Sometime early on in my five-year high school saga, I found my first love on a website called Nexopia.
I just checked, and somehow it’s still around. Anyway, I was fifteen years old and had had a few “relationships,” each one last less than two or three weeks.
I was not looking for my first love when I joined Nexopia… not at all. I was more than familiar with dating websites like LavaLife, where I would prank unsuspecting men looking for a casual encounter by setting up a time and place and imagining them waiting for this beautiful blond, eighteen-year old model to show them a night of fun and of course nobody showing up. I did this once… Maybe twice.
So I joined Nexopia.com because my friends all had profiles. You could personalize your page with HTML codes you could copy and paste and have things like a cursor that would sparkle and leave a trail of glitter-scat wherever you moved your mouse. Some people got very creative. This is when I think “Emo” and “Scene” became “things.”
Teens and pre-teens would post angsty poetry or fill out personality quizzes and see how many friends they could get to do the same. It’s really not that different from Facebook, but I think Nexopia came first and didn’t appeal to anyone that had grown out of acne or their training bras.
It was new: a strange and wonderful world.
One day as I signed in to post a new webcam picture I took of myself, I saw that a young, Hispanic guy with the username *~Edd!e commented on my wall.
“Hey, nice pics. How R U?”
I took a look at his profile and saw some fairly grainy webcam pictures of a guy with big brown eyes, buzzed hair, sparse facial hair, muscular arms, and a black baseball cap. There wasn’t a single picture without that hat. He lived in Alberta; about 1158 km from Vancouver.
I think my username was something like, $$$P.M.c.G-Unit$$$… I was in the middle of my Baller to Mall-Punk transition phase and I guess I thought dollar signs said a lot about who I was as a person. I replied, unsure of what I thought.
“Hey, do I kno U?”
He didn’t. He said he was browsing and saw my pics, thought I looked interesting and wanted to get in touch. I didn’t think this kind of behavior was strange. After all, in elementary school my friends and I would exchange msn contacts to collect the most amount of friends. This would often lead to getting to know another kids from a nearby school who you would get a crush on, see once, and feel too shy to mention anything about the (K) 😛 😉 messages we would exchange back and forth.
Soon, we had exchanged msn addresses and we started chatting. *~Edd!e told me his life story, and I told him mine. However, his was much more eventful than anything I could even dream up.
*~Edd!e was born in El Salvador during the civil war and because his mother had lost track of the date he had no real idea of how old he was. He estimated he was eighteen, and he never celebrated his birthday.
I said he should just pick a day and celebrate, but he said it wasn’t that easy.
He had an older and younger brother. They all escaped to Canada as refugees and his mother now worked as a cleaning lady to pay rent. He said his older brother was involved in a gang that was widespread across North America, and that due to his brother’s involvement, he watched his youngest brother get shot in a park during a murder attempt on his brother.
I couldn’t believe that someone in Canada could have that kind of backstory, let alone someone I could meet on Nexopia.
*~Edd!e had had a hard time dealing with life after that and started doing drugs and even joined the gang. His brother had the intelligence to give little *~Edd!e a smack on the head, and tell him to leave the gang. The price of getting him out of the gang was for *~Edd!e’s brother to move to Vancouver and take care of business over there.
So now *~Eddie was off drugs, going to school, and DJ’ing in his basement. I don’t know how he afforded turntables, but then I never asked. To get this close, we had been chatting on msn for about three months. I was so blown away by his story, I couldn’t help but get a massive crush on him. I was drawn to his tragedy the same way people like to adopt abused animals and nurse them back to health. I wanted to make him happy, and be the one girl he could tell anything.
Somehow, I managed to fight past the (K) 😛 😉 stage of our relationship and straight-up type: “I like you.”
He was a bit sadistic and asked me what I meant. I pushed down the knot in my stomach and answered, “I like like you.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
Oh goddamn it all…
“I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU” I typed, crushing the letters on the keyboard. I was seething.
As it turned out, he had a crush on me too. He told me the night before he was hanging out with his ex-girlfriend who tried to make out with him and he turned her down. He said it was because of me.
Let’s try at look at this from my naïve, fifteen year old perspective. Sure he said he was eighteen, but he didn’t know for sure. What’s more, I told him I liked him first and he never said anything until I did. Also, I knew he wasn’t an old man because we had chatted with webcams and I could see him moving around and doing silly things because I asked him to.
Long story a little bit shorter, we agreed to have an exclusive, online dating relationship.
Here is where things get messed up. Yes, you have seen nothing yet. Buckle Up.
Our online relationship lasted another five months before we decided to take it to the next level. In this time, we exchanged music files. He would make a track with is DJ setup, and I would record some vocals on Garageband and send it back with layer upon layer of reverb. We made some stuff that I remember sounding kind of good. I actually wrote him a love song and I still have the recording of it somewhere. Pretty cute right?
He also told me that he was a part of a DJ group called DJ Tiesto, and that the ‘e’ in Tiesto stood for his name.
