Being Jim Ch. 08: Lightning Strikes

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Author’s note: As with all true stories I’ve written, some names and details have been altered or changed to insure privacy and anonymity for those involved and depicted. Everyone in any way connected with any sexual activities related or described herein are or were eighteen years old or older at the time. The time that this story takes place was before such modern conveniences that we take for granted such as cell phones. Cable TV was in its infancy yet, the internet was only a theory with only large academic institutions and universities and military installations connected to one another forming a rudimentary “web”. Such was the time.

The old saying goes that “Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.” I’m not sure how scientific or even true by practical experience that may be but I for one know for certain that in matters of the heart… It’s not true. I’ve for the most part led a very fortunate and blessed life. I grew up in a warm and loving home surrounded by family that both kept me humble and taught me the value of kindness and sincerity.

I have made very dear and lasting friendships with amazing and wonderful people. I have been fortunate to have been guided and mentored by some thoughtful and considerate people who have shown me how to be likewise both thoughtful and considerate of others. What’s more, I have known love in many varying forms. The unconditional love of family, the love and kindness of friends, and of course the mind bending, soul expanding fathomless heart-rending romantic love between two people that find that the universe can’t begin to contain the joy and love shared between them. Yes, I was helplessly hopelessly happily beyond the pale in love with a girl that made life itself seem like a never-ending adventure when we were together.

I still smile when I think of her… even as a wipe away a stray tear that seeps from the depths of my soul. To have loved that deeply and that completely at all would be a blessing indeed for many… Even if only once. “To have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all…” The saying goes… I suppose that could be true as well. Yet I question the odds, the very fates that lightning might strike twice… to have a heart broken seemingly beyond recovery and then graced by a second miracle… Is it even possible?

At twenty-two years old I felt like an old man amongst “kids” my own age. Sitting in my classes at the University I often found myself observing my fellow classmates around me, watching their interactions and imagining a narrative of their “stories” in my mind. The sleepy guy with his head down as the chemistry professor droned on about alkaline and bases… Hung over from last night’s frat party maybe? Shouldn’t have had those two extra beers perhaps?

The distracted blonde with the ponytails gnashing and popping gum two seats over as she idly doodled at her notebook while twirling a strand of her hair around and around a finger… Thinking about the guy who asked her out tonight, what should she wear? What about the guy right next to me studiously and madly scribbling down every word the professor is uttering in his notes… the classic horned rimmed glasses and the button up cardigan would make him almost a stereotypical nerd really. Perhaps he’s pressured to keep up his GPA by his parents or maybe his college education funding is riding on his grade from this particular course? I feel for you brother.

More and more I feel as though I’m just going through the motions myself. I feel… almost dead inside. There’s little to no motivation for me it seems, certainly there’s no joy in what I’m doing. I’ve reduced my class load to the bare minimum to keep myself listed as a student really as I tried to sort it all out in my head… and my heart.

Two years ago, I was a new bright faced freshman with the whole world opening up to me. The possibilities were endless, it was all so exciting and new and wonderful. Especially after I met, or rather, re-met a girl from the first high school I had attended in this very town. To say it was love at first sight would be a misnomer, especially since it wasn’t exactly first sight. But love it was… hesitant, uncertain and very questionable for a while, mostly due to both of us being inexperienced and extremely lacking in self confidence in dealing with members of the opposite sex.

Fortunately for the two of us we were both being instructed and mentored by two very caring and loving teachers that gave us the gift of their wisdom and understanding. We both grew and matured during our brief tutelage and even more so when we discovered and acknowledged our feelings for one another. Yes, that mind bending, soul expanding experience that the whole universe was found in the eyes of that one other person was ours… briefly. Sadly, Life is a cruel mistress if it can be described as an entity with a mind and heart.

I question the part about having a heart though, daily. I question many things after my heart and soul were ripped from my being by a twist of fate, a random accident. My Michelle and one of our dearly beloved tutors were casino siteleri both snuffed out of this life and erased at least from my future. A cruel joke if it was done by a thinking entity be it God or “Life”. I have questioned my faith and many other thoughts and beliefs for over two years, mostly in the dark and gloom that is my own life now.

My life… now without that light and hope and love that was taken from me will forever more be hollow…missing part of me… but life goes on, day by day. I guess part of me still looks for that missing light, the hope, the love. I yearn for it, I dream of it, I look for it in the faces of others even if it’s just in passing as I watch other people go through their day to day lives. I know it’s a form of coping, of managing my own sense of loss and sadness… struggling with depression.

Yes, Life is Fickle. Or maybe it’s Fate, or whatever God or deities who toy with the lives of us mere humans but someone or something has a way of surprising us as we try to make it from day to day and just survive this existence. So, surprise was indeed what happened to this poor lonely fractured unassuming soul… the day I met… her.

Computer science was one of the courses that I actually enjoyed taking at the University. It was an introduction to a whole new world of possibilities that I had never imagined. Programming was a whole new way of thinking for me as well. It was as much a distraction from my own deep personal issues as it was an educational experience. Not only that but I found like minds and spirits in a small group of other students taking the same course.

