Do you remember the internet before social media? The weird, endless, shapeless frontier, bursting with the newness of subjects you had never before heard, the sensation of extending the space of your mind without ever leaving your chair, the faceless personalities that shape-shifted, screamed, cried, laughed, into the empty space of a small chat box?
I grew up on that small box. I met the girl who pretended to be a boy and say they loved me (I was like, 10), I had the best virtual friends in places as far from New Jersey as Texas and Germany. I was the girl who never showed her face, because I liked the face others materialized in their heads rather than the real, bland version of me that would destroy all mystery and interest.
The internet today is a suspicious place: full of absolutes, wiki-pages to catalogue the world, social media platforms for all aspects of your life, your job, your pets, your interests. I was scared of the mystery my own face would reveal, while the mystery of the wide expanse became commodified, comfortable, small and unimaginative.
The wide expanse of the early internet has been lost, but the page is always blank. It is blank and willing to be that space where my fascination with language, and shapes, and communication, persists and lives on. It is the space where I reconstruct and try to understand how I was once a little kid, a little girl, who grew up quickly and without warning; the surreal confusion of my period, the unexpected and shameful transformation of my body, the premature exposure to sex and sexuality and navigating a world of social pressures from male figures and adults.
I grapple with these changes by revisiting them in hyper-specific ways: corners of the world that have existed in obscurity, internal spaces that I’ve retreaded into, and the entrances to these worlds. I’ve tied a woman to her emotionally distant boyfriend by a rope. I’ve recreated an IRC chat room in 1999, emoticons and all. I’ve vocalized the internal, self-conscious monologue of a woman who constantly questions the worthiness of her body in the world.
I write these stories to assert my worthiness in the world. To say fuck off to the self-doubt, to dismantle and challenge the discomfort that makes it impossible for others to exist without that self-doubt. I want to document the spaces where this discomfort happens, give it shape and form and sound, and then give us all the space to laugh and exhale in relief. I want to exhale in relief at my existence.
If possible, I’d want to exhale with others. I’d want to build that bridge, make my world smaller, and find out that our insecurities have different stories but strike the same section of our hearts. And when I’d find that out, I’d hug you, I’d cheer for you, and say the world is large enough for all of our stories, and we are close enough that we can hear them all.