How AIM Ruined My Teenagehood
From the age of 11 onwards, the internet served as safe, cushy place where I could express my true nature, geek out with other girls building websites with HTML and CSS, and “Ask Jeeves” to my heart’s content. I learned about periods on gURL.com, frequented indie and alternative music message boards (namely Juliana Theory, Saves the Day, and most emo bands of the time), and made both girl and guy friends around the world. It didn’t scare me or induce fear in me until one day in 2002.
I was 16. It was November and I was 4 months into my first real relationship with a boy. My first boyfriend ever. His name was Patrick. I had had a long time crush on him, (but for many other complicated and convoluted reasons I won’t get into) he finally noticed me in the summer preceding my sophomore year of high school. We had our first kiss outside the town’s “Coffee House”, a local teen hangout that served coffee, hosted local bands, and housed so many dingy second-hand couches for tiny teenage butts to plop down on. Our friends hung out there nearly every Friday night, and my boyfriend frequently played there with his band where he was the drummer.
Fast forward four months. Now, the timeline is still fuzzy as I will never know the truth about what really happened. But here’s how it went down.
November 1st I was scheduled to have my four wisdom teeth removed. I was miserable, sick, swollen, and laid up in bed for four days. I couldn’t see friends or go anywhere. I also remember being extremely saddened that I couldn’t make out with my own boyfriend. My dentist specifically advised against it as the germs from someone else could infect me. I heeded his warning seriously because I’m a Virgo and a hypochondriac combo.
By the end of November, I was better again, full fledged making out with my boyfriend like before. Things had seemingly gone back to normal. Except they hadn’t.. not really. My boyfriend began staying after school for what he said was wrestling practice. Ok, cool, I knew that he did that. But then one day I received a mysterious AIM chat from an anonymous person. Out of nowhere, they said “You’re boyfriend is cheating on you. He isn’t staying after school for sports. You should talk to him.” I vehemently demanded to know to identity of the person and also explain why they would spread rumors. I called my boyfriend immediately and read him the chats and was confused and surprised, but denied any truth to it. He said it was probably just some rando who was jealous. I believed him because I was 15, this was my first boyfriend, and I wasn’t broken by the world yet.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day all came and went. He bought me a beautiful bouquet of roses, gold earrings, a teddy bear, and chocolates for my first coupled Valentine’s Day. I felt so special and in love. By that point we were together for about 7 months, but hadn’t had sex because I knew for sure I was not ready to do it. I don’t even think I fully understood sex at age 16 or had any real interest in taking the plunge. All I knew was I loved making out with my boyfriend, holding hands, and pretending we had a life together.
To be honest, I had been living in fear and dread ever since that first anonymous chat in November. I wondered “when and will this ever happen again?” I developed severe anxiety over AIM and the internet in general that were now being used against me. I had a bad feeling that things were happening behind my back, but I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I ignored it because one’s own intuition at age 16 is clearly not developed as well as it ought to be.
But then, in April of 2003, the anonymous AIM chatter came back into my life to try to shatter it all. And this time it worked.
I remember it clear as day. I was sitting downstairs at my family’s computer in the family room wearing blue flare jeans and a Roxy t shirt. When all of a sudden I receive an anonymous chat from someone not on my AIM buddy list (which was a pretty lengthy list at this point in high school). The anon said “You didn’t listen the first time, but your boyfriend is still cheating on you and has been for many months. He doesn’t love you. And he spent all his holidays with his other girlfriend. You need to leave him alone, he doesn’t want you anymore.”
I called my boyfriend immediately and he confirmed it was true almost instantly. He told me he had been cheating on me since the previous November because he couldn’t make out with me when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. He told me he went to Paula (the girl he cheated on with) after he saw me on Valentine’s Day. He confessed to everything. I was devastated. Hyperventilating. Losing my mind. I had so many thoughts in my head I couldn’t even stand up straight. Not only was I just dumped, but I was warned months ago and I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t trust my gut, I didn’t indulge the anon, I just let it happen. I was mad at myself, my boyfriend, and the other girl.
From that point forward, I decided to erase myself from the public view of the internet. Or at least the public that was my high school. I had a regular blog I wrote in, but after the breakup, I’d get anonymous messages telling me to “go kill yourself” or insulting things about my looks - really anything to incite incredible pain and anxiety in me. I was constantly tortured inside and out of school for being the jilted ex-girlfriend who did nothing to deserve any of it. Most of my friends who I gained through the relationship began to shun me and I counted down the days until graduation. The next year and a half of high school were the most tumultuous times of my life, but I focused on getting into college and getting the fuck out of New Jersey.
Epilogue: Today I am 30 and am only now realizing I can lift the veil a little bit on my anonymity on the web. For many, many years after the 2002 incident, I felt so much fear on the internet that an anon would sneak up and tell me to “go die” or make fun of me. I didn’t put myself into online situations where others could leave their messages about me or give their opinion. I decided only I would call the shots and the only voice I would read was mine. To this day, I still don’t know who the “anonymous chatter” was; I have a few suspects in mind. My ex and the girl dated for another two years or so. I heard a rumor later on she cheated on him with someone else from our high school. I smiled when I heard that.