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MSN Messenger was the absolute dive of the internet in 2002 when everyone in the world was a 15 year-old girl except Linsey and me because we were both 14 and I was a boy. A no-man’s land. A parade of masked perverts. I loved it for reasons that make me afraid, now, lived for the quiet pinging of private messages from strange no-ones, blocked the belligerent men who exposed themselves and offered beers or pics or places to stay in the city or to barter panties for boxers or to talk on Saturday morning when toons were on. Seemed a powerful thing to be a tween with a webcam, easy to kid myself and be a kid and feel wanted and wanting where encouragement is offered in gross excess.

Linsey and I sniffed each other out from across the state, the smell of likewise misery and longing for elsewhere. She wanted Australia for the animals and I wanted Portland for the people I didn’t already know. We’d parent-trap the pedophiles, us two listless on the borders of a cyber-orgy ten men strong, learning things from them that made us bold with each other. We resented childhood and bemoaned the state of adults and promised to find a nicer haunt, someday.

When someday came we were everything two people could be but boyfriend/girlfriend, too proud for lovers and too personal for penpals. My stepdad had business in the plains and a masculine disregard for sexual danger so I traded him my birthday for a ride to Milbank where he gave me my own kiddy-corner hotel room and turned in early.

I met Linsey in a godforsaken Wendy’s buffeted by 30 mile-per-hour winds, her town a swirl of gray and loud with the noise of a ramshackle windmill screaming rusty in its outskirts. She showed me her house and her car and she took me to her school the next day and showed me her friends and they were the same people from my town, every one, and I was Linsey and she was me and we were living the same stupid life, just masturbating and waiting for things to change.

A storm passed home in my absence, leaving snow three-inches thick on the clothesline and me to shovel and salt and hammer ice from walkways to earn back a little of that birthday I sold. Maybe not then exactly but around that time I got to thinking that the earth may just be small towns and sex offenders and I struggle to shake the thought even now and after all the world I’ve seen.