It was February 25, 1998. I was living in an apartment with my oldest childhood friend Sarah in Forest Hills, NY. Our entire childhood together, we both had the dream of moving to NY and becoming performers. Now we were roommates, and on our way. Sort of. I was a Tour Guide at Radio City Music Hall, a part-time waitress in a hole in the wall Irish pub in the city, and I was auditioning now and then for acting work. I hadn’t yet begun my stand-up comedy pursuit; and my personal life was on a downward spiral. About a year and a half before, I had been through a hugely traumatic event that I had shared with absolutely nobody, except for a very rude and unhelpful “counselor” on an anonymous hotline one desperate evening. I will get into what happened to me later on in this book; but what’s important right now is that something had happened; and it had changed me. I was no longer trusting of men, and I had become very insecure and unsure of myself as a person. Im not sure why I didnt share any of this with Sarah; or my parents; or a friend; or anyone; but I didnt.
As a result of my trauma, I had gained a whole bunch of weight, over time. I went from being a little bit pudgy … to Precious. Other than the typical “freshman 15″, I never really had a huge weight issue until this incident. I think that somewhere inside, I told myself that if I was fat and unattractive, then nobody would ever hurt me again. Nobody would want to touch me. I built a shield of flesh for myself and then lived inside of it for a long time. Like a whale; comfortable in my blubber. It was oddly comforting to shut people out. I was unhappy and unfulfilled, and I didnt feel like myself at all. I was stuck.
Sarah had just bought a computer, and she put it in our living room entranceway for both of us to use. It was our very first desktop computer that either of us had ever owned; so it was a huge deal. This was during the time when AOL (America Online) was still what everyone used; and also during the time when dial-up was pretty much the only option to getting on the internet. So it took forever to get online, and there were a lot of weird and loud noises involved in doing so. Everytime you went online, it sounded like a fax machine was having a seizure inside of a tunnel. It was a horrible, awful racket. It was also completely normal, and we didnt have anything better at that time. When you finally got to your AOL screen, and that annoying male voice said “Welcome! You’ve Got Mail!” – that was just about the most exciting thing anyone could ever imagine in life. Having an email was like a small victory. It was evidence that you were cool. “You’ve Got Mail!” meant – “You’ve Got Friends!”
Often times, if Sarah was out or had gone to bed, I would log onto AOL and sort of browse around. At that time in my life, the last few guys I had dated, I had met them all online. This was due to the fact that I felt so badly about myself, that I wanted to just hide behind my keyboard and talk. I wanted to feel close to someone, without getting too close to someone. The computer monitor was just another shield, protecting me from getting my heart broken, or getting rejected. In real life, I had to be thin and beautiful and perfect and everything that someone was looking for. Behind a computer screen, nobody knew what I looked like. We could just talk, and I could be free. In real life; I was Kelley. Online; I was nameless. I was a mystery called Camelsocks.
Usually; if I started talking to someone, it would be in some sort of Music or Comedy Chat Room. Chat Rooms were all the rage back then on AOL. You would choose a topic; something that interested you; like baseball. Then you could go into an online chat room, for free, where there would be a lot of other people in there who wanted to talk about baseball with you. It was amazing! There was one room in particular that I used to really enjoy popping into. It was called “Guess What 80′s Song”; and it was a Trivia Game someone had made up. One person would give out a lyric from a 1980′s song; and then everyone else would have to guess what it was. The trick was to type your answer faster than all the other people in the room; because that made you the winner. I would sit there, fingers at the ready, waiting to get my one-hit wonder obscure lyric. I was a master at this game, because I have always been obsessed with the 1980′s. It was my childhood, and it’s just a hilarious time period. The clothing, the music, the movies, the way people talked … it’s endlessly entertaining. I looked forward to logging online and playing this game as a sort of “wind-down” period from a long day at work. It was mindless, and it was fun.
Normally; there were anywhere from 10-50 people in the Chat Room. Sometimes more. On February 25, 1998, there were only two: Wayabvepar and Camelsocks. What follows is a shortened portion of the Chat Room conversation between these two screennames. It is written completely from memory, 13 years later. So; although it is definitely paraphrased; it is not far from the actual dialogue. Here is the very first conversation I ever had with Don Shepherd:
Wayabvepar: Um ….. are we in the right place? (crickets)
Camelsocks: lol I guess its just you and me in here. Was it something I said?
Wayabvepar: It was probably your weird-ass name. Camelsocks? What the hell is a camelsocks? lol
Camelsocks: Its nothing. Its just random.
Wayabvepar: Thats one word for it. lol.
Camelsocks: Well what the hell does your name mean?
Wayabvepar: Its a golf reference. You know .. par? Golf?
Camelsocks: How old are you, 90? You have a golf joke as your screenname? Am I talking to a senior citizen?
Wayabvepar: No lol. I just like to play sometimes, and Im not that good. Hence the screenname. You know, its not very funny if I have to explain it:)
Camelsocks: Either that or its just not very funny.
Wayabvepar: Jeez. Rough crowd. Seriously, where is everyone??? Im stuck in here with someone named Camelsocks who has known me all of 3 minutes and is already mocking me?
Camelsocks: It’s a talent. I live to mock.
Wayabvepar: Great. And Im your lucky target.
Camelsocks: Well its either that or we play the lyrics game.
Wayabvepar: Go ahead. Give me a lyric.
Camelsocks: “Jumbo Me Said jumbo jumbo oh jumbo jumbo Jumbo mee ta said you wan Ya. OH jumbo Jumbo!”
Wayabvepar: LOL What the hell???????
Camelsocks: You dont know it?
Wayabvepar: Oh I know it. Its freakin Lionel Richie. All Night Long.
Camelsocks: Very good!
Wayabvepar: But those arent the lyrics. Not even close! lol. Jumbo jumbo? lol.
Camelsocks: Well what does he say then? Thats what it sounds like lol.
Wayabvepar: I dont know what the hell he says, but I know its not “jumbo jumbo.” lol. Youre on crack.
Camelsocks: lol I could have given you the lame “Hello, is it me youre lookin for?”
Wayabvepar: What is this, Lionel Richie hour? There are other artists, you know.
Wayabvepar: Spandau Ballet!!!!
Camelsocks: lol. Nice! So youre obsessed with the 80s as much as I am, I take it?
Wayabvepar: Yeah, whats not to love.
Camelsocks: Have you played this lyric game before in this room?
Wayabvepar: Nope. My first time in here. And its just you. Im startin to think I was set up.
Camelsocks: Yes. This is how I trap men. I lure them into 1980s AOL Rooms and then feed them Jumbo Jumbo lyrics.You are a man, arent you?
Wayabvepar: Yes lol. I knew it. Im doomed.
Camelsocks: Good Grief.
Wayabvepar: This is too weird. You love The Peanuts too?
Camelsocks: Yup. My friends used to call me Lucy in college. I guess that meant I was bitchy.
Wayabvepar: lol At least they didnt call you Pig Pen. That would mean you smell.
Camelsocks: I smell of perfection.
Wayabvepar: Oh boy. I can see why they called you Lucy:)
Camelsocks: There are normally a TON of people in this room playing this game. I dont know whats going on tonight. Its usually really fun.
Wayabvepar: Am I boring you? lol.
Camelsocks: No, you are fun to mock. I enjoy mocking you.
Wayabvepar: Glad to be of service, Camelsocks.
Camelsocks: So where do you live anyway?
Wayabvepar: in the Largo area.
Camelsocks: Wheres that? Mars?
Wayabvepar: Close. Florida.lol.
Camelsocks: Florida? Who lives in Florida?
Wayabvepar: I do. I just told you that lol.
Camelsocks: You really like that “LOL” button dont you?
Wayabvepar: Apparently I also enjoy being abused by total strangers online. You have a problem with my lol?
Camelsocks: I just feel you overuse it. I dont believe you are REALLY laughing out loud each time you type that you are.
Wayabvepar: Well no shit. NOBODY is “actually” laughing out loud when they type it. You’re kind of a smart-ass. Where do YOU live? Wait, let me guess. New York?
Wayabvepar: I knew it, with that attitude. lol.
Camelsocks: Theres that lol again.
Wayabvepar: Shut up:)
Camelsocks: We could go back to talking about Lionel Richie. His love songs are rather lovely.
Wayabvepar: He’s a dork. lol.
Camelsocks: Have you ever been to NYC?
Wayabvepar: Nope. Would love to though. Whats it like?
Camelsocks: Its pretty amazing. Nowhere like it in the world.
Wayabvepar: I’ll bet.
Camelsocks: Holy crap! Look at what time it is!
Wayabvepar: Yeah lol …. 3am … I was just fixin to go to bed …
Camelsocks: Oh WAIT A MINUTE! Fixin??? You were FIXIN to go to bed? Wow. Im talkin to a true Redneck here! yee-haw!
Wayabvepar: Oh Christ. Im not even from the South actually. lol. Grew up in Whittier California, but picked up some of these southern phrases from livin down here I guess.
Camelsocks: Yeah, well, I wasnt about to let that one slide. Fixin. Anyway, I had no idea it was this late.
Wayabvepar: Well, I am pretty awesome. Its easy to lose track of time when speaking to someone of my high caliber.
Wayabvepar: We have been talking for hours on here and I just realized I dont even know your name. I refuse to go to sleep with the knowledge that I just spent the past FIVE hours talking to someone named Camelsocks. lol.
Camelsocks: Okay. Its only fair. My name’s Kelley.
Wayabvepar: Really? I love that name. It’s pretty.
Camelsocks: Well thanks. I had absolutely nothing to do with it lol.
Wayabvepar: Well its nice to meet you, Kelley. I’m Don.
Camelsocks: Hi Don. Nice to meet you too. Like I said earlier, this room is usually filled with people. I usually stop in at the end of my work day lately, just for some laughs. If you wanna give it another shot.
Wayabvepar: Yeah. That sounds good. I should be around tomorrow night. I’ll pop in and see if you’re here.
Camelsocks: Im fixin to log in again tomorrow.
Wayabvepar: Good. Im fixin to spend more of my time tomorrow taking your abuse.
Camelsocks: I’m fixin to mock you silly; Florida-boy.
Wayabvepar: lol Okay then. Goodnight Kelley:)
Camelsocks: Goodnight Don:)
We talked for 5 hours that first night. Five hours. I did not know at the time that our conversation would turn into a future together; but I did know that I had just spoken with someone special; and that I couldn’t stop smiling that night when I went to bed. A five hour dialogue felt like 5 minutes; because It seemed as if I had known him forever. I felt like we were already best friends somehow. I was excited to log in and talk to him again the next day. I remember not being worried that he wouldn’t show up to talk some more. I just knew he would be there, and that knowledge made me feel wanted and warm. I wasn’t sure why exactly; but I felt as if my life had just changed in that moment. February 25, 1998, was the day that my life began. It was the day that I met my husband.