My first internet boyfriend was wrangled back in the fall of ’98. His name was Misfit and we met in a now-defunct goth chat room called Darkchat (where my nickname “Ruby” flourished to the point where it’s now hard to shake, and no, I was never really “goth”). Misfit and I became soon embroiled in a hot-and-heavy phone relationship, even watching Sleepless In Seattle together while cradling the receivers between shoulders and ears. He asked me to come to San Diego to spend Christmas with him, and I went through great lengths to make it happen. My mom thought it was cute (she was secretly hoping that he would see to my demise, I’m sure), and promised to help me get a plane ticket. Then I called him one night and heard the giggling of a horny female from within his dorm room.
My internet lust did not die with Misfit; there were plenty more faceless nicknames scattered around the world for me to fall for, like Fade who was in his twenties and admittedly never had a girlfriend; and Darq, the adrogynous Brian Molko wannabe from England who would send me angry ICQ messages if I wasn’t home when he would call. Each time I met someone new, I’d break up with my boyfriend Jeff. He was the most lenient boyfriend I ever had. Probably because he wasn’t very threatened by some dude who lived a thousand miles away and knew I’d be back after the initial white horses and rainbows of it all fizzled.
Until October of 1999, when Narcissus from Vancouver and I realized that after a year of chatting in Darkchat and over ICQ, we were soul mates. His real name was Gordon and I charged ludicrous amounts of calling cards to my mom’s company gas card. My friends Jon and Justin, who were always with me back then, hated Gordon because he had a knack for calling at inopportune times. Like when we would all be engaged in dead baby hypotheticals or watching my friend Jon model wigs.
But he’s my soul mate, I’d remind everyone as I kicked them out of my house so I could call Gordon.
Through all the mix tape swaps and late night phone sessions, Jeff toughed it out. He’d sit there and listen to me gush about how educated and refined Gordon was, and how someday I was going to bear his child and we would raise it on love, chatroom etiquette and The Cure.
But then a pivotal moment occurred:
Gordon was flying to Pittsburgh.
He had arranged a flight in December with the intent of shacking up with me for two weeks. It was going to be perfect — we would obviously fall even more madly in love and then I would go back to Vancouver with him and we would get married and live in a big house filled with coffins and pictures of Robert Smith and it was going to be all so very perfect.
Jon and Justin vehemently vetoed this plan and begged me not to get my hopes up, that he could arrive and all illusions could shatter. But he’s my Gordon, I argued. There ARE no illusions, just buckets and barrels of twinkling True Love.
I was subsequently mocked every time Gordon would call in their presence. But one evening, my friend Justin could bear it no longer and reluctantly crossed over to my side. “Let me say hello to him,” he asked. After making him promise to be nice, I passed him the phone.
“Hey Gordon, how’s it going?” The air hung heavy as Jon and I waited expectantly for Justin to wrap it up. “Yeah? Well fuck you too!” Justin slammed down the phone and yelled, “Your friend’s an asshole, Erin!”
Gordon had replied to Justin’s greeting with a “Fuck all.” This was a new phrase for Jon and Justin, and no matter how hard I tried to explain what it meant, they assumed I was trying to cover for Gordon, and that clearly it was the Canadian way to say that he wanted to kill Justin’s mother and rape his sister. They took offense and set off on the war path. Plans were made to drop by while he was visiting, and parade around my house in “Fuck Canada” t-shirts while mocking the dialect. I even heard whispering about a maple leaf burning.They were going to hold this against the entire country.
I eventually got them to cease fire and they agreed that they would be civil when he arrived. I had two weeks left to prep them, reminding them of sensitive subjects and other sore spots to avoid.
“His brother died of AIDs, so don’t make any AIDs jokes,” I warned.
Jon was appalled by this. “How often do we tell AIDs jokes? I don’t even know any!” Still, I feared that he would go home and start putting together an act.
Finally, Gordon’s arrival date was upon us, and I rushed to the airport. I couldn’t wait to run my fingers through his coal black 80s retro hair, and oh how I hoped he would be wearing the military jacket that I had seen him in in one of the pictures he emailed me.