The group couldn’t sell commercially so they chose one guy to represent them and created a new persona, DJ Tiesto. I chose to believe him, although I wasn’t without my doubts.
Lo’ and Behold, *~Edd!e’s brother invited him out to Vancouver to come live. He showed some doubt because of the gang involvement, but I encouraged him to move so we could meet in person.
His brother had found him a place on a street nearby my house. He remembered the street name but not the house number. I started getting a lot of exercise walking up and down that street at any chance to guess which house would be his and thinking seeing some Hispanic person might be a clue.
I pressed him for the house number, but in the end the plan fell through and he had to move in with his aunt and uncle in Delta, about a 2.5-hour bus trip from my house. I didn’t make any preemptive walks out that way.
So *~Edd!e moved to Vancouver, and of course I was thrilled! I was super nervous meeting him so I planned for us to meet at a bus loop in a very public area. I hadn’t told my parents the truth about meeting him on the internet, but said we had met while he was visiting Vancouver and had been chatting on msn ever since. I didn’t keep it a secret because I couldn’t not share all these awesome songs we had made together.
They knew everything else about him. I had shared his tragic story, our Internet dating, and our meeting place and time. They told me I could invite him over and he could sleep on the futon in the basement so he wouldn’t have to bus back to Delta at night. I love my parents.
The moment of our meeting was pretty uneventful. He got off the bus and I recognized him instantly. We shared an awkward hug and hopped on a bus to go see my high school. It was a cold, December night and we walked down a dark road to the back entrance of my school. The gates were locked, so we walked back.
Somehow, I worked up the courage to make a bold move. I stopped walking and grabbed his hand. He turned around to face me and I kissed him. I still remember the cold drip of his nose on my cheek. Gross, but I was willing to ignore it.
He was visibly shocked, and then exclaimed how cool that was and that he wasn’t expecting a kiss for a while. We got back on a bus and went to my house. My mom met him and showed us how to set up the futon bed in the basement, left us alone to say goodnight, then made damn sure I went to bed in my own room two floors up.
*~Edd!e and I’s relationship continued in this manner. He could sleep in my basement when he came over, but when I visited him in Delta I had to come home every night. He got a job at McDonalds in Metrotown mall, and I went over to visit him one day when he got off work. It was a week before Christmas.
We went around the mall and he said we wanted to buy gifts for my mom, my dad, and my sister. I helped him pick out a coat he wanted to buy my mom that was on sale; a pretty big gift but a nice gesture.
A couple days later, he came over with a big bag of goodies. He said he wanted to bring gifts since he didn’t get to give anyone Christmas presents. Along with a couple $10 watches, he gave my sister a bottle of Lacoste perfume. My mom was surprised by the winter coat, but accepted it. She started thinking something wasn’t right here. How could he afford this stuff if he works at McDonalds? *~Edd!e had also sent me a few gifts during our online relationship. I once got a package in the mail with three beautiful rings that I was pretty sure were made with Swarovski crystal. My mom knew about these gifts, but kept her suspicions to herself for the most part.
Things developed. He came over for Christmas dinner and watched the party unfold. We’ve always had a fairly musical Christmas because my dad is a musician and my mom, sister, and I played piano, guitar and sang. *~Edd!e didn’t end up contributing anything because his turntables were still in Edmonton. He made it through the family event without many problems, but my family noted how he never took off his black baseball cap and was very quiet.
“That’s just the way he is,” I said. Not to mention he had a hard family history.
In January, he told me his brother gave him a hummer for Christmas. I wanted to see it so badly! He said he didn’t know where it was parked, but that he didn’t want me to see it because it was ugly and painted four different colors. I then started to scan every parking lot for multi-colored hummers.
I told my parents, and they casually asked me why he would continue bussing from Delta for 2.5 hours every day when he could drive the hummer. I asked *~Edd!e, and he admitted to not having a driver’s license.
One day I got a call from the Police. They said they found a wallet with my ID in it. I had given my school ID to *~Edd!e so he could get cheaper bus fares, so I told them it was his. The police told me that there were actually a few different people’s ID’s in his wallet, and that they were very curious about that. I asked *~Edd!e about it over the phone later, and he said his Edmonton friends gave them to him so he could have their pictures while he was gone. I was suspicious of there being another girl, so when he went to the bathroom the next time we hung out, I took a quick look in his wallet to find an Edmonton Driver’s license with his picture on it. I didn’t want him to know I peeked, so I kept it to myself. No girl’s pictures were found. A few months went by, and the questions kept on piling up for my parents.
Right before he moved to Vancouver, I told him I loved him. It was true. In fact I was so blinded by this love that I never thought to ask the questions my parents did. I took his answers at face value, and naively assumed that they didn’t really affect me either way.
On a Saturday afternoon, I met up with *~Edd!e at a train station for a surprise. He took me to the parking lot, and he showed me a beaten up blue Volkswagen. His uncle had lent it to him for the day so he could drive me around town. I asked about his not having a driver’s license, and he said he would drive carefully and not get caught. I noticed that the keyhole on the driver’s side door was missing and I asked about it. He said his uncle locked himself out of the car the day before and had to break in to get his keys out. Okay then.
