I rarely think about how I behaved as a teenager.
There was a time when, at around age 16, I used to spend my weekends alone in the house, trawling internet chatrooms for someone to pay me attention. I’d sit, laptop perched on the windowsill, with my face partially out of shot. I would pout, pose and sometimes shyly smile. There were two specific incidents which scared me. I can’t place which happened first, but I’m liable to believe the worse one was the final time I posed, underage, for the camera.
It was an afternoon of me endlessly clicking ‘next’, finding a stranger I could mutually masturbate with and then kick out of the chat once they got too close. I encountered a man. White, dark haired, young and handsome – perhaps mid-30s. We flirted slowly over the course of a few hours. He asked me where I was from and I might have said London. I lied about my age, and he didn’t seem to question my childlike appearance. I asked where he was from, what he did and why he was talking to me. He thought I was beautiful. A small darling. I have vague memories of him asking me if I’d ever touched myself, or if I even understood what that meant.
My introduction to this, of course, was a much younger me sitting on the arm of the sofa and realising that if I moved back and forth just the right amount, something felt good. I think of myself watching Duran Duran’s music video for Girls on Film on MTV.
Cameron Diaz dancing in her underwear in Charlie’s Angels.
Drew Barrymore’s unzipped jumpsuit.
Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.
Isabella Rossellini wearing nothing but jewels and a swipe of red lipstick in Death Becomes Her.
Typing ‘girls kissing’ into YouTube.
The first time I watched porn, I vividly remember sitting with my feet propped up at a desk in the living room of the flat we used to live in, hurriedly scouring the World Wide Web for something to get me off. The family computer. Windows 98. Two tanned blonde girls kiss and caress on a beach. I’m entranced, clearly. This was the slow but dawning realisation of my attraction to women. Before I know it, my Mom and brother are home. I hear the door open, my brother yells and runs into the living room to which my immediate response is to cry, yell and tell him to go away. I pull up my pyjamas, shut down the computer and scream that I was having a “private conversation” with my best friend at the time over MSN messenger.
Years later, I remember accidentally destroying my laptop and my mom furiously taking me to PC World to inspect the problem. Water damage, we were told. I neglected to mention I’d squirted on the keyboard.
Back to Omegle.
I feel a warm and pleasant swelling down below, to which this stranger tells me to encourage. I pose, I pant, he shows me his penis. I pretend to orgasm. Exhilarated that this older man likes me, is entertained by me and finds me interesting, we exchange emails. Over the course of a few months, I sent him regular nudes from my Hotmail account. At his request, he would give detailed instructions on what I should wear, how I should pose and what I should think about while taking them. Things slowly began to fizzle out. The last correspondence I remember was him attaching a file – a photograph of his penis. He asked for me to print out the photograph, lay naked on my bed and rest the sheet of paper on top of my stomach to imagine how deep it would be inside of me. I never printed out the photograph.
The second, more serious incident is what caused me to cease engaging with chatrooms. An older man, easily in his 50s, happened upon my chatroom. A slim build, silver hair and fashionable glasses lead me to believe that he was a kind person. The same exchange ensued. Flirting, him calling me beautiful and telling me to reach into my underwear. Only this time, he wanted to meet me.
Onto Skype. My seldom used account, I realised, had my real first name – in every moment prior to this I’d created a pseudonym, a new persona, a better me. With his Apple laptop, he picked me up and carried me around his London flat. Pretty, with white walls and a cat he was insistent to introduce me to. He spent much of our conversations sat in only his underwear. Over the course of our chats, sometimes hours at a time, I began to realise he had a lot – a lot – of equipment. He placed his laptop in front of him, sunlight cast over his face, when I saw a wide array of digital cameras lined up behind him, all different sizes. A photographer, I wondered. An artist?
One of the glaring red flags, I thought, was his vivid fascination of what he intended to do to me once we’d met in person. He’d book a hotel room in London, a nice, spacious one with room service. White sheets, gold decor. I’d meet him at the entrance and we wouldn’t speak. He’d check us both in, and I’d be his daughter. He’d lead me upstairs, remove my coat and put my things away. I’d stand still, the door closed behind me.
I’m not allowed to speak.
In front of me, he would strip completely. Still with my mouth firmly pressed shut, he’d remove each item of clothing, one by one. This fantasy varied, as I do recall him once saying he’d cut them off with scissors. He’d blindfold me. Tracing his fingers up my arms, across my torso and elsewhere, I think he relished in the feeling of putting me, a child, in danger. He would lead me to the bed, instructing me to lie flat on my stomach. Using either tights or rope, he would bound me. Clamp my limbs together. Drip wax over me. And finally, graphically, enter me. He put so much emphasis on that, they both did.
The last time we spoke, his energy had changed. He was less flirtatious, more direct and impatient with what he wanted. After a few sessions of grooming, he told me to turn around, bend forward and spread myself apart with both of my hands. I did immediately, but something I couldn’t pinpoint about it felt wrong. It stopped being sexy and just became uncomfortable. I saw a flash of white light jump across the walls of my bedroom, simultaneously hearing the very apparent noise of a camera flash. I turned around and covered myself, horrified, to which he scrambled to block me on Skype. I never heard from him again.
I worry for the girls who have been in that position and have gone further than I did. I think of all the girls that are led to believe that these men love them, when in fact they might kill them. I had the foresight to not meet him at that hotel, even though I could have.
I signed out, deleted my internet history, sat on the floor and cried.
Published in Grief (In Few Forms)