Random Internet Encounters
“I’ve had cyber-sex before,” my 10-year-old cousin casually stated while flipping her butt-length ponytail from one shoulder to the other. I was 9 at the time and my mind was blown. Someone I knew was having sex — and apparently, it was so out-of-this-world that it belonged in virtual reality.
Prior to that moment, all I knew about sex was what I’d learned from the sweet, creamy lyrical poetry of LL Cool J. Now, I needed to add desktop computer to the confusing equation.
Before I could ask my cousin what she was going to name her cyber-baby, she was scooped up and I was left alone with my thoughts. Thoughts which only intensified until they spiraled out of control. What did she do? Were they safe? Did she give out her address? — something my parents warned me about over and over, “Never give out any information about us to the internet, Marina.” HA, isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
My mind was still racing when my parents tucked me into to bed that night. How could I possibly sleep? People I knew were having sex while Mamochka and Papochka were sitting on my bed reading me Русские cказки. This was not okay. I needed to catch up, fit in, be cool. My mom turned the page and my eyes casually drifted over to the large computer sitting across from us.
My parents converted their office into a baby room and converted my room into a bedroom-office when my brother was born. It seemed like his life was getting bigger and mine was getting smaller. He couldn’t walk, talk or eat on his own, but he’d become the most fascinating member of the family. Each weekend visitors would pour in to ooh and ah at him. They’d kiss his hand like he was the fucking pope and then they’d disappear to make room for a new wave of visitors.
Like most older siblings, who are used to being the center focus, I was understandably jealous. But not on this night, this night I needed that computer in my bedroom. I needed to be overlooked. Because this night was the night I was going to lose my cyber-virginity. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I knew all the lyrics to LL Cool J’s “Doin it” so I figured I had a good start.
When the rest of the house grew quiet, I wriggled myself out of the covers like a sexually inexperienced baby butterfly and fluttered over to the computer. Like a pro, I logged into our AOL account and covered the speakers with my palms. I patiently waited for the horrendous dial up noises to dial down (for those of you who don’t remember, it sounds like a walkie talkie being dropped out of a helicopter while being injected with cyber-cancer). I said a little prayer that my parents wouldn’t try to make any late-night phone calls only to discover a busy signal. After I heard AOL’s muffled “Welcome!” I removed my palms from the speakers. That was it. I was in. It was go time.
Now, here’s the thing; I am lucky enough to be a part of a generation where there was no Wikipedia, Google image search, or YouPorn. During my upbringing, young minds turning themselves inside out to figure out what “sex” was had to learn the old fashioned way: encyclopedias and gossip. I didn’t know much, but I did know sex led to babies — I wasn’t an idiot after all. I went into the chatroom categories, picked the “life” section and scrolled down until I found what I was looking for: new parent chatrooms. I was instantly welcomed:
My heart raced. I began to quietly type so my parents wouldn’t hear the click of the keys.
“Hi, JanLuv72! Nice 2 mt u!!”
And so began my months-long stint of pretending to be a single father. The details changed, but the core of my story was always the same; I had a newborn baby boy, aptly named Alex (after my little brother), I loved him very much and I was VERY confident in my parenting skills. Those anonymous women became my friends. Every night it was a new, random crew of mothers, but they were all looking for the same thing: the comfort and anonymity of the internet. They were scared of their new children, they were scared of their tired husbands, they were scared of their future and most of all they were scared of letting anyone find out about all of these fears.
During this time my interactions with my mother and little brother began to change. I asked questions, I paid attention and I learned old Russian techniques for raising an infant. Then, quietly, at night, I dispensed the information to stressed strangers. I wrote until my eyes became blurry and my frail little hands ran out of words to type.
“Bye, Ladies! GL w/ ur babies!”
“Bye, Lemalex! Thx!”
Lemalex left the room.
It’s hard not to look back and wonder, What the fuck, Marina? Who was I chatting with? Were they other 9-year-old girls pretending to be single fathers for the attention and companionship they were missing in their own household? Were they actually new mothers who were looking for public answers to private problems? Who’s to say, really. I haven’t thought about this secret part of my childhood until recently, and honestly, I have no clue what happened there. I mean, is that normal? No, you’re right, it’s totally not.
When I was 10, we moved into our new house. My bedroom was no longer a bedroom-office and I stopped living that double life (or any type of double life) forever. The internet, however, continued to grow as more anonymous strangers logged on to talk to other anonymous strangers.
Now, as an adult, I still get notes and messages seeking advice, comfort, friendship. I continue to stay up late into the night, quietly typing responses to strangers on the internet. I’m no longer a single father, dispensing advice and reassurance through chatrooms, but I am Marina V. Shifrin, dispensing intimacy, stories and encouragement through my silly little blog. I truly love doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it, wow.
I still don’t exactly know what cyber-sex is, but I do know what I experienced as a confused and inquisitive 9-year-old girl was much more exciting, fulfilling and empowering than any type of sex could’ve ever given me.
Story written by: Marina Shifrin
Assigned by: Stuart Danker