/Whois - Chapter 7 - The Tin Can Belly Button Theory
In a way, getting to know somebody in IRC is completely ass-backwards. The traditional method of meeting a person in real life goes something like this...you see them, you talk to them, you get to know them. In IRC...you get to know them and then perhaps eventually you'll get to see a picture, talk on the telephone and if the stars align properly, there may be a face to face meeting in the future. Why is this important? Because, what you don't know...your mind will make up. A human being cannot associate with a faceless entity...so in the absence of one, a person will fill in the void with a mental image. The same is true for their voice.
Think about it for a moment...have you ever met Jesus or...maybe God? Of course not, but I bet you have an idea what he would look like if you did happen to bump into him...or her.
Kali: So sno...have you ever SEEN a picture of Otter?
Snobird: Nup...why? You have?
Kali: Yep! Want to see?
Of course I wanted to see! But then again...maybe I didn't. I suddenly wasn't sure. In my mind, Otter was a little furry creature in blue overalls...what if he turned out to be so different from my mental image that it destroyed my fragile little fantasy? Still...
Snobird: Okay...send it.
I waited, holding my breath for the file to arrive...and then I clicked on it. "Oh...damn," I muttered. It was far worse than I thought.
Kali: Sno? Did you get it.
Snobird: Uh huh...
Kali: Uh huh...I know...
Snobird: I didn't realize he was so....
The fact was...Otter was hot. It wasn't that "I'm sexy and I know it" type of hot either. I'd seen plenty of pictures of men in shorts, muscles bulging, running, reclining...giving me that "come hither" look. This picture said, "See what I have to put up with? I'm pretty lucky." Otter had one laughing little boy sitting astride his shoulders...a small fist trying to find a home in his Daddy's mouth. Another child, grinning from ear to ear happily clung to Otter's side. I knew from discussions I'd had with my friend that these must be his two boys. But what really drew me into the picture were Otter's eyes. Within their brown depths I saw a mystery...something that spoke only to me...and that is what made him so attractive.
My response was not one of pure delight however. I was a bit pissed off at the fact that Otter wasn't furry...and that instead of overalls he was wearing a rather comfortable looking flannel shirt. It forced me to adjust my mental image of him...and there are times when I wished I'd never seen that picture.
Likewise, I discovered that Otter's voice didn't sound like an otter's voice. To be fair, I didn't really know how an otter's voice should sound...but I imagined it had to be pretty darn close to a Saturday morning cartoon character...maybe a mixture of Scooby Doo and Underdog...I guess. Sort of an intellectual Scooby Doo. Instead...he sounded more like Hugh Grant...which didn't fit my image at all.
I remember our first conversation. It was very late at night and Jerry was unconscious and snoring very loudly. I could hear him clear across the apartment. Otter and I had just finished with some mischief or another and were reliving every gory moment of our evil deeds when he asked if he could call.
I agreed and raced into the kitchen, taking up sentry duty by the phone so I could snatch it up on the first ring and avoid waking Jerry. Once it did, I carried it with me into the bathroom and plunked myself on the linoleum floor behind the door...just to be safe.
The entire conversation was nothing but midnight giggles and a lot of "What did you say?" Despite the fact that both of us spoke English...his accent was so foreign to my ears that I couldn't understand a damn thing. I didn't care. I didn't care that I couldn't translate the sound of his voice into any semblance of meaning. It was like a song...and while I loved the music of it, the lyrics escaped me.
We were still giggling when we returned to the conversation in a more comfortable text format.
Otter: That was fun! I couldn't understand you one bit!
Snobird: Me? I'm not the one with the strange accent!
Otter: And what's this Ahhhdder stuff? Don't Americans know how to pronounce Otter? C'mon try it...not "d"..."t"...O..tt..er.
It made me smile. Instead of a Scooby Doo hybrid...I could hear Otter's voice now when he typed. Over time, we would overcome the language barrier. A million or so minutes of expensive cell phone time will do that.
What neither of us realized at the time, simply out of innocence, was that all these little connections were adding up and causing a rather strange effect. Sure, the phone bills were nothing to sneeze at...but something else was going on too. And if all of this hasn't sounded crazy to you yet...it's about to.
Separated by the physical world, Otter and I still reached out. Our fingertips brushed, and we inched our way closer til we could clasp hands. That wasn't enough...so we pushed harder...and harder still. And we made a connection that most people would claim is impossible.
Remember those tin can phones....the ones that kids used to play with a long time ago? There was a string that connected them. One kid would yell in his can...and the vibration would travel up the string to the other can that was held up to the other kid's ear. Very primitive, yes...but this is how I imagined the connection between Otter and myself. Well, except for one small difference. I was the can and the string was attached to my belly button.
