My sophomore year of college took place in the not so
terribly distant past, though it was back when the Web was just a whisper, a tiny rumble
of something approaching. Then, the Internet I knew consisted of nothing more exciting
than E-mail and Bulletin Board Systems. I happened to attend the university containing
the world's largest BBS at the time, where I was able to actually walk into a
subterranean room and view what appeared to be miles of gigantic monolithic computer
systems, all tangled together in a mess of flashing cables and heavy cords, carefully
protected by glass walls.
The sheer size of their system was impressive, of
course, and though I walked past it each time I needed to visit the campus computer
lab, I found little to interest me in the BBS itself. I'd been online enough to know
how to communicate with other visitors and post reviews and messages in the forums,
but life was outside the computer, in the real world. Occasionally I dropped in to
read reviews posted in the Science Fiction Forum, or watch the latest frenzied and
fanatical debate in the Religion arena, but most of my visits were restricted to a
few minutes once or twice a month.
Then one day I was browsing through the posts in the
book review forum and spotted one that stood out from the usual tripe praising this
generic author or that. A guy who seemed to be a fairly critical thinker (this was
remarkable, in comparison to many of the swarms of users who frequented the
BBS) had written a particularly spot-on review of a book by one of my favorite authors.
The review aroused my curiousity. Not only did he point out the things I would
have noted had I been writing it myself, but he seemed to phrase things in exactly the
same way as me. Our writing styles were so similar I decided to check back in again soon
to see if anything else might be written under his handle.
After several months, impressed by his reviews, I
decided to approach him with a compliment on his taste in books. From there, our
conversations seemed to become more and more frequent, until I was logging on nearly
every day just to sit down for a chat. It was uncanny how many views we shared, how
much alike we were. Before long it seemed to me as if a strange little mirror had opened
in the universe to create a male Doppelganger of myself and plunk him down many states
away. Though I was careful not to show too much emotion or frighten him away, after a
year and a half of these talks, sometimes lasting from midnight to dawn, I found myself
so smitten I could barely eat, sleep, or keep my mind on anything else.
My roommate thought I was insane. A girl who lived
across the hall from me in the dorms had just experienced a devastating Internet
romance on the same BBS, in which she had actually become pregnant, dumped, and a
college dropout all in one, after flying to meet her particular love interest. There
was no way I could explain to my friends how such a thing couldn't possibly happen to
me. I had at least half a brain, I was sure. I had also been talking to my Doppelganger
for such a long time, I knew I could trust him. A pathological liar would have tripped
up by now, would have grown bored, would have found easier prey than myself.
So, as the second year of our discussions ended,
neither of us had a clue what the other looked like. There were no photos or even
physical descriptions exchanged, and only once or twice a phone call, until finally he
asked me if I would like to come visit him in Montana. My home was in Texas, though I
went to college in Iowa, and in either case I would be traveling a great distance.
What sort of creature might greet me when I arrived,
people speculated? Someone so grossly overweight he could barely walk, or a man who
might hack me into little bits on a rainy night and redistribute me in dark alleys? All
the nightmare scenarios were paraded before me on the lips of my friends, hopeful that
I might see reason and find a decent guy in a bar some night, not one of these crazy
Meanwhile, the only real danger I found is that love
can attack you when you least expect it. You might be casually surfing the Literature
Forum, scanning stuffy posts about whether or not Hamlet really did see his father's
ghost in pajamas, when suddenly, horror of horrors, you become addicted to another
person and can't seem to stop thinking about them!
After two years of on-line communication I went to
visit Montana. In the airport I was greeted by a giant stuffed grizzly, rearing and
baring his teeth at me as soon as I walked off the plane. On very shaky knees, I was
able to walk past the bear and identify my twin by the pre-arranged signals: he by his
aardvark T-shirt, and me by my floppy brown hat. From there, things managed to work
themselves out. We have now been living quite happily together for nearly 8 years.
Though there are many horror stories of love trampled
and crushed on the Internet, of psychos and sirens, deception and dismay, there are
also happy stories that still need to be told lest one bow to fear and opt not to
investigate what life has to offer. Who would have thought that somewhere, in that
tangled mile of flashing cable and twinkling lights, among the softly ticking monoliths
nestled in glass underground, two people might be falling in love?
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