"My wife is dead."
The Internet put a hand to his ear. "Come again?"
"My wife is dead."
"Yes, you prick. Don't you know everything?"
Something spread across his face. I wouldn't call it pity, but something a step short of contempt. It reminded me of the look Rowsdower gave me just before I was released from the interrogation.
"She's not dead, Gladstone."
"She's dead. I haven't seen her for two years."
"Would you like to?"
He held out his right hand and flipped through pics on his palm like the screen of a smart phone. There were photos of Romaya I'd never seen. I dropped my flask, holding onto the window rail for support.
"See? Check out her Flikr account. Here she is last year at her mom's in San Diego. Here she is in January. Ooh, here she is two months ago. Muir woods. See how happy?"
"No! I don't believe you. You're some, some sort of ... Internet ..."
"Seriously, Gladstone, wasn't 'Internet messiah,' retarded enough? Are you really going there?"
I slid to the floor and the Internet squatted beside me. "Do you realize what's happening now? Can we stop this game?"
"No Gladstone, she left you. Do you remember?"
"No. You ran off and got lost in the World Wide Web, and she left you. You're an Internet junkie. If I could, I'd show you the track marks, but it doesn't work like that. It's cost you everything. Your wife, your job, real friends."
"I'm not listening to you."
"Look at me!"
He grabbed my jaw with one hand and held the display of his other in front of my face. "Here is the email from your psychiatrist to your employer. Look! It's from two years ago. Do you see? Depressive. Delusional. Defense mechanism. You've been on psychiatric disability ever since Romaya left you. Just you, some Scotch and the Internet alone in your apartment for two years. Even your groceries were ordered online. It's no good, Gladstone."
I pulled my face from his grip.
"You're not the Internet messiah, whatever the fuck that is. You're not even a functioning man. Just a sad shut-in who lost his shit completely when I went away. You've forgotten how to live in the real world. How to be with people."
"No. I'm friends with Tobey. I even have ..."
"Where are Tobey and Oz now? Wake up."
"Yeah, Tobey's real. I've read his blog. And your sporadic semi-literate IMs to each other the last few years, but he never came to New York. Trust me, two months ago there was barely enough in that bank account for the porn he was downloading let alone airfare. Do I need to keep going?"
"Oz," I mumbled.
"Oz?! Don't you know who she is? Don't you recognize her as one of the random webcam girls you jerked off to after Romaya left?"
"Real? I bet you can't even remember what she looks like. Those tats that come and go. Changing hair colors. Lengths. Tell me, can you even see her and Romaya as two different things now?"
If I used all my strength to hold the shifting pieces of my jigsaw memory together and force them -- not to connect like a puzzle -- but at least face right side up, I could tell the chain-smoking Central Park Aussie was nothing like the long-haired natural beauty on that raft. And neither of them were mine.
"You created them to keep you company. So you didn't have to face being alone and offline. Sorry to be a dick, but fuck, you just wouldn't stop. Now if you'd leave me alone, I'll keep my mouth shut about, y'know, reality."
He turned his back and went off to find a quiet place to ponder the ocean.
I remembered waking that morning to find her crying. She had made it all the way to the door before letting herself feel the things that would have stopped her. The hall closet was open. That's what set her off. My old thrift store sports jacket was hanging there as it had been for years even though I wore it incessantly when we were dating. Its inside pocket was also home to the flask I never used that she got me for our first anniversary. Towards the end, I had refused to talk to her. To acknowledge any problem or my ability to set anything right. But in that moment, with her so close to gone and so obviously in pain, I wanted to believe being what she needed was as easy as putting on that jacket. It wasn't. And I didn't try. Because it was my jacket, and I refused to wear it as a disguise. I offered to help with the bags. And then she was gone.
I don't know how long I sat there, but I reached a place where time was measured only in regrets, and by my count, I'd lived long enough. Long enough to find a home and lose it. To have opened doors shut and opportunities pull away like a receding tide. And without the buzz and clicks of the Internet I could stare directly at all I didn't have without distraction. Survey the emptiness of what I'd earned in dark computer-lit rooms oozing forth worthless comments on websites. Watching videos unworthy of silver screens. Reading words too transient to be set in paper. Typing to people too insignificant to hold all through the night on a one person mattress.
I climbed atop the ledge where the Internet sat before and looked out the window. The waves were dark and dense and beautiful, and I wished there were a way to jump from that crown into their embrace, but I knew I'd fall hard to the cement, leaving little more than a stain beneath Liberty's feet. I poked my head through the opening in her crown and looked down as far as I could before my rising stomach made me slip back inside. I reached inside my coat pocket for some Scotch to lubricate the last cowardly act of my life.
For the first time in this Apocalypse I wasn't greeted by my flask. I'd dropped it after seeing those pictures of Romaya, and now it was five feet away, drained of its Scotch. But my pocket wasn't empty. Folded neatly into fours, was a piece of stationary I had not seen in many years. I opened it carefully, knowing what it was. Knowing it was mine, but also knowing I wasn't supposed to have it. It was a love letter I'd written to Romaya in '99. It was the love letter. The one that made her mine.
That's what we did then. We wrote important things down on nice paper. Not because we couldn't say these things in person. But because there was a feeling that some things should just be expressed in a way that you could hold onto. And if you really exposed yourself on a page and gave that to someone you loved, it was worth more than merely spoken words. Unlike texts and emails which are somehow worth not even that. Here in my hand was tangible proof that I saw the soft girl inside the hard woman. That I loved her completely and could not see a life without her in it.
I realized that Romaya had slipped this letter into my coat the day she left. And for a moment, it hurt to feel my love returned. But at least she gave me something. Something beautiful and real. Something I had created and something the Internet knew nothing about.
I jumped down from the window looking for the Internet.
"Where are you?" I screamed, chasing him in circles around the crown. I could see a glimpse of coat, a partial shoe, but no matter how fast I ran, I couldn't catch him. Finally, I stopped by Romaya's empty flask. I put it in my pocket and spoke loud enough for him to hear no matter where he was.
"You don't know me. How dare you presume to know me. Are you really so arrogant to believe you can sum up a man by his online presence? I have memories and feelings that have never seen the glow of a computer screen. Ideas that have never set foot online."
I then proceeded to read him my letter to Romaya from start to finish, before returning it to my pocket, and heading for the stairs.
Just as I reached the door, the Internet peeked his head out from behind an iron support beam.
"That's great, Gladstone, but, y'know, I'm still not going back to work."
I laughed. "Not for nothing, but I don't give a fuck what you do," I said. "I'm going to California. I have a letter to deliver."
The Notes from the Internet Apocalypse series is over, but you can keep up with Internet Apocalypse news on Facebook as Gladstone revises and expands it into a full length novel. Also, follow Gladstone on Twitter. And then there's his site and fan page.
Learn more about the Wed in The Evolution of the Troll: From Internet Tough Guy to 'Meh'. And get more from Gladstone in Was 'Arrested Development' A Remake of a 70s Sitcom?.