I met Ariel* in the ’90s, when I was 14, on an online fansite for our favorite band, Veruca Salt. After exchanging a few messages, we realized we attended the same all-girls school, though she was a few years older than me—we were different ages: She was a junior, while I was in eighth grade. We didn’t know many other VS fans; it was so amazing to think that we might have passed each other on the way to class without even knowing! And I found comfort in the idea that one of the people I was chatting with online was actually physically nearby. It made me feel like I had a “real” friend who was flesh-and-blood, not just a bunch of sentences on a screen. And the way Ariel talked about music was so eye-opening; I’d never heard of any of the bands she introduced me to and I had no idea how she knew so much. It was like she had a magical portal to the rock world, and I was intimidated but intrigued. I wanted to know everything she knew.
I can’t remember who suggested we meet IRL, but I imagine it was her—I was shy and not used to talking to older, more confident girls like Ariel. The plan was to meet at lunch at school. I spent the whole morning freaking out about it. In my last class before lunch, I kept glancing nervously at the clock, wondering if I’d get out on time. I was supposed to go to the corridor near Ariel’s homeroom, and I’d never been there before. I was so scared that an older girl would ask me what I was doing there and tell me to get lost. The lunch bell finally rang, and I took off. I had sweaty palms, and my mouth was dry. On my way, I tried to think of things to say, but the words wouldn’t stick in my head. I was comfortable expressing myself through the written word, and had grown used to the anonymity the internet afforded. What if I couldn’t think of anything to say? What if I did say things, but they were stupid? What if her friends thought I was dumb? My brain was whirling with the potential for social death our meeting posed. I couldn’t bear it if my new friend thought I was lame.
Yet when I got there, it was fine. I doubt I blew anyone away with my awesomeness, but there were no disasters. Ariel introduced me to her friends, most of whom were bemused at seeing a younger girl mutely hanging around, but they were all nice. And they were cool: They talked about bands and instruments with a familiarity I envied. I was still learning about power chords and lead guitarists, but they all were leaps ahead, with seemingly huge musical vocabularies containing drummers’ names and bass guitar brands. These girls talked about singers like they were close personal friends. Ariel had a streak of green hair and a warm way of talking that put me at ease immediately. Even when I said things I thought were stupid, she’d look at me and smile or laugh. I can’t remember what I might have said or done, but it must have gone OK, because Ariel and I began to hang out every now and then at school, talking about our favorite singers and guitarists. She played bass guitar and wanted to start a band. I loved every minute I spent with her; I felt like I was learning about things I’d never thought about before. Even though I’d studied classical piano, I’d never thought of picking up a guitar myself. Ariel told me about new bands I’d never heard of, like the Breeders and Belly, and that I loved too, or at least tried to love, because I wanted her to keep telling me about them.
We spent more and more time together, until I started to think of her as my best friend. I felt excited when I saw her, and I was so happy that such an awesome person wanted to spend time with me. Ariel cared about me, too; one day, she surprised me by telling me had a crush on me. In some ways, this shook me up. I had never considered myself anything other than straight, even though I’d never been with anyone before, of any gender. But when Ariel told me she liked me, I reinterpreted the excitement and joy I felt when I saw her as a sign that maybe I liked her too.
“I like you too,” I said. As the words left my mouth, they didn’t seem like a huge revelation. It felt like something that had been there all along. Ariel and I started emailing each other daily, and seeing each other as many schooldays as possible.
We couldn’t see each other on the weekends because of our parents. Mine were extremely strict. My mother, a very religious Catholic, believed that being gay was wrong, so I knew I couldn’t tell her about Ariel and me. Ariel was keeping our relationship secret from her parents, too; though they weren’t religious, they were quite traditional, and she knew they wouldn’t approve. Having to sneak around made it impossible for us to act like a normal couple. Instead of going on dates to the movies or the mall, we had to spend lunchtimes together and secretly make phone calls when our parents weren’t home.
But I wasn’t as good at keeping our secret as I thought. After a six-week school trip overseas, my parents picked me up from the airport. Instead of being happy to see me after such a long absence, they were stonily silent in the car. I hadn’t been in any trouble while I was away, so I knew they must have found out about Ariel. When we got home, my mom produced a letter from Ariel that she’d found it in my bedroom.
“Is this yours? Are you and Ariel together?” she demanded, loading the last word with so much anger and disgust that I flinched.
“Yes,” I said. I knew there was no point in lying. My parents told me I had to break up with Ariel immediately and that we could never see each other again. I shook my head; that was impossible. While I hated defying them, my love for Ariel was the single most important thing in my life. I screamed at my parents for hours, letting out every ounce of pain and sadness in my heart.
Despite my misery, I tried to obey my parents’ orders: I broke up with Ariel. That lasted about half a day. When we got back together, our love felt stronger than ever. It felt like it was me and her against the world.
* Not her real name.