It’s 1994; I’m 15 and going through puberty. This means, of course, that I am simultaneously struggling to feel understood, immersing myself in rock & roll, and spending the rest of my free time obsessing about boys. And unlike the teens who’ve come of age before me, I have access to a brand new tool that promotes my ability to do all three: a miracle computer program by the name of Prodigy.
I’ve learned from aunt Cappy, who knows such things, that Prodigy is a system of “message boards” that can be accessed and “posted on” by anyone using a computer connected to a phone line. I can’t picture this at all (am I supposed to plug the computer into a phone jack instead of an electrical outlet?), but she sets it up for me. Now, I’m not just Laura Heywood of Oakland, CA; I am also KSHG11D – the handle assigned to me along with my shiny new Prodigy account. (There’s no such thing as a “username” in 1994.)
I set out immediately to find the music boards. I’m obsessed with a local Berkeley band that has just released their first major label CD: the Counting Crows. Is there a message board dedicated to their music? I type, click, wait patiently for the screen to load… and I find it. There is!!!
My first post is titled “Favorite Counting Crows Song” and I write a thousand-word dissertation on Perfect Blue Buildings. I push a button and realize with exhilaration that I’m now a published writer! I stare at the screen, waiting for someone to comment or respond. Before anyone does, Mom comes in and tells me to go to bed.
After school the next day, I run to my parents’ bedroom and wait for the Apple Macintosh to boot up so I can check my replies. One stands out: it’s from a boy my age in Washington, DC. He tells me that in addition to Counting Crows, he loves Live, Hootie & the Blowfish, and the Grateful Dead. He plays football, has a golden retriever puppy, and even sings and writes his own songs on the guitar.
His name is Christof and we’re soon spending hours composing public messages to each other on these Prodigy boards. We calculate the time difference and set dates so we can both be sitting in front of our green-tinted computer screens at the same time, synchronizing our CD players so we can analyze new albums track-by-track in real time. Sometimes we write parallel critiques at the same moment, and I just know that we are dissolving into fits of simultaneous laughter when they post.
Via this electronic/ telephonic/ futuristic connection, Christof brings me exactly what I lack in my face-to-face relationships: the ability to feel understood, no matter how weird or vulnerable I get. We’ve never been in the same timezone, let along the same room, but I feel closer to him than anyone else in my life. I may be tying up the family phone line, but I’m also freeing myself from the overwhelming loneliness of youth.
Christof and I stay in touch for just over a year. Prodigy has upped its fees, and my parents decide it isn’t worth it any more (plus there’s this new phenomenon called America Online that’s starting to catch on, which supposedly allows its users to actually send each other private messages at no extra charge!). For a while, we keep in touch via paper letters; but as we get more comfortable in our bodies and in our real-life social lives, little by little our need for each other wanes. We lose touch right around the time I get my drivers license.
A decade later, I find Christof on Friendster and technology connects us once again. We are both now living in New York, and decide to meet in person for the first time. Over sushi in the East Village, I’m touched to learn that his memories are as glowing and affectionate as mine.
As it turns out, Christof is scheduled to move to San Francisco just a few days after our dinner. I’m bummed (of course I’d imagined that we might fall in love and have the most romantic story ever to tell at our wedding), but I can tell that we are forever joined by a connection made years ago, through our love of music and a series of computer chips and telephone wires. And you know what? I still think of him every time I hear the Counting Crows.
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Laura Heywood is a writer and producer in New York City whose work has been featured on BroadwayWorld.com and radio stations throughout the country. Her hobbies include aerobic pole dancing, Geocaching, and competitive Skee-Ball.