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By Car (Carolyn Reynolds)
Into every life comes something that is hard to understand, difficult for those around it to explain, impossible for a mind to grasp onto, to take it in and process it till it makes some sort of sense. One such something surrounds the sudden disappearance of a woman named Marjorie Matheson on one cold and windy March night.
Marjorie was a woman often disappointed by love, disillusioned by life and what it brought her, tired of trying to understand each and every turn that seemed to throw itself into her path. She was world weary, torn by the way her weariness made her feel, just ready to cash in her chips in the game of life. She was more ready to cash it in than she was ever willing to let anyone see, even if there had been anyone who wanted to see.
One day Marjorie decided to plug that computer she had purchased months ago into the socket and just see what the cyber world was all about. She knew computers, was familiar with their workings and the internet, because she had worked with them for years in her job. After she’d quit that job and opted to stay at home and not work, she’d bought that computer for her own use, but hadn’t managed to see fit to even plug the thing in. But for some unknown reason one day she just felt compelled to try this new machine out.
Marjorie cleared her desk of its accumulated clutter, scraping much of it into the trash can next to it, and proceeded to unload and set up the new computer. Her expert hands got it all out and up and running in not too long a time, and she smiled at the clock when she glanced up at it and saw it was still early in the evening.
The rest of that software can wait till tomorrow, she thought to herself. I think I’ll just get myself registered on a service so I can get online and surf around a little while. That will at least help me spent the evening without turning on the television again. "Marjorie’s got herself a plan," she said out loud, and laughed a little bit at the sound of her own voice.
She hadn’t heard even her own voice for a number of weeks, she’d lost count of just how many. The ringing phone had gone unanswered. She didn’t want to talk to yet another telemarketer, or even a well- meaning friend or relative. She just wanted to be alone and wallow just a little bit in her own bad luck, her own misfortune at finding out she now had to deal with a chronic illness that just might leave her even more disabled in its wake.
But tonight she’d get away from thinking about all the people she now felt were just on the fringes of her life anyway. Some maybe meant well, but nobody really knew what she needed. She didn’t even know herself. Maybe tonight would be different.
Why not look up some information on this damned disease, she thought to herself, and she entered, "multiple sclerosis" into the find box on her browser’s screen and didn’t have to wait too long until a huge number of choices lay before her on her screen. What to do. . . where to go? So many choices right at her fingertips. She looked at a site that offered definitions for her, but it was pretty clinical. She’d seen enough clinical.
She went to another site that had links to all kinds of alternative treatments and ways of dealing with it, and she surfed around there for a while, then bookmarked a couple that seemed interesting and went back to her list. What was this? Chatrooms? She’d never been to a chatroom before, and had heard terrible things about some of them. . . but one for other people with her illness? Hmmm just maybe?
With a click a screen came on with a request for a screen name. What should she call herself on this new way of communicating with others? She sat for a little bit thinking of the possibilities, then chose her name and sent it, and waited for the chatroom screen to open. It was fast, and she suddenly found herself right in the midst of a rather large group of talkers. She counted 9 names on the screen to the side. . . gosh that seemed a pretty good group of folks.
Immediately, someone asked who she was. . . to introduce herself to them. Lines of text started appearing for each of the chatters: Tori,46,F,DX07,RR,M was the text next to Tori’s name. . . what the heck did all of that mean? She didn’t answer for a minute, just trying to figure it all out.
"Are you new, Marg?" someone asked her.
"Yes I am, first time in a chat, and new to Multiple Sclerosis, too."
"We’ll take it easy on you, Marg. We promise. In the stats, we put our age, if we are Male or Female, the year we were diagnosed, what kind of MS we have, and if we are married or single. Want to give it a try?"
Marjorie thought that sounded pretty easy, so she typed in:
Marj,48,F,DX02,RR,S. . . . she hit enter and all then knew who she was!
It seemed a nice group, they asked her what she wanted to know, then took time to answer several of her questions. They were pretty knowledgeable it seemed to her, and she found out in an hour what her doctor hadn’t been willing to tell her in several visits. She soon found out what LOL meant, and did a lot of that as the chatters cut up with one another and made jokes about dealing with MS. How refreshing to just laugh about something!
One by one the chatters said good night and went offline until it was down to just herself and one other. She tried hard to remember the stats that went with the name, but she couldn’t seem to tie this "Bravo" to anything she had seen. Should she ask to do it again? She didn’t really understand the workings and didn’t feel she knew this person well enough to ask again.
"Well Marj, seems we have some things in common. . . same age, same year Dxed, both single. Glad you found us."
"So am I," she replied.
They talked on about all kinds of things, movies, books, music, all things they kept finding they had in common. It was sure easier to get to know a person one on one she soon found. Before she realized it another hour had passed.
"Do you have an IM service? Something like AOL, or MSN, or even ICQ?"
"I’m new at all of this," she replied.
"Let me send you something through email, if you’ll give me your address. You can register and use this same name and I’ll find you there."
She typed in her email address, and with that, Marjorie saw her new friend disappear.
There flashing was her symbol that email had arrived, and it had arrived, the address he’d promised to send her.
It was a very quick download and she didn’t really bother to read up on what the site offered, just knew it was free and offered IM services. How complicated could this really be, she wondered, as she minimized the site and went back to her list exploration.
It was just a few minutes until the minimized screen at the bottom of her computer screen began to flash. She clicked on the flashing icon to see a request from her new friend to be added to his contacts list. She accepted, then came the message to click open her web microphone. He also was sending her a webcam to click open. Goodness, this was certainly something new. She clicked the microphone and heard a deep voice greet her. "Click on the cam and you’ll see I’m not too frightening to look at."
