I’m not proud of my past. It’s a bit checkered to say the least. I tend to ignore it when it comes up in conversation and gloss over it with platitudes: It was lovely. Perfectly normal. Happy indeed.
I’m going to open up now in hopes that I can quash some demons. It’s not something I ever intended to do but I can’t sit idly by and continue to see the news stores. No, I don’t presume my story will save the world, but perhaps it might help someone, even if only myself.
I spent a large chunk of my tweens and all of my teens hiding online. I was a socially awkward kid and I found online communications less threatening. I had AIM, Yahoo, MSN Messenger, MySpace, Facebook, DeviantART, and any other online form of messaging. Anything to communicate with the outside world without having to go outside. I had various “personalities” to go along with each screen name, it was wonderful never having to actually be myself. I was funny, beautiful, popular, witty–I was everything I believed I wasn’t.
Needless to say, I had quite a few male “friends” online, after all, I carefully tailored my “life” to what I believed males wanted. Males of all ages were clambering to speak to me. They adored me. I loved the attention. I ate it up. I couldn’t believe how popular I was online. I was invincible. I was, in reality, a naive 14-year-old girl.
I had been corresponding with one man, Jack, for over a year. He was the nicest of all my “suitors” and was always the first to IM me when I popped online after school. Jack was a 19-year-old boy from a neighboring state. He called himself my boyfriend. He was dreamy. Everything I ever wanted in a boyfriend. I was smitten.
A year and a half after we met he asked if he could come visit. I was 100% in love with this boy and immediately said yes. I knew the risks about meeting a man from the internet so I refused to give him my address. Instead I told him to meet me at the local library. I was going to be safe about this meeting and public places were safe. We set up the time and date and I was walking on clouds the entire two weeks I waited for him.
Finally the day came to meet. I was only 14 so I asked my parents to drop me at the library (the bonus of being the nerdy kid because my parents did not think this was odd). When I arrived at the library I still wanted to be safe so I hid in the book shelves and waited until I saw Jack arrive. I saw him walk in the door and immediately realized I had made a massive mistake. My gut instinct told me to run.
I went to the mall across the street and called my mom where to get me. I still did not tell her why. I lied and told her I was hungry and went to the mall for a snack. After I was safely back home with my parents placated by lies I patted myself on the back for listening to my intuition. I had dodged that bullet and learned my lesson. Well done.
Our doorbell rang at 2 A.M. that morning. My father answered the door and a police officer asked if I was home. Every parent’s worst nightmare. My mother was behind my father and as soon as the words left the officer’s mouth she ran down the hall and burst through my door I was in bed sleeping the sleep of the innocent (or so she thought). She dragged me from my bed and down the hall demanding to know what I had done.
The officer was a kind man with a fatherly face. In fact, his fatherly demeanor is why he ended up at my house in the first place. Jack had been picked up by the police for disorderly conduct. While he was in holding, Jack had continuously asked where he could find me. This officer, following protocol, ran the usual checks on their prisoner. Red flags flew.
Jack had a juvenile record and it was bad. Now that he was 19 it was sealed but the officer had seen it. The officer also had a 14-year-old daughter. That’s why the officer came to my house at two in the morning. He needed to make sure my parents knew I was in danger this afternoon. He needed to make sure I was still safe.
Jack was released and was ordered to have no contact with me. My online accounts were deleted and my computer time monitored. I was mortified. I thought I could trust this man. I thought I could trust my instincts. While they were right when it mattered, I was still so wrong.
Now I’m older and a touch wiser. I am active online again but I limit myself. I spend most of my time lurking in online gaming communities. I see kids posting their phone numbers, addresses, full names so “friends” can easily contact each other. Even on “private” the pages are still visible to anyone who is determined enough to find a victim.
Every time I see another child post this information to “trusted companions” I stop cold and the hair stands on the back of my neck.
I think: Are you the next Amber Alert?
That police officer was my wake-up call. Please, let this be yours.