What began as simply a small study group developed into an eclectic group of friends. Yes, we studied, and helped one another with our assignments and projects but we also went beyond those limited intentions. Especially when one then all of us discovered the social interaction by way of this fascinating new media… electronic messaging.

Some other older, wiser, obviously far cleverer computer nerds had written and developed a program that allowed users, multiple users, to communicate in real time with one another. Now in this day and age that seems like a no-brainer I understand, for someone growing up with texting and instant messaging that is as natural as breathing. However, at the time this was all new and exciting and well… mesmerizing. There was a program called “Phone” that connected multiple users to what would be basically called a “chat room” in the near future. People could log on using a “handle” of their choice and send messages by typing into their keyboards and hitting enter. And then see responses from other users on their monitors as well. WOW! And people didn’t have to be in the same room, they could be anywhere on campus with a computer connection to the mainframe and thereby the program “Phone.”

At this point in time use of “Phone” was limited to only those who knew about it, and it was a fairly closely kept secret. Worse still, actual access to the mainframe computer was limited by time allotment. Students were allotted small increments of access time by their classes in order to log on and do their assignments. While that makes sense in a management of resources frame of mind it was increasingly irritating and inconvenient to those who sought to learn more and explore possibilities with this brave new electronic world.

Of course, those with a burning desire to learn and explore often find workarounds and ways to get that elusive access. First there was the learning and understanding of how that access was controlled and how the time was managed. It was a very simple program really… very very simple. There was soon found a way to break out of this tiny simple program and its constraints.

Every student was issued an ID and a password to grant them access for their allotted amount of time. This information was literally typed out on little strips of paper that were given to each student by their professors, teachers, teaching assistants etc. They were pretty much one time use ID/passwords… that is unless the student didn’t use all their allotted time. It was found that most students, say for Spanish class, would log on, do the simple module for their class and then log off and walk away from whatever terminal they had accessed the computer from… more often than not… One, not using all their allotted time and… Two, leaving that little strip of paper sitting on the tabletop or even the keyboard they had been using.

Now those of us in the know soon learned to take advantage of this by cruising the various terminal locations and looking for those little golden tickets. Step one… access and time acquired… step two, to break free from the constraints of the managing program. Again, wiser minds or at least cleverer minds soon discovered it was easy to thwart this managing program by simply overloading its little memory buffer. One needed only to log on to the mainframe using one of the class assigned ID’s and passwords, then at the command level prompt simply pick a key and hold it down and fill up the entire monitor canlı casino with that character and hit enter. This blew the little mind (overloaded the buffer) and you suddenly found yourself at the mainframe’s command level prompt… the default setting for a computer (management) error. Then with a few simple DOS commands you could initiate or log onto the “Phone” program and join whoever else was on the program at the time. Later that would be like joining a chat room on AOL or other such websites… well… once the Internet was developed and up and running. That would be a while yet though, at least at this point in time.

This was a time of discovery and development… Chatting and talking online as it were. It was soon discovered by most of us using this medium that the literal word could be greatly misunderstood and misconstrued. Everything typed was taken to mean exactly what it said, there was no room for interpretation by things like body language or inflection or emphasis on pronunciation or pitch. Those verbal clues like volume or the questioning lilt when spoken were not there. Of course, after a few heated discussions and misunderstandings things were worked out and people started adding little hints and clues in their text while chatting. Like adding a wink or a smile or a grin to let someone know that that what was said was tongue in cheek or just kidding.

Most all of this was still long hand or full words of course as the shorthand and abbreviations that make up modern text language were not even thought of at that time. Yes, spelling and punctuation was still very important at that time. Still though, we all had a great time, socializing and getting to know one another better. It was amazing to see some people come out of their shells. People like me for instance. “Phone”, this new chatting electronically proved to be very safe for those of us afflicted by the curse of shyness. It was for the most part anonymous as those of us using this program rarely saw one another in person while we were scattered around campus at the various computer terminal locations.

Oh sure, many of us would get to know each other well enough that we would feel comfortable meeting in person and in small gatherings before too long. But it was this anonymity that really let people explore the limits of their personalities, and wits or sense of humor… or their sensibilities. We all really opened ourselves up, some for the first time, or in some cases for the first time in a long time anyway.

Since everyone used “dumb terminals” … not computers really but monitors and input devices like keyboards and a mouse to access THE computer, the mainframe, the controllers and systems operators (Sysops) had detailed maps of all the various terminal locations across campus. The maps listed every terminal in every building and office that was connected to the mainframe computer. A simple routine could tell what terminals were in use and when… and as with so many other little tools, those of us eager to explore found out about it. When chatting away on “Phone” we could find out who was using what terminal and have a little fun with them if we felt like it. It was often a source of amusement to mess with a new user on “Phone”.

A new user logging on to “Phone” for the first time might be subjected to a little hazing as it were. Older users might look up the new user’s location and for instance if they were alone in a room full of other terminals, we might tell them what chair and table they were sitting at, maybe what other things were in that room. Of course, the new person would be looking around at an empty room wondering how we might know this stuff. Yeah, it was funny at the time. This mapping tool proved to be a bit of a sneaky tool as well however.