There looking out of her screen was a handsome man, a little gray around the face, but a full head of curly dark hair. He flashed a broad smile her way and in spite of herself she felt some stirrings she hadn’t felt in a very long time. She looked at the control screen and pushed down the hands free microphone and returned his greeting. Before long they were deep in conversation and she was finding it fascinating watching him as he talked to her.
When they both decided to call it a night, he told her she needed to set up a webcam so he could also see her the next time they talked. Mercy, she thought, who’d want to see this tired face and this old sweatshirt?
Marjorie slept surprisingly well, got up early for a change, showered, shampooed her hair, looked through the closet till she found a bright sweater and slid it on. Looking in the mirror she brushed her hair and was sort of pleased at what she was seeing. She’d make an appointment to get the gray out of it as soon as they could take her at the salon, she thought. And she opened the drawer to the disarray of her make-up, found what she needed, and soon had a decent face. Just in case, she said out loud, and laughed at herself. The lady in the mirror laughed back at her, and Marjorie thought, not too bad for an old broad.
Skipping breakfast, Marjorie brought her cup of coffee with her to the computer and turned it on. She didn’t expect any email because after all only one person knew her address, but she found a message from her new friend. She saw the message, "Thanks for last night," with a site to click onto. There she found a beautiful greeting card with a sea rolling as a message scrolled down. It was a lovely thank you to a new friend, and she felt suddenly a little flushed, and maybe a little bit vulnerable.
She opened the IM program and there was a message flashing. He was asking her to meet him at 11 a.m., and that was in just a few minutes! Nervously she hooked the webcam up and checked herself out on her screen. She moved the cam around till it projected the best view of herself she could get, then just sat there waiting until it was 11 and the message flashed.
Once again, they laughed and talked and both seemed to enjoy the rest of the morning into the middle of the afternoon. This was just the beginning of many many days to follow of talking the day away, then talking into the wee hours of the night. It was as though the two of them were actually together in the same room, able to reach out and touch each other, maybe even exchange a kiss once in awhile. Marjorie was as full of giggles as a teenager, and the whole experience was working wonders. She felt young and healthy again, and when she looked into her mirror she liked the reflection of herself that she saw.
As the two friends continued to explore each other online they soon developed their own little world complete with surroundings they each loved. She wanted mountains, he wanted the sea, so in their virtual world they met in their own home high on a mountain overlooking the pounding surf. Sometimes Marjorie thought she actually saw it when she closed her eyes to go to sleep, and she knew she could really hear the pounding of the surf and see the clouds floating overhead in the clear blue sky. How perfect this virtual world seemed to them both.
Then one morning, in the earliest hours, his face took on a serious look that Marjorie hadn’t seen before.
"What’s wrong?" she asked, and he could hear the concern in her voice.
"I think I discovered something by accident last night after you were offline, and it excites me, but scares me, too."
"What could possibly scare you? You know more about all this than anyone I’ve known, and we all worked on computers."
"Let me see if I can send it to you, take a look at it, and tell me what you see. You have to wait until you’re ready to shut down for the night before you can see it at all."
Marjorie saw the email light up, and after she’d said her good-nights she looked at what he’d sent her.
It was an URL, but the name was different from anything she’d run onto before. It was www.portalE.you. Ready for what, she wondered. She swallowed hard and clicked on the address. With a series of swooshes and other sounds she’d never heard coming from her computer before the site loaded. On her screen was the offer of a free download.
She looked at how much space it would use, it was not a great deal, so she decided to throw caution to the wind and download the program.
Once again noises came from her computer that she’d never heard before. . . . swooshes and whirls, lots of noise for a simple little download. She was hoping it wasn’t some sort of strange worm or virus, but after it loaded her virus program made no note of it, so she thought it must be harmless enough.
Suddenly it was downloaded, a large red E now on the desktop to access it with. She sat staring at the E for a long time, feeling a certain amount of curiosity that soon turned into a real fascination to see just what it offered.
Soon she could no longer resist its pull, so she clicked the E. It immediately began a wild spinning on her screen, going faster and faster until the letter was no longer recognizable at all, just a whirling blur which seemed to bore into the very screen before her. She stared at it, unable to tear away her gaze.
Marjorie didn’t know how long she sat there just staring, but the sun was now brightening up the room so she knew it was morning. Try as she could, she didn’t even manage to glance upward at the clock on the wall.
Something seemed to exist at the center of that swirl, but try as she could, she was not able to make out what it was. Whatever it was, it appeared to be still at the center of the swirls, still and calm and inviting.
How could something tiny in the center of a computer screen seem inviting? That was impossible, she thought to herself trying to talk herself out of the impulse she had to click on the center to see what would appear.
As the morning wore on, she soon found she could no longer resist that impulse. She found that tiny center spot on the screen and deliberately clicked on it. . . . .
* * * *
"Who called this in?" the officer standing at the monitor asked.
"It was a neighbor across the street. Said she’d seen the same light on night and day since last weekend and was afraid something had happened to the lady who lived here."
"No signs of forced entry, and the doors were still locked from inside. Getting in wasn’t easy," he said as he glanced at the broken glass on the floor beneath the window.
"But nobody’s here, and nothing’s been bothered. Her papers and purse, even some money are still here. How could she have left without opening deadbolts? I don’t know what to call this."
"Heck if I know," the other officer said as he unbolted the door while his partner shut down the computer.