After some time, it turned out that I was going on a family vacation to Miami, and I’d finally get to meet Rafa and Dan. I’d been tasked with remembering every single detail about them for our post-meeting debrief phone call.
It seemed like the most important thing I’d ever have to do—the climactic moment in our ongoing performance as two cool chicks with equally cool boyfriends who just happened to live hundreds of miles away.
When all systems were go, we’d sign into one of our AOL accounts, and as soon as the login was complete, our eyes would dart to the buddy list docked on the left side of the screen to see if Rafa or Dan were online. They seemed just as excited to talk to us as we were to talk to them.
Leah and I would take turns helming the keyboard, telling our Floridian friends about drama at school, talking shit about our other friends, and flirting in the way that only 12-year-olds can—calling each other “losers,” exchanging poorly cropped photos, and making up fake boys from school who had fake crushes on us. I’d eventually go home, across the street to my house, and that’s when Rafa and I would chat alone.
All the people I was close with up to that point were people I’d known most of my life: my parents, one of my babysitters, a few of my friends.
But here he was, a new person entering my orbit without actually being there.
My best friend at the time, Leah, and I would go into chatrooms to talk with strangers and take on different, mostly harmless personas. Rafa was the fingers and face and body behind Dragon42145, and if this chat was a game of poker, then his vocabulary and phrasing were his tell.
They gave him away as a kid just like us, taking on a more mature persona and testing the boundaries of the Internet to see what would happen.
It was strange to feel such an intimate connection and feel so close to a person I’d never physically laid eyes on.My friends would return at the end of each summer with useful knowledge, like the meaning of “hook up” and how to give a handjob, while I played with dolls and occasionally took a break to ride my bike.So when puberty reared its ugly head, I decided to pursue a relationship in the most nonthreatening way possible: on the Internet. But one day, in a chatroom, while once again pretending we were older than we were, we started chatting with Dragon42145.But I was a late bloomer, and save for chasing my first-grade crush into the middle of the soccer field during a recess game, only to have him tell me to get the hell out of the way, I mostly stayed away from the boys in their Adidas pants and Gap sweatshirts.I was a chubby only child, the only Jew from New York that didn’t go to sleepaway camp.