Because phone calls were expensive, Otter and I had worked out a system of phone rings. The phone would ring twice and he would hang up if he was just thinking about me and wanted me to know he was thinking of me...or just once...if he was on IRC and wanted me to come play. It didn't matter what I was doing, but without fail, I'd feel this peculiar tingling in my belly button and before I could put my hand over the sensation, the phone would ring...once...or maybe twice...and then go silent.
It wasn't just limited to phone calls...
I remember deciding one day that I was in the mood to plant bulbs. It was a hobby of mine to work on this small flower garden in my back yard and slowly, with infinite patience, I'd made it into a riotous collection of colors. As I planted...I thought of Otter...no, more than that...I held a conversation in my head with Otter. I told him about my garden...what it meant to me...and how I always enjoyed the springtime, the giant bearded irises, especially. It was like having an imaginary friend with me all the time...even though he wasn't imaginary. In this way...I felt less alone.
It was the weekend so I was pretty much on my own. Otter didn't work on my Friday or Saturday...he spent it with his family. On Sunday night, we always had a joyful reunion and regaled each other with the tales of what we did over the weekend. However, on the Sunday night that followed my mad planting episode, Otter shocked me when he told me...
Otter: I suddenly had this compulsion to plant flowers. Sno...I don't plant flowers. But there I was...out in my back yard, digging and planting...and I imagined talking to you while I was doing it...and I really enjoyed it!
It seemed the tin can theory worked both ways.
But fate was at work too...or at least I think it was. I have no other explanation for Otter's total bewilderment when his young son begged him to play the piano for him one day and then pulled out a piece of sheet music from the family's collection that Otter swore they never owned. It was "Snowbird" by Anne Murray.
Without intentionally setting out to do so...Otter's life and mine were becoming inexorably entwined in a way we had never thought possible. It was powerful and frightening at the same time...for both of us.
As I've said, the weekends were mine to do with as I pleased. Oddly enough, if Otter wasn't on...IRC wasn't as appealing...so I began to rediscover the real world around me. Otter was never far from my thoughts though. I carried him with me through every facet of my life, like a guardian angel. Occasionally though, I would step back into IRC to see what was up with Kimbrr or Kali....or to spend some time in my studio creating.
Male1: So...where has my little birdie been...hmmm?
I knew I should have locked the door to my studio...
"Oh...just out and about," I replied casually...hoping that he wasn't expecting anything more than light conversation.
One thing I'd learned about Male1...he was very cunning and manipulative. He would have made a great "good cop/bad cop" in an interrogation scene. And yes, I mean playing both parts. Male1 had this habit of talking sweet...and when you had let your defenses down, he would launch a verbal assault that left you reeling with its viciousness. At times it was like having a conversation with a schizophrenic.
Male1: I see you've been spending quite a bit of time with Otter.
Male1: Probably even cybering him I bet.
Snobird: Nope. We're just friends.
Male1: You know he's just using you don't you? Lying to you. I bet he forgot to mention that he was with Kali...oh...you didn't know this?
In that instant, whatever friendship I'd ever felt for Male1 disappeared. I loathed him. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach though. Had I inadvertently stepped between a romance between Kali and Otter? I didn't feel jealous...it wasn't that at all. I sincerely meant that Otter and I were just friends...good friends...friends for life...but I was more worried that my friendship with Otter would hurt Kali's feelings. I didn't want that.
Surely she knew we were just friends...
Male1: Or perhaps you'd rather ask Kimbrr...about Otter...since before Kali she was the flavor of the day.
Okay...now I'd gone past loathing...which I didn't think was possible.
Snobird: You shouldn't talk about something you don't understand...and how dare you come in here and try to turn my friendship into some sordid little affair. You disgust me...
Male1: He's using you sno...and you are just too eager to believe the best of people to see it. So what does the great Otter have...what mind-boggling charms...that he has suckered you in too?
And just like that...the truth arrived and I recognized it, accepted it...and foolishly told him.
Snobird: He's the other half of me.
I barely noticed Male's simple response of "Oh" before he abruptly departed. My mind was too busy wrapping itself around my own unplanned admission. Otter...the other half of me? What made me say that?
There were times when I felt that we were nearly identical...just in a different gender format. But to say that he was the other half of me implied that I was not truly a whole person without him. Was that true? Is that what had drawn me to Otter in the first place...that sense of belonging together? Is that why we had meshed together almost seamlessly...almost to the point where you couldn't tell where one began and the other ended? I had so many questions...and none of the answers led me to "happily ever after" endings.
And of course...I hadn't forgotten Male1. I had a feeling that he would not take what I said lightly and that there would be hell to pay for being so honest. My imagination began to reel out a long list of possible scenarios and I felt sick to my stomach. There was only one person Male1 could really hurt...and that was Kali.
I logged off IRC, opened up my e-mail and dashed off a quick message to Otter.
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