No one had to tell me what a cop car was doing in our driveway. Sometimes, the heavy, quivering ache in the pit of your stomach is enough to know.
There was a cop car in our driveway and a thousand excuses rushing warp-speed through my brain as I made my way up the path to imminent doom. I have a friend from school that had moved to New York. That would explain the long phone calls. I let someone use my screen name. That would explain the chat logs. It would be okay. I would make it okay.
The next thing I knew, I was standing beside my mother as she gripped a copy of an e-mail I had sent just days before. I don’t remember seeing her crying, but I know she must have been.
“Don’t lie to me,” she said, “I know what you did. I have it all right here.”
I kept lying. I didn’t say those things, I didn’t know this man, I didn’t make any phone calls. I lied through my teeth as she waved the evidence of my youthful indiscretions in my face. I knew I was caught, but I couldn’t come clean.
I was a wild, confused 13, stubborn and hurt and lonely. Lying had become a part of me I just could not shake. I lied to my mother when she found out about just one of dozens of men I was having cyber and phone sex with. I lied to strange men and told them I was older. I lied to myself for years that I was the creep. I lied, I lied, I lied.
I don’t remember how I discovered cybersex. The exact beginning of the three years I spent dirty talking with strangers online is a mystery to me. I can only guess it started after I was a miserable teen.
At school, I had a reputation as a precocious, grade-grubbing, hand-in-the-air-squirming-in-my-seat-going-oooh-oooh-oooh-pick-me nerd. I didn’t get bullied, to my retrospective surprise, but I did win class Teacher’s Pet in high school unironically.
I was a chubby, awkward, self-loathing virgin. Home was a warzone. After hitting puberty, my mother and I fought every single day, multiple times a day. Screaming, crying and name-calling had become a part of the daily grind. Thirteen is a hard age -- or at least it was for me.
I’d grown up enough to become acutely aware of my own outsiderness. I wasn’t particularly pretty or popular. I didn’t like the same things as my peers. I’d never had a boyfriend. I was growing into my body too quickly for my mother’s liking, and it became her mission to shame me into containment.
In her paranoid world, I was trying to seduce everyone. I was disgusting, a slut. It’s confusing to be treated like a harlot when boys don’t even look at you.
I was delighted when my mother started dating. For about a year, she was away almost every night and weekend on with men she’d met from the personal ads, and her absence opened the floodgates. Maybe I wanted to be her self-fulfilling prophecy.
Every chance I got, I headed to the “Alone at Home” AOL chatrooms to pick up dudes. It was stupidly easy: Post “16/f/ma” and within seconds you would be rolling in attention. Sixteen seemed like the perfect age, primarily because at 13, 16 seemed more than grown-up enough. It never occurred to me that have cybersex with a 16-year-old was still illegal and that the men trying to woo me were equal parts creepy and tragic.
And that’s what stands out to me about my cybering days: the men.
There was the first guy I ever virtually did it with, a supposedly 19-year-old boy from Ohio. I had the first orgasm of my life while chatting with him, and he was one of the very few people I ever actually masturbated with. I remember him telling me that someday we would be together and he would protect me. One day, he left for vacation and never came back. I still don’t know if he just broke it off with me or if something terrible happened to him. This was my first heartbreak.
There was the 26-year-old gas station attendant and criminal justice major from New York who my mother called the police on. He was my online boyfriend for a while, but I’m not sure why. When we talked on the phone, he’d do the talking and I’d just giggle shyly at everything he said. When my mother found out about him, he told me he was warned by the police to never talk to me again lest he get charged with harassment. As far as I know, he’s the only man that ever found out that I lied about my age.
There was the 16-year-old guy I met through an erotica journal who became my “master,” who was the only person I ever actually saw pleasuring himself to me via webcam. There was the 20-something dude with a thick Irish accent who called me on several occasions for phone sex. During the last call I ever made with him, he asked me, breathlessly post-orgasm, if I would be his online girlfriend. I turned him down.
There was the 40-year-old guy who convinced me to phone with him while his wife was downstairs making dinner. He begged me to tell him about which of my best friends I would have a threesome with, and I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.
There was a man with a raspy voice who would harass me until I allowed him to call me so I could masturbate for him. I never really did masturbate on the phone -- not for this guy, not for anyone. I would lock myself in the downstairs bathroom, turn on the dryer to drown out the noise and fake it as quietly as possible.
There was a guy who once argued with me for 20 minutes about his penis size, which he claimed to be 15 inches. There were dozens of men that pleaded for me to give out my address so that they could send me jewelry and other gifts. I was stupid, but not that stupid.
There were a few who told me they loved me, and they were my downfall. I was stupid, so I believed them. That’s all I really wanted, I think. I wanted love so badly that, and as cliché as it sounds, I got it confused with sex. I convinced myself the sweet nothings whispered to coax me into one more go-around were genuine and that “Baby, you’re so fucking hot” was the same as “Baby, you’re so worthwhile.”
I know better now. I know that I was a little girl starved for affection, a little girl who would dance any dance for love, for validation.
“You are okay, you are beautiful,” I thought they told me over and over. You start hearing things when you want so much to belong somewhere.
During the day, I may have been no one, but online, I was a goddess.
The funny thing is that this era of my existence got buried somewhere deep inside me for a long time. I chose to forget, in no small part because I’ve always blamed myself entirely for how screwed up it all was. I deceived people. I told them I was 16. I told them I was pretty. I told them I was anything they wanted me to be, really. I lied, like I lied about most things at that age. I thought that I’d baited these men and that had they known I was 13 they wouldn’t have let things go as far as they did.
I’m 23 now and I’m not as idealistic as I once was. I don’t see the men I cybered with as victims of my feminine wiles, as innocents caught up in the fantasy of the girl I’d manufactured. I’m old enough to realize that I was taken advantage of and that the men I talked to were less interested in me than -- disturbingly -- the idea of me. Weirdly, it almost hurts.
I always ask myself why I’m a writing a particular story. Why should anyone care? I don’t have a lot of good reasons for this one. When I told my fiancé that I was writing this story, he asked me why, too.
At first, I wanted to say “because my story is unique,” but I think that maybe the opposite is true. Maybe that's why it's important to tell.