You know that young single guys are going to want to check out the ladies online if they can. So, if you knew where someone was sitting typing away at a terminal and you were a room or two down the hall you might just… I don’t know… get up and take a walk past the door of the room they were in and check them out. Yeah, it happened more often than people were aware of. That’s not to say that the girls in the know didn’t do the same thing though… we were all curious back then.

All in all, it was pretty harmless though, for the most part all of us in our little group were… well… harmless. We really were there to learn after all. All of us, without fail would help anyone asking for assistance, or at least point them in the right direction for someone who could help them if we couldn’t. That in fact is how I actually met the girl that would make me rethink my views on life and the universe in general.

Everyone on “Phone” used a unique name. We called them “handles” much like the recent decade’s craze with the citizens band radios or CB radios. The “handles” on “Phone” however had to be rather simple as they could only be one name with no hyphens or spaces or such. People got creative when they came up with their handles too. Taking or borrowing names from movies, comics, TV shows, or in some cases like myself kaçak casino from novels that they had read. I was at the time reading the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and adopted the name of one of the characters.

I had several other handles that I just didn’t like or feel comfortable with as I thought they were silly really… like “Fizz” or “Zinger”. So I tried out “Frodo” from the Trilogy but I thought I might update that to reflect this new electronic age. “Frodo” became “Frodo Video”. Of course, that wouldn’t work as there were two parts to the name and just putting them together to make “FrodoVideo” was tedious just kind of silly I thought. So I abbreviated it to make it “FrodoV” … And that stuck. People liked it even when the capital V got demoted to a lower-case v to make my handle “Frodov”. I was told it sounded Russian, mostly by people who were unfamiliar with the “Hobbit” or the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I never bothered to correct them of course. Where’s the fun in that?

It was late one evening in the middle of the week and I and a couple of my other study group friends had just knocked off working on the latest assignment for our Computer Science class and were now plugged in and online on the mainframe talking on “Phone”. The three of us were on the mezzanine of the Patterson Office tower. There was a couple of pizza boxes open on the table behind us with the remnants of the pizzas I had brought from work to our study group. I figured what the hell, these guys and gals accommodated my work schedule by getting together at times I could join in I could show a little appreciation by treating them to pizza now and then. I got the pizzas at employee discounts anyway, sometimes for free if there was a mistake or bad order… my manager knew what I was doing and cut me a little slack from time to time. Everyone had to provide their own drinks though.

This camaraderie was as close to happiness as I had allowed myself to be in ages, years actually. This night in particular was a hard one on me and had I not had study group I would likely have been off somewhere solitary and alone, perhaps sitting on the tailgate of my truck or lying in the bed parked back some lonely country road staring up at the stars… or simply staring off into space as I continued to lament and mourn. You see this was an anniversary of sorts. A very sad anniversary to be sure… Two years ago, to the day the girl I thought I might spend the rest of my life with, all of eternity with even, was taken from this life by a pathetic drunk driver. She had been the passenger in a car with another woman, a tutor to both of us and a dear, no, a beloved friend. The Drunk had run a red light and t-boned our tutor’s car.

My Michelle was killed on impact, Penny, our tutor had survived long enough to be taken to a hospital. I got to see her just before she passed away from internal injuries as well. That day my life as I knew it ended. All the happiness and joy in my life was taken away and replaced with a hollow empty coldness that lingered even to this day… this anniversary. Instead, here I was on the computer cutting up and carrying on with other new friends only a couple who had any idea of what I was dealing with. Those two were respectful however and didn’t let on to anyone else, even if they were nudging me reminding me that I was still amongst the living and life still held hope and wonder to be discovered.

So it was that night when a new user found her way onto “Phone” for the first time. She had been told about it by an older user of course or she wouldn’t have been here at all. She signed on as “Kat” and of course all the young guys immediately welcomed her and began “chatting her up”, myself included, well… to a certain extent anyway. I was still rather mollified by my deeply personal ruminations. Kat soon found herself overwhelmed by attention from the other guys and even some of the gals online at the time. Of course, the gals already knew that Kat was going to be the center of attention until her novelty wore off or she made it clear to all the wolves that she was not interested in them.

Kat had signed on originally seeking help with a problem she was having with an assignment in her own Computer Science class. It would seem however that she was in a higher-level class than the guys she was currently talking to and they were little help at all. So, she decided to just hang out a little while and learn more about this “Phone” program. At one point she complained in passing about a key on her keyboard being sticky.

All the other guys just kind of blew that off as they were focused on making a favorable impression on this new girl. I on the other hand was familiar with the aggravation of a sticky key and pulled up the map tool to see what terminal Kat was using. I noticed that she was the only one active in that room, that happened to be in the Business and Economics building not too far away. I told her that if she logged off and moved over two terminals to the one next to the window, she would find that the keyboard was much more agreeable, and she would have an easier time typing. This kind of freaked her out though as when she looked around Kat realized that she was indeed the only one in the room and she was two terminals away from the window. Oh, she logged off alright, but she didn’t come back on right away.

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