I leaned up against a wall and waited as a stream of passengers poured off his flight. I saw a young, tall guy with a long gray pea coat and wobbly red head approaching. We made eye contact, but I quickly pulled away. Weirdo, I thought. I looked past him, waiting expectantly for Gordon, when I realized Big Red was still staring at me and smiling goofily.
He was Gordon.
But where was the shiny blue-black hair that flopped so precisely over his left eye? Where were the big black stompy boots? What I saw in front of me was a walking ad for Banana Republic.
I wanted to run but my feet were frozen to the ground. I had never in my life seen a pate that enormous. Even when he came to a complete stop before me, his head was still jiggling around on his shoulders. Biggest head ever. How was it even possible for a neck to support a head that large without some sort of brace, I wondered. I tried my hardest not to stare, but my eyes kept wanting a tour of that globular cranium.
We exchanged pleasantries and Gordon moved in for a kiss. “Oh, hey now. Ha-ha! Let’s go get your luggage first!” I pulled away much too quickly, with my hands out like a shield, even; but he didn’t seem fazed.
And so I spent the next forty minutes trying to ward off any public displays of affection that he mercilessly flung my way. I finally acquiesced and allowed for one quick, impersonal hug before we got into my car. I had to try not to cry into the breast of his coat.
Jon wanted to come over to meet him that night, so I called him as soon as we arrived home and insisted that Gordon was really tired and not up for a visit, because really I was entirely too embarrassed. I could just hear all the “told you so”s. Could TASTE them, even. “No, I’m quite fine. Tell Jon to bring his jolly ass over!” He really said that. Jolly ass.
“In-person Gordon” evidently liked to speak with a faux-British accent. I would also find that he would slip over into a Scottish brogue as well, all the while never omitting the “eh”s and “aboot”s. He was an accent mutt. I could not allow Jon to witness the monstrosity on my couch. I would never hear the end of it.
Through my patented gritted, toothy smile, I hastily suggested that we order food. If he’s eating, maybe he won’t talk, I prayed. Gordon insisted on placing the order, which turned into a condescending, one-sided shouting match with the pizza place through the phone.
“Hey, we’re Americans, not deaf,” I reminded him when he hung up.
While we ate our pizza, Gordon began asking me about what I had planned for his visit. Nothing that we can do now, I thought, as I glanced at his quaking head. There was no way any of my guy friends were going to be hanging out with him. I would be teased for the rest of my life. I wasn’t sure I could risk ANY of my friends meeting him, to be frank. He was a giant, bobble-headed manifestation of my naivete and Internet love abuse.
Two weeks of this oaf hulking around my house — could I stand it? All those marathon phone calls had left us with little to say to each other. How was that possible? We were supposed to have everything in common.
Gordon needed cigarettes and suggested that I take him to my favorite gas station that I had told him about in one of our many all-night phone sessions, the gas station where hundreds of my mom’s company dollars were spent each month on groceries, toiletries, and Slushies. I began to resist until I figured that it was late at night and the only person there would be the night employee, my buddy Mitul. We had a love-hate relationship, but he wouldn’t say anything about Gordon.
As Gordon roamed the aisles in search of American goods, I stood at the counter with Mitul. Maybe I was just paranoid and reaching to find flaws in Gordon. I bet no one else will even notice his head size.
“That the Canadian you in love wit’?” Mitul asked in his thick Indian staccato. I rolled my eyes and shrugged, prompting Mitul to bust out with a laughter-coated, “Erin’s goofin’ wit’ Big Head!” For two years I endured this mockery from my supposed friend Mitul. Two years. If Mitul was able to see past the language barrier to make fun of the situation, then there was absolutely no way I could bring him around anyone else. They’d collect enough fodder for the biggest, bloodiest roast of Erin of all time.
Later that night, Gordon was leafing through my photo albums, while simultaneously bitching about how horrible American cigarettes are. I was trying to show him high school pictures of my friends and me, but he insisted that he just wanted to see Jeff and the other guys I hung out with; I watched as the flesh covering his over-sized skull grew redder and redder. Someone was jealous. To curb any impending outbursts and awkward trust conversations (because clearly I must have been fucking every friend with a penis), I grabbed a new photo album from the pile and flipped to a random page, trying to change the subject.
