curtis. They also have a 5.5 year old. Connie returned my emails last night and sent me a photograph. 🙂

      McCoy (real name Jon) sent me a wedding invitation when he got married some years ago (maybe 2004?), but that was the last I heard from him. Somewhere I think I still have that invite, which has his full name and old address on it… I may be able to look him up again if I can find it.

      Nephlite (real name Joe) sent me emails at my old opendiary address probably 6+ years ago but the service went out of use AGES ago and I haven’t heard from him since. I knew his last name and hometown at one time, but cannot remember either now. I just know he was a kind, absolutely fucking brilliant young man who had a passion for acting. I met him in the chat when he was just 11 years old. I thought he was a grown man. He was the smartest damn 11 year old I ever knew.

      I really fear Kara may be dead, as the last time I heard from him (we eventually made up and became very good friends some time after the break-up) he enlisted… and was being sent to Afghanistan just prior to the war start when I was still pregnant with Tempest. My emails to him started bouncing five months later, and I never heard from him again.
      I know his full name, which is also his father’s, and his hometown (of only 3000 people)… but nothing else I can remember. I’ve looked everywhere I could think to look for him, for years, and have come up empty.

      I just recently got back in contact with the “Jenna” in this story, who I fell out of touch with from Tempest’s birth announcement email… until last month.
      She may actually be reading this now. 🙂 (Hi Jenna!) I feared she was dead for years due to a severe health problem she had/has and was so relieved to find her again that I just fucking bawled.

      One friend from the chat visited here once and was so taken she decided to move here (about ten minutes from me, actually), came out of the closet, found the love of her life and has been happily living here ever since. She remains one of my best friends. I mention her sometimes here: Marian.

      Everyone else is lost…

  • I savored every single word and cannot WAIT to read more. I’m so excited! Thank you for sharing this.

  • owenc says:

    Beautiful. Wonderful.

    Thank you.

  • neesypea says:

    I read this this morning and didn’t comment. Your story has been in my mind all day, so I came back to say what a beautiful story this is and I can’t wait to read more!

    I found your journal by doing a google search on cloth diapers and I’ve been lurking here ever since. I love your photography as well, you inspire me.


  • xelasminin says:

    Well I read it all, and I cannot wait to see part 2!!

  • comitto says:

    can’t wait for part 2!

  • frogger414 says:

    That was amazingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing, I can’t wait to read more 🙂

  • tofersmomma says:

    Made it. 🙂

    It’s an awesome story.

  • earlgreyhot says:

    I cried!! Thanks for writing this out. You captured so well the shift from hours and hours of talking into the intensity of the ‘realness’ when you finally meet the person… So beautifully written!! :}

  • ruethee says:

    P.S. In that bottom picture of you guys, you look like Tempest will when she’s a teenager. She’s a lucky girl.

  • ruethee says:

    In tears!!! You always move me to tears. Your words, your photos, your love.
    If you wrote a book, I’d buy it…and I’m BROKE. Like, really, really broke.
    I love that I found your journal four years ago. I love that you allow people a look at your beautiful soul. I love the love you share with your husband and children. It gives me hope for humanity.
    And I can’t wait for part 2!

  • janaya says:

    beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written.

  • sylvanna says:

    Oh, Heather. I’m breathless.

  • 🙂 I met my husband online too. Can’t wait to hear the rest.

  • wifeybuddy says:

    This was amazing. Thank you.

  • kaethe says:

    What a beautiful story!

  • mussare says:

    I also read it all, but haven’t thought out a response yet. I knew my (now) husband for 9 years on LJ (and kite land, though we never made the connection) though nothing came of it until last year when I moved to BC for work… but then, we’re old and cantankerous. ;P

    (p.s. me mummy lurved her photo, it’s up in her study)

  • I’m a frequent lurker on your LJ, though rarely comment. I enjoyed this story like I would a good book. reminds me in some ways how my first encounter with my distance-computer-based romance went. thank you for sharing and keeping so many of your entries public for your adoring fans to read 🙂


  • jadethe2nd says:

    I was completely engrossed reading that. I can’t wait for the next part!

  • noelove says:

    I only got this far…

    He seemed the type who was easily embarrassed, and I was only doing it to tease him: it took less than two weeks before gave in and told me to call him Curtis.

    …Before I started crying. I think that I might need a bigger box of tissues.

    • noelove says:

      Oh Heather…So many parts of this story hit so fucking close to home. It was painful to read, but good at the same time.

      Your mother…what she said in the park, that just threw me under the bus. I’m a teary, snotty mess right now after reading that.

      Can’t wait for more. 🙂

  • alexparte says:

    This is incredibly sweet. 🙂

    (Also, I think young-Curtis is adorable)

  • Noooooo!!!!! I want more!

    Oh my god, I cried! Your husband, back then, with his shy downward look, his glasses, the slight pudginess that he thought was so huge, his style, his messy hair…all of it, reminds me SO MUCH of mine when we were younger. You just brought back into glaring reality some of the most dizzyingly wonderful days of my life. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I find it so interesting that you two are going through this time of rediscovery- the rediscovery that includes so much MORE than you may have ever realized was possible when you were younger. We are doing it, too. SUCH amazing timing, this sharing.

    Thank you, this made my entire day. Now….get to writing more! 😛

    • admin says:

      That picture was from the second day, which I know because of my white top.

      On the first day, to help me recognize him, he wore a black t-shirt that had a Star Trek logo on it. He literally had that t-shirt until last year, when it had fallen apart so badly he was forced to throw it out and I swear to god he almost cried. It was really sweet.

      I’m working on the next part. 😉

  • gardenmama says:

    Awww. How old were you and how old was Curtis?

    The part where you met in person for the first time brought tears to my eyes. And made me wish for something that amazing in my life. My love story seems so much more … mundane 😉

    • admin says:

      My brother and I have often joked about the stark difference between his story with his partner, and mine.
      His was a one night stand that accidentally went on for 17 years. 😉 Haha!

      • gardenmama says:

        Yes! Mine was supposed to be a one night stand too. I was getting out of a horrible 5 year relationship and needed some time on my own. I thought a fling would be just the thing, with this guy I thought was cute from a class I had taken the quarter before. So yeah, one night stand, and then he kept calling me … 🙂 We started talking late into the night, going for long walks together, getting to know each other. He says he knew within two weeks that I was “the one.” It took me longer, because I was in denial that he was what I needed. I didn’t want to jump from one relationship right into another. But that’s what I did. And 17 years later … here I am 🙂

        Kind of the opposite of your story, with the physical part first, and the falling in love part later.

  • missauria says:

    I loved the description of his primping. Looking forward to part two.

  • cryslea says:

    OMG this is like the season finale of your favorite show. What’s going to happen? What’s his mom going to do? Will you ever see each other again?? (I’m guessing yes, lol)

  • tastyanagram says:

    What an amazing story. You are truly a gifted writer. I’ve also been blessed to be involved in a close-knit online community and to meet two people I’ve loved deeply online. You described exactly the way it feels. How loved you can feel by people you’ve never met, even more than people who have known you your whole life. How you can fall in love with someone online and have the longest, most embarrassing-to-recall conversations for so long. To finally admit how you feel, and to, after it all, finally meet them.

    You brought back a lot of wonderful memories for me that I often can’t reach, because they are blocked by a lot of negative past. Thank you very much for this.

  • Wow. Just…wow.

    MORE, PLZ.

  • Anonymous says:

    I made it through and I can’t wait for the rest of the story! It’s a beautiful story and beautifully written.

  • This brings back so many memories of my own… I met my first love online. Then my husband a few years later. What a great story, and so amazing that you remember so many details.

    • admin says:

      I had to use our chat logs and old entries as a guide to remember a lot of it. And, as I said further somewhere in notes on this entry, much didn’t come back up until I went through all the teen stuff some entries back. I had to dig through all the rough shit to pull back out all these details I missed.
      I kept remembering all these little things as I was going (that were not contextually related to the story) and going, “Oh Curtis, do you remember…?” like every ten minutes.

      Like keeping his a t-shirt he slept in next to my bed for months so I’d have something that had his smell while he was gone.

  • handgun says:

    We’re broken up now, a year later, but I met what I believe is the love of my life online. We’d played World of Warcraft together for two years before finally meeting up in person… there are very, very few things that require more bravery than being self conscious about yourself, and then meeting for the first time a person that you already love beyond words. That walk from the tarmac to the airport lobby was probably the scariest walk of my life.

  • sraedi says:

    a sort of shifting of all we knew of each other into the body in front of each of us. It’s more difficult than you’d imagine to make the change.

    I am veryvery familiar with this.


  • frogmorest says:

    Even though I knew most of this from last summer (best summer ever my friend 🙂 ) I LOVED reading it 🙂 More please 🙂

  • effervescent says:

    This was beautiful, really. You have such a way of communicating your feelings, it makes me remember all my own experiences.

  • sprytaen says:

    Hahahah.. this totally took me back to my IRC days. I loved those people. We were all extremely close.. Oh, the internet. 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    Your story gives me so much hope for what I hope my first meeting with my online love will be like.

  • zepharum says:

    More more!

    “animated gifs of dancing hamsters and poorly crafted midi files were so hot we were willing to wait the half an hour it took to download them”
    made me laugh my ass off. I cannot fathom this now but yet…I did it too.

    • admin says:

      I know, right? Remember amazing sparkling background images and scrolling marquees because THAT WAS TOTALLY THE BOMB. HTML chats you had to manually refresh every minute and getting moofed (which I only recently realized stands for, “moved offline”) every ten because your mom picked up the phone…. those were the days.

  • birthingway says:

    I made it through. I also met my partner online first, and I remember very distinctly how totally strange and yet completely familiar it was to meet him IRL for the first time. Le sigh. This is wonderful; thank you for sharing.

  • Heather You’re an amazinf writer… this is a beautfil story.

  • i’ve just read your entire story with a grin on my face and tears in my eyes. you write so beautifully and your story is so sweet. you know what true love is…

  • I. loved. this.

    Such a beautiful, beautiful story.

  • _evalution says:

    awwwww…WHAT HAPPENS NEXT????

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