When *~Edd!e drove me home, my parents came out to see the car he drove. My mom saw the hole in the door. He drove back to Delta that night and my mom came into my bedroom and sat me down. She asked me about the car, the drivers license, the hummer, the gifts, the gangster brother, everything. I told her everything I knew, but it didn’t even come close to answering all the question she had. My mom was very careful and left me with a new set of questions to ask *~Edd!e when he got home from his drive. She never openly passed judgment on him in front of me, but merely transplanted the doubts she had into my own brain. My mother is a very smart woman.
*~Edd!e called when he got back home, and I started to ask him these questions. I had so many, that he smelled that something was up and he asked why I was so curious. I told him I was talking with my mom about the hole in the car door, and he got very quiet.
“I don’t see why you need to tell you mom something like that” he said.
“I didn’t. She saw the hole and I was curious about it too” I answered.
“I don’t want you talking to your parents about me” he commanded.
“Why? They like you, they just want to know some things” I pleaded.
“If you don’t stop talking to your parents about me, I’m going to kill myself.”
I believed him. Knowing his past with drugs, his disturbing upbringing, and his brother’s involvement with gangs I wouldn’t put it past him.
“Ok, I’ll try” I said.
I slowly dragged myself upstairs, totally stunned by the interaction. My sister saw me and asked me what was wrong. I said nothing, and went to my bedroom. Five minutes later, I heard a soft knocking on my door and choked voice calling my name. “Paula, can I come in?” said my sister.
She came in, and told me she was worried about me. We had always been able to tell each other everything, and that she could tell something was very wrong. She asked if it was about *~Edd!e and I broke down.
I cried as I told her everything that had just happened. My sister held me through both of our shock and she quietly let me know that our family loves me and that they don’t want to lose me.
I knew that it would be impossible to sustain this lie. I had to tell *~Edd!e that I loved my parents too much to shut them out of my life. I called him and told him just that, and added that I love him but if he chooses to end his own life because I wanted to talk to my parents then it’s his own choice and not my fault. My parents had done nothing wrong and were only looking out for my best interests.
*~Edd!e’s voice sounded strange when he answered. He told me he had a gun with him. I cried through the phone that I was sorry but I couldn’t shut my parents out of my life. He hung up.
The next week, *~Edd!e told me he was moving back to Alberta. His mom had become very sick and needed him at home. I went to the Greyhound station with him and said a teary goodbye with mixed emotions. I wasn’t sure if he was leaving because of his mother or because I had betrayed him. Either way, the separation was a blessing in the end.
A couple weeks of peace after months of stress, drama, tension, or crying, I realized that whatever was going on with him was wrong and needed to end. I think I stopped loving him when he gave me the ultimatum of my family or him… clearly my family will stick around longer and not move away if they’re mad at me.
My mind was clear for the first time, and I called him in while my parents were in the house and broke up with him. He told me that if he started using heroin again it would be my fault. Heroin Again? I didn’t know there was a first time. Good Riddance I thought… this guy has too many issues for a now sixteen-year old girl to deal with.
I cut him out of my life completely. I told him I couldn’t speak to him anymore. A month or two later he called me from an unknown number and asked what I was doing since he was in town again. I told him I was busy and didn’t say where. I was paranoid of him showing up unannounced at my home for weeks but he never did.
I chalked it up to his being a compulsive liar, although I’m now fairly sure there was more to the story than that.
A few years later he added me on the new Nexopia, Facebook, with a message saying he was curious about what I was up to. I took the opportunity to creep his profile and saw he was actually DJ’ing and had a trashy girlfriend. I chose to ignore the message.
Never once have I ever regretted this relationship. From beginning to end, we were in contact for 12 months. I don’t think there is anything in the world that could have opened my eyes to the crazy things people are capable of and at the same time teach me that if everyone around you thinks something is wrong – something is probably wrong. Love is a scary thing for me to this day because it requires so much trust, and if you love someone badly enough it can leads to blindness even when the unanswered questions are slapping you in the face.
I wonder if *~Edd!e is still out there, if he really doesn’t know how old he is, if he has a gangster brother, and if he still tells people he is a secret member of DJ Tiesto… Perhaps he really is and it’s a huge house-music conspiracy. Who knows?
All I can do is share the story with others, but not to warn people about the ‘dangers’ of Internet dating.
The problem wasn’t the Internet, it was the two people on either side of their monitors taking webcam photos and posting them on Nexopia. – One so naïve and desperate to make an impression that she takes on a rescue mission to save a poor El Salvadorian refugee boy with her love – and One who is so deeply traumatized by something that they only feel empowered by manipulating people and can’t handle the threat of control being taken away so they keep them in the dark.
So now I am a much wiser person who writes potentially incriminating stories about past follies on the internet for everyone to read. But I don’t regret past mistakes; I learn from them.