“Oh, and this one right here? That’s Tex. It’s a bad picture of him. Doesn’t he look like an AIDs patient?” Several decades of silence passed and I slapped my hand over my mouth. All that rehearsing and pre-damage control I practiced with my friends, and I end up being the idiot who makes light of AIDs.
“My brother died of AIDs,” Gordon said, the weight of his enormous head causing him to hang it. And he cried.
Not knowing what else to do, I gifted him with pity sex. Yeah, that’s right, Erin goofed with Big Head. I was going through a dangerous “sex is the answer” phase, OK? I was YOUNG.
(Henry wishes I was still in that phase.)
And that was awkward, I have to say. I didn’t want to touch him, but a few times I slipped and placed my hands on his head, causing me to experience internal vomiting. I took a hot shower afterward, locking the bathroom door to curb any attempts for him to join me. I was afraid that the soap suds would be unable to penetrate the smarmy pretentiousness that I was so sure had coated my flesh, so I scrubbed myself raw.
(I’m shuddering right now, at the memory.)
The next morning, I called my friend Keri and begged her to come over. She’s the one who took me to the hospital when I had a condom lost inside me, so I figured if anyone would be blase about the situation, it’d be her. “I don’t want to be left alone with him. I might say more stupid things and be forced to have more Big Head sex!” Keri agreed to be my buffer and came right over.
“Where is he?” she asked, looking around the room, as if anyone’s eyes would not immediately be drawn to the mother whompin’ head, like flies to a carcass.
“He’s engaging in a shower,” I answered with air quotes, imitating his phony accent.
We sat on the couch and I purged and ranted as long as his shower enabled me to, until he made his grand entrance down the steps.
Wearing nothing but a towel.
He nodded at Keri while he walked across the room, slapping his big feet against the floor, and spraying droplets of water in his wake. He stooped down in front of us and rummaged through his suitcase, which he had left laying open in the middle of the room. He stood up with his chosen wardrobe for the day, and nodded again at Keri and me, before retreating back to the bathroom.
Keri sat rigidly, her eyes opened wide in horror. “That’s the biggest fucking head I’ve ever seen! Does he have some sort of condition? Why is it so big?”
“I don’t know. He’s very pretentious, do you think that’s why?” But then it came down to: “Is his head big because he’s pretentious, or is he pretentious because his head’s big?” For the fifth time since he arrived in Pittsburgh, I started to cry.
The three of us went to Denny’s for lunch, where Gordon proceeded to cut Keri off every time she tried to speak. He sat there and droned on and on about how great Canada is and what a poor country we live in here in America, and my god, this restaurant was terrible. And then he talked about British comedy and how rich his grandparents were, all while I stuffed my mouth with grilled cheese and stared out the window. Keri tried her hardest to make conversation, but he didn’t even attempt to feign interest, talking right over her as though she wasn’t even there (Kind of like how I do around Janna. But that’s different!), all the while twirling and flicking his scarf in his hands.
Yes, we know your scarf is cashmere, motherfucker. This is what I longed to scream while wrapping it tighter and tighter around his thick neck until it turned a pretty azure hue.
Keri left as soon as we returned back at my house. She couldn’t be paid to stay. I don’t even think she said goodbye.
“Would you care to join me in some viewing of ‘Fawlty Towers’?” Gordon invited as he procured a tape from his suitcase. With him? No. With someone else? Gladly. I politely declined so I wouldn’t have to sit with him, and busied myself with a magazine, figuring we could at least have some quiet time.
And then the simulated British tittering began. Not wanting to stick around long enough to hear him bust out with a “Chortle, chortle, that was a jolly fine joke,” I played the headache card and excused myself, locking the bedroom door behind me. Laying in bed and wondering how the fuck I was going to survive two entire weeks of Bobble Head, I picked up the phone and called the one person who could rescue me.
