I always have a thing that I’m absolutely consumed with and can’t write about yet.
I can trace my life pretty well by sitting down and remembering each “unspeakable, unshareable” thing of the moment.
They’re a set of points on a timeline. A flipbook of still sketches. Each frame defined by what my secret was.
In one, I’m having an emotional affair with an Iksar monk in my Everquest guild. He says all the right things. Tells me I’m brilliant and that I have incredible eyes in my forum photo. It’s lonely up in the mountains of Montana, he says. My boyfriend clearly doesn’t appreciate me. He’s always so abrupt with me in guild chat.
The monk visits me while I grind drolvargs near the entrance of Karnor’s Castle in Dreadlands. Ready to spring into action and finish off mobs if I go linkdead since I’m on dial-up. I’m so fragile, a dark elf wizard in a cloth robe.
“I love you, Page,” the monk tells me. I say it back.
And then we’re up late at night every night, chatting outside of the game. Eventually he starts to call me.
When my boyfriend Seth finds out, he’s livid, betrayed.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Seth asks.
“It was just so good to feel needed,” I reply.
It doesn’t end there, although I stop talking to the monk.
Switch servers. Go offline. Back to school.
When I play again, I switch games.
I don’t know why I expect things to be any different. Seth and I are the same people, after all. Still a bit disappointed with one another.
I continue to bore him with everything I say.
What I want is to lie on the bed together and talk about our pasts, our fears, our hopes for the future. I want to get past his shell and glimpse into his emotions, his inner life.
“You knew I had ADD when we met, and besides I listen to you when you’re talking about things I actually care about,” he says.
And games are one of those things. He gets giddy talking strategy. “No, no, no, that spec is garbage, here’s what you do,” he says. His face comes alive.
But we are living our lives in parallel, always talking about the game, the third party, the shared interest. We go days without discussing anything in the real world. And I can’t remember the last time he complimented me.
Treat others the way you’d like to be treated, I remind myself. I’m sure I sound foolish, following him around the house, doting on him at full magnitude.
And still, nothing.
And of course a Tauren druid in Ireland starts to pelt me with compliments in game, and I feel the center unravel again.
It takes almost nothing to stray my heart from Seth — a few words typed into a screen.
I take this as a sign that I’m a bad person, not that there’s anything wrong with our relationship.
The third time I feel disloyal, it’s real life, and it’s someone close to both of us. We hold back from physically cheating but only just. We sit on the couch in my old apartment, our legs touching, breathing in the tension, contemplating ruining everyone’s lives. Instead, I tuck the tag back into his T-shirt and ask him if he’s hungry.
We both know how close we came.
I’m relieved when he finds a girlfriend, someone to drain the tension from him. I don’t trust myself anymore to behave without a hostage involved.
As I sit here writing this piece, there are three things I can’t write about that I’m tormented by. One of them is especially bad, especially raw. No emotional affairs (poly has reframed that whole concept anyway), but all things that embarrass me. Things that I don’t understand.
As Nora Ephron famously wrote, “Everything is copy.”
These bruises, the moments when I should have known better, they are tomorrow’s material.
And it’s a comfort, really. Nothing will be unbearable forever.