Growing up as I did with competitive gaming, both online and offline, I am inured to nearly every kind of insult or harassment that most people could think to throw at me. Truth is, I’ve grown to like some of it.
Years ago, back when I still answered a land-line, I had a crank call from a couple of kids. The exact contents of the call, the initial phase of it, are completely lost to me, but I remember the overall experience well enough. As soon as I realized what was happening, I turned the call around and began to engage with the two kids. After a while, they hung up, but the next day they called again, still trying to crank me in some way. I did the same as I’d done with the first call, and we chatted for a bit, until they hung up again. The next day they called once more, and we mostly skipped the introductions. This went on for a while, maybe a week and a half, until they stopped calling. Ever since then, I’ve thought of most attempts at trolling as an opportunity.
I have been getting trolled for 3 days straight by a user on Reddit. Aside from the time he must need to sleep, he has been fairly regularly posting about how I’m “salty” over a lie he caught. Within a few replies it was obvious that there was no conversation possible, not even an argument. He had no interest in addressing any points, and only wanted to rub his supposed victory in my face. So I ran with it, and have been replying to every post he makes, trying to keep it creative on my side. No insults, no defence. After the first 36 hours, I figured why not see where this will take us? Like Kramer trying to ride his gas tank into the red, I’m invested now and want to see it through to the end. Since I’m not in any way offended or “salty,” it’s something to do.
When he replied earlier this evening, I knew I had to up my game, and a quick visit to the Writing Prompts subreddit showed me a contest they’re running based on the prompt, “An old friend has come back to town with a vision for the future.” There were only a few hours left before the entry deadline, so I got work. The contest required between 500 and 700 words, and cutting it down was the most difficult part–maybe I’ll expand it again in my own space.
Anyway, here’s “Salty,” which I dedicate to my own personal online goofball troll, who will remain nameless for the sake of decency.
Imagine there’s a machine, a lens for seeing into the future. You aim it at a photograph of your classmates, or the picture someone took of that trip to the lake one summer. Back to the Future-style, the photograph changes as the lens focuses. Labels appear next to the people, like the epilogue in a coming-of-age movie. “Married,” “Owns his own business,” “Moved away.”
You point it at a picture of your best friend, the person you would share anything with, who was always there for you, and wonder why it is that she has faded away.
The caption reads: “Something happened.”
And something does happen.
There are nights years later, nights where the cold muffles all life, and you sit alone in a room, knees pulled up to your chest. That’s when the past creeps up, and you think about how even 20/20 vision isn’t enough to see through the fog of accusation and recrimination, that two sides to a story aren’t always enough, and how if you’d had that lens that could see into the future, your life might be different now. On those bleak February days, you even think the difference would be that you’d cut the rope early. What did Tennyson know, anyway?
People drift, you know that. Maybe this is the search for a spiritual Pangaea, a longing for a state that was doomed by the very forces of nature that hold the universe together. But if that were the case, why did you still feel it pulling at you like a tether anchored to a single night that spun out of control. What was the use of time’s healing if it left you crippled with scar tissue?
What had started it? A misunderstanding, or perhaps that snide sense of humour you used to have? It wasn’t long before it had changed into something like one of those dynastic rivalries so old the fight itself eclipsed anything like a reason. It was an emotional explosion in a void, the natural atmosphere of friendship eroded by circumstance–a bad breakup on one side, parents divorcing on the other. Two people at their lowest ebb deciding to carry their hardships like battle standards, staking claims on opposing hills while they let the artillery fly. You remember that feeling of catharsis even now, something sick inside you that revelled in what you were doing, because in that moment she was everyone else that wasn’t you, that didn’t get it.
There is a knock at the door.
You unfold awkwardly, the chill having cramped your legs. Some part of you cringes at the mess, at the mismatched socks and torn shirt you’re wearing, as you walk to the door.
It opens, and you see a face that you recognize. It’s her face, the same as it always was, but also different.
A long moment passes, your stomach feeling as if it’s trying to back away without you.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hello,” you say, mouth dry.
“Can I come in?” she asks, and you step aside automatically.
She starts to talk, her voice still carrying that distinct lilt. “You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get your address. Haven’t you ever heard of Facebook? I mean, really.”
You find you’re sitting on a chair across from your cozy spot. You watch as she settles into the warmth you left there. Her eyes are wide, bright, even, in the low light of the room. “I’ve got big plans for us, you’ll see. We’re going to do everything we used to talk about.”
You don’t respond, because your mind is still trying to fit the pieces together, now you’re sure something is missing.
“Hey,” she says, and leans forward to put a hand on your knee. “Don’t tell me you’re still salty.”
You blink and feel something wet at the corner of your eyes. And, just like that, the earth moves back into place.
Because you realize that anything that can be forgotten can also be forgiven, that you choose your friends, and your friends also choose you, and that the only thing better than loving and losing, is finding it again.
The caption reads: “It gets better.”