Cinn arrived a short while later. I heard her knock and waited for Gordon to open the door. There was silence, and then I heard her knock three more times with increased impatience. I ran downstairs and realized that Gordon wasn’t even there.
“Where the hell is he?” Cinn demanded, pushing her way into the house. “Tell me what’s going on.”
I explained to her how he was rude to Keri and how he was being so negative about America (and I’m not even patriotic) and that I literally had nothing to say to him, and he was clingy, oh so clingy, and I couldn’t breathe and every time I closed my eyes, I pictured the butcher knife in the kitchen. Cinn said there was little time and began to rummage through his suitcase.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I cried, pulling back the curtains to ensure he wasn’t on his way back from whereever he had disappeared.
Tossing aside his underwear and socks, she found his return flight intinery and called the airport. When she hung up, she assured me that he could be out of here and on a plane by morning, without losing his mother’s frequent flyer miles.
All that was left was for us to wait. Maybe he won’t come back at all, I hoped. Maybe he’ll get mugged or wooed by a carnival committee, that could happen, right Cinn?
When he eventually returned to my unwelcoming arms, and explained in his haughty British accent that he had “gone for a walk around the block,” Cinn took him by the arm and led him back outside. On the front porch, she sat him down and first chastised him for leaving the house without telling me, like he was a seven-year old who took a detour to the arcade instead of coming straight home after school. Then she explained to him that Erin was a little overwhelmed by the idea of him staying for two whole weeks, and frankly, she felt very uncomfortable to the point where it would be best to cut the trip short. How short, Gordon asked. Oh, like tonight, Cinn answered.
And so, with all the flair of a menopausal woman, he burst into the house, crying, and implored me to change my mind. I tried to be compassionate and told him that I just wasn’t ready, but when I was, I would come and visit him in Vancouver. This is all just moving too fast, I said dramatically. Do you still love me, he asked me through the tears. Of course, I lied.
He ate it up, like it was just another chapter in our perfect love story.
Cinn helped him book his flight and then spent a few more hours chaperoning us, ensuring that I wouldn’t succumb to more pity sex, and, you know, have to talk to him. But eventually, she had to leave. That left me with about five hours to kill.
“You know, you should probably get to the airport early,” I recommended. He asked me how early I was thinking and I said, “Oh, you should leave now, maybe.”
He asked me if I was ready to take him and after thinking it over for, oh, half a second, I explained to him that I would be too sad to go to the airport with him, and that he should just call a cab. And so I handed him the Yellow Pages. I hardly wanted him to slobber all over me at the airport, in front of people. It was bad enough he was doing it in the privacy of my house.
The hard part was next — trying to stay awake in the middle of the night, so that he wouldn’t miss his cab and/or his flight. I sat on the couch in a very annoyed and disgusted position, as he lay with his head in my lap, serenading me with Joy Division songs.
I’m not kidding. To this day, my skin crawls when I hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It’s not love tearing us apart, moron, it’s your watermelon-sized dome and accompanying ego. I couldn’t believe how much someone could differ in person. The Gordon I knew via the phone was sincere and sweet and funny. The Gordon who was snotting all over my lap was brash and arrogant and pretentious, and worst of all – rude to my friends. That’s intolerable.
Just as Gordon was humming the opening notes to track 5 of his Joy Division Sob Fest, I leapt off the couch.
“Oh my god, I didn’t even get a picture of you while you were here!” I realized. I went to grab my camera, leaving Gordon with a few seconds to wipe the tears from his eyes and blow his nose. I took his picture just as the cab pulled up the house. It’s disappointing how the true enormity of his head is camouflaged in this photo; my friends and I have lamented over this for years. But take my word for it — others saw it and cowered in its shadow.
He called me from the airport in hopes that I had changed my mind, as though the twenty minutes we had been apart would have made my heart swell with lonliness and regret. I assured him that nothing had changed. He said he still loved me. I tried not to puke.
Needless to say, we haven’t spoken since; and last I heard, he was in Ireland, so one can only imagine how incredible his accent collage is these days.
Jeff and I reunited, but there would be more boys down the line to break us up. You know, like our friend Henry.