I have now seen vending machines of all types. Most were furnished with all sorts of tilting lights, LED lights, red, green and blue. Digital displays telling you some piece of information regarding the vending machine's contents, price, stock and so forth. The only vending machines I had noticed to be stripped of all sign of functionality were condom vending machines.
I let the coins drop in, and pulled the round knobby iron handle. A faint thudding sound as the small box fell onto the dispensing pad. I reached into it, fumbling with my fingers trying to hide my package. Thankfully there was no one else in the bathroom at that time. The many ads I have seen flashed before me, with all those campaigns “No one has the truth written on their faces”, “Say no to unprotected sex”. And so many other punch lines craftily designed to tell us the opposite of what our consciences cannot drown out, the discomfort of being the guy standing at the vending machine getting himself a pack or two of sex.
In the end most people don’t see it as he’s getting himself some protection. No, their minds relentlessly have to wander off to calculate how quickly he will use up a pack of two, six or twelve condoms, or how easily the purpose of those condoms will be lost if they happen to snap or tear.
Usually I prefer the silent condemnation of the vending machine, coldly stationed before me with just one trace of proof that I was there; my fingerprint. It is innocuous compared to the elderly cashier at the drugstore or the 35 year old divorcee mother of two at the supermarket looking at you with suspicion from the corner of her eyes as she inserts your 10 euro bill into the cash register and slowly grabs the change one by one, as if to lengthen your disgrace in a silent rebuke. It’s definitely worse when you are, like me, a 27 year old skinny Caucasian who lacks facial hair and health damaging habits, pulling off the 17 year old look.
It is in a world like this, that I found myself appreciating the lot of many teens, who due to their lack of self-esteem, bravery and support end up as Marsha did.
We met on a rainy afternoon, as I stood at the auction house in the town where I have linked my hearthstone to an inn. Yes, we met in a virtual city on the net. She frolicked around with her level 18 dwarf mage. I was afk, as we call away from keyboard; grabbing myself some dry ramen to snack on. When I returned I noticed my idle character was being poked at by another active player. We exchanged pokes and giggles and decided to party and head out to hunt some trolls. It was interesting; spending my time playing with this new character controlled by a real life human that was then a mystery to me.
After a few hours a friends request appeared on my screen and I agreed. Little did I know that accepting that friends request would mean taking on the task to know her real life story.
At that initial meeting neither of us knew the real genders of the other and where the other lived. I made it a point not to ask nor spontaneously tell. I was playing, not to make new friends because it was very hard to make those in real life, rather, I chose to play because it was entertaining and fun.
Meeting new people was like a bonus, one day they would join you in a party or on a quest, the next they could be playing for the horde and attack the members of your guild. Same people different characters. So to me adding a new friend was mere procedure.
As we gradually played together more and more, she would share bits and pieces of her life. At first very short pm’s, contained questions aimed to get me to ask back. “Gosh you know how cold it is here? I’m freezing.” I’d answer a bit later. “Ow, that sucks.” I knew she would either ask or I would be compelled to ask, so I’d add a bit later. “Here it’s kind of sunny actually, where are you that it’s so cold?” She’d answer in giggles, “OMG, I didn’t even tell you yet, I’m in Europe.” “Well, not really Europe, but part of it…lol.” “Oh, k”, I replied with a slight curiosity. “But here it’s not cold because of the weather.. lol..” We ran down some slopes and followed a stream and finished off a few creatures on the way. After a bit I reply again, “Oh, I thought you meant where you live it’s freezing.” So here she was dangling a few details of her real life existence to my face. I had to choose, and at that moment I decided that I didn’t want to explain where I was from, so I would rather not go in detail. “Well, Europe sounds cool; a lot of people from my home place like to visit Europe.”
I’ve read many books about the place, Europe; the cold dry place where all our youngsters move to. See I withheld from her the fact that I lived in the Caribbean on a small island. Today as I look back on that conversation I start to doubt whether she meant really Europe on the correct hemisphere, and not derived as in ex-colony. If she did then we may have walked past each other many times on this island without knowing it.
But now, I am aware that it’s way too late now, we’ve lost all contact.
Every day, when we played together, if we were both online, we’d play a lot, and laugh a lot but the personal questions she tried posing at the beginning never came again. My night elf was coming along pretty well, almost up to level 35. This was a lot for me, when I was one of those people who had very few hours left at the end of the day to dedicate time to level my character. Somehow we were at the same level or at least very close every time.
One day out of the blue she started telling me things I had not asked to know. I did not want to ruin the moment and silence her so I listened, or read and nodded, which was a simple oh… hmmm and a few words here and there. Here is where I was handed the responsibility of the story of her life.
“Ayie”, as she often called me which was a shorter version of my character’s name; Ayerera, “can I ask you something?” “Sure, Teng”.
From [Teng]: Let’s say you have a gf, right?
From [Teng]:..ehm.. how would you show you love her?
To [Teng]: hmm.. Well, I think I would be nice and sweet, caring and gentle. I’d call her and visit her.
From [Teng]: … hmm.. okies
From [Teng]: Well, what about cybering and touching and all of that?
To [Teng]: ohw, well that depends, I mean if she is okay with it and she doesn’t mind … well you get it
To [Teng]: PLUS…. She must be of legal age, you know.. over 18 for sex.
From [Teng]: Ok, what if she’s never done that? At all…. What would you do?
To [Teng]: That also depends, I’d try to find out why she never done it and also ask her if she wants to keep it that way
To [Teng]:I mean there’s no need to rush into that, really, there never is.
From [Teng]: …. Hmmm, I guess you’re like a gentleman then, hihihihi.. Sir. Ayerera of the table of knights… lol…
To [Teng]: well maybe so… *winks*…. Me lady..;)..
From [Teng]: well I guess I’m no lady of the crown… wish I was though…..
To [Teng]:: …. Hmmm what do u mean?
There was no reply for hours, I kept thinking over and over again, Teng didn’t really sound jolly as usual. I also saw she had gone offline. I did not see her online for over a week. And I thought maybe she just had a bad day, that girls get so emotional. I didn’t really think about it too much. Then 3 weeks later I found a note in my mailbox from Teng.
Hi Ayie, how is the critter hunt? Sorry I left like that the other day. Pc crashed. Well, uhm.. hope you didn’t miss me too much, talk to ya soon! Btw, my im is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can add me; I wanted to talk to you when I’m not in the game. Okies…. Bye bye!
I had to chuckle… of course I didn’t miss her, not like that. I missed the partying and the battles with the dwarf, but it wasn’t that bad. Deep down inside I knew it was that she was the one who missed me or needed me somehow. It was mind bending, I could not figure out why, but I just had to email her and let her talk to me.
The partying buddy had become more than the cybernetic contact and virtual pal, she had seeped into my life, like liquid seeping into broken sneaker soles. And the amazing part was that it did not bother me at all.
After a few days I sent her a short hello email. It was short, as were most of my messages and pm’s.
This is my email address. I don’t usually use my instant messenger. But see you in the game.
Kicking critter butt,
p.s.: yeah my rl name is Mikey… so now u owe me yours!
Our friendship grew as did my knowledge of her lady comment. She told me her real name was Marsha and something was depressing her, although when we chatted, she’d tell me all kinds of funny jokes and we’d actually just have fun. Slowly she told me what was bothering her, with no inquiries on my part.
Marsha and her bf, her first at that, had been having problems. Her friