It’s amazing what you don’t see when you spend your time looking down at a screen. I couldn’t give you directions to anywhere further than two miles from my house. I couldn’t tell you the date. Not without looking at something, at least. I couldn’t honestly tell you what colour the walls of my bedroom are. That’s an exaggeration, but honestly? There’s a whole lot of life I’ve been missing out on.
I couldn't tell you how many times I’ve been told to get off my phone, or my laptop, or my tablet, or the internet in general. But here’s the thing, the internet is my escape. I never have and never will claim to understand socialising at all. I don’t understand how to be a functioning member of society. It’s just a fact. Beyond ‘hello’ and I collapse into a blubbering mess on the floor.
I have a tendency to exaggerate.
But life on the internet, well, on my side of the internet, is just so much simpler. On my side of the internet, I’m a writer, I’m anonymous and yet completely myself. People don’t know who I am, but they know me. They know my style. They know the way I write, the things I want to do. They know about my family and what I’m doing and I’m completely ok with that. I have my little circle of friends in class and that’s all I needed.
So what happens when I decide to apply for university over three hours away in a moment of madness?
Well… Drama, to sum it up succinctly.
I told you about my social inadequacies, right?
So it was with dread that I packed up my room and moved away from everything I knew. I really should have made a better decision. There was a university half an hour away from home, I could go home on weekends, I could go home every day if I wanted. That would've been brilliant. I'm an idiot.
More on that idea later. But keep it in mind.
I like anonymity. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel protected, in a way. There are people that take advantage of that. They hide behind a screen to be cruel. But I prefer hiding behind a screen to stop myself being hurt. If I write, and people don’t like it, it’s a lot easier to take the criticism when you don’t know them and they don’t know you. Because you know, you know, that they could pass you in a street one day and neither of you would be any the wiser. They wouldn’t think of you as that girl who wrote that awful thing and you wouldn’t think of them as that person who said that awful thing.
It’s a win-win.
And the lack of recognition doesn’t bother me. Really, it doesn’t. Except sometimes…
Sometimes it does. And sometimes I get my friends and family to read my writing. And sometimes they like it. Sometimes they give me praise. Sometimes they lie.
I always regret it.
So online I’m safe and the people I care about don’t judge me or criticise me or think any less of me. I like it that way.
I like it that way because there are a lot of things in my life I would rather forget. People I would rather forget. So if I stay online, if I don’t show anyone the real me anymore, no one can hurt me again like they did.
Except someone did.
I wasn’t expecting it. It was a complete curveball. The betrayal still stings. More so that she still acts like my best friend.
I was adamant that I wasn’t going to let anyone know about my writing this time, I’d been burned by people too many times before. So I stayed away from the writing groups and the societies and the after hours courses. In fact, I went completely or ridiculously out of my way to stay away from anything to do with storytelling. So much so that it took me over two months to visit my university library.
It was an accident, completely and utterly, that this girl found me in the park one day scribbling away. I certainly hadn’t intended for it to happen. I was wearing a fairly plain raglan tee, denim shorts, and a cap, but I had birds drawn on me and a pin on my bag. I suppose she must have recognised them and she struck up conversation.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of being a fan of things. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, I’m proud of it. I just find that it doesn’t always bring me to right kind of people. Maybe that’s a small town for you. But it’s me so I stick with it. I’ve learnt it’s best to stick with my gut.
She bounced up to me. She had long, dyed, auburn hair that reached her mid back in gentle curls, bright blue eyes, and possibly the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. I think she clocked the birds first, then the pin, and then she caught my eye. I must have done something to invite her to converse with me, though I don’t remember what, and so she sat down next to me.
I couldn’t really complain. It was a public park, she could have sat anywhere and I couldn’t have complained. I’d just picked this spot because very few people came by it and I knew I would get some solitude. Just me, my notebook, and a pen. The only things I needed in life.
“Hi!” She was loud, so loud, and incredibly close. I wanted to push her away. I realised that would be considered rude before I did it though. “I’m Thea.” She continued when I didn’t say anything. I cocked my head to the side. I felt like she was wanting me to recognise her. I wondered if I should. But I didn’t so I kept quiet. I know now I should have introduced myself. That tends to be how these things work. I just got so used to keeping people at arms length that I ended up not letting anyone in at all. I must not have spoken to a new person in years.
Again, small town.
“We’re in the same intro to psych class…” She continued slowly. I think I nodded, mostly in recognition that I took that class as one of my options, not in recognition of her. I think she twigged. “I sit near the front? Usually next to the guy with the… you know.” Thea waved her hands under her arms and wrinkled her nose. I laughed. I knew who she meant. “Never by choice, mind you. I’m just too damn nice, apparently.”
“Apparently.” I agreed laughing. Her smile must have gone up to 1,000 watts, all teeth and joy.
“So what’s your name?”
“Oh, um, Rachel.” I stammered. I noticed Thea leaning closer to me. I snapped my notebook shut.
“Ok then, Ray.” I blushed a little at the nickname. It wasn’t my usual name. I mostly got ‘Raych’ at home. Ray felt good. Ray felt like something new. I decided I liked it, even if it would take a while to get used to it. “We’re friends now.”
My eyes widened at her boldness. I stammered to get words out. I failed. She just smiled at me, kind of like you’d smile at a small child, and petted my head. Vaguely I was offended, but more of me was craving the attention.
“We’re in for a hell of a ride.”