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Then we started emailing back and forth, long, gloriously in-depth emails of feelings and thoughts and background and history. He told me about his early twenties doing dangerous and illegal things on the beaches of Hawaii. He'd moved to the mainland, met his first wife, had a child, divorced, met his second wife, bought a house, and had a second child... whose name, coincidentally, was the same as mine. He read a lot, loved music of all kinds, and got every reference I threw at him. I told him how much I hated living in Los Angeles, the failures of my relationship with Jason. I pressed him for details on his attempts to climb Mt. Rainier, about his weekend boat trips in altered states with his friends. He worried about what I ate, and suggested books I might like.
I started to keep my personal IM client open while I showed strangers my body, and he chatted with me the whole time, making comments about the little snippets I told him. "This guy wants me to spray whipped cream in my ass," I'd type, and he'd say something back that would have me biting my lip while I worked, so the guy on the other end wouldn't see me cracking up for no apparent reason.
I gave him my phone number. We began texting each other, slowly at first and then ramping up to dozens of messages a day. What are you doing? Where are you going? How's work? What are you making for dinner? He gave me a nickname in German, and asked about my mom. We video chatted a couple of times; I saw his wry smile, his messy office.
I knew he was married, that his wife didn't know about his forays onto webcam pornography sites. But I still took my clothes off for him, watched him stroke himself as he listened to me whisper what I wanted to do to him.
It's sometimes said, with some truth, that nobody has friends in Los Angeles – there are only people you know, and people who want you to do something for them. But Arthur was my friend. He wanted to listen to little stories about my day, and he wanted to fuck me. I wanted to fuck him, too. He was shaggily attractive, disheveled, with a concentrated, thoughtful face and mop of brown hair, a college professor from Central Casting. He groaned as he showed me his cock and I licked my lips, imagining it inside me.
We said we loved each other, finally. Neither of us had believed you could build love only online, without ever meeting, and yet, here we were. We feverishly talked about meeting, me flying to his town to couchsurf and sneak to his office during the day, so we could finally touch each other's skin. It became a bit tortured, as he realized he couldn't have both me and his wife. Everything was laced with sadness and the forbidden. But he sustained me, a light in the seedy darkness. He said I did the same for him, and that he would love me forever.
Eventually, I left to study in Australia. He texted me throughout my packing crises, and his was the last text I got at the airport before switching off my phone at boarding. I went to Laos, and then Thailand, emailing him from internet cafes that were no more than tin-roofed wooden shacks. I thought I'd damaged my lungs diving in Pattaya, and had to go to a Thai hospital at midnight, sobbing and unable to catch my breath; he instant messaged me while the medication took effect, calming me down until I could sleep.
We started to grow apart a little bit — it was hard to keep up the stream of constant communication with the different time zone. He told me his wife had been offered a job in Europe; it would mean losing contact with his child and probably hamstringing his own career.
Just as they made the decision that they would move to Europe, his wife found out about me.
He sent me an email telling me briefly what happened and that we had to sever all contact with each other. He wrote that although he wanted nothing more than to hear from me one last time, it was for the best if I said nothing. So I didn't.
The lines of communication fell completely silent. Day by day, piece by piece, I picked up my broken heart and tried to move on. I wanted to write him every day, message after message with the same thing: do you think of me? I love you. I wanted selfish proof that I was memorable, adored. I wanted to say his name.
Years of silence later, I got a message from him on Facebook, presumably the only means of contact unmonitored by his wife.
It was only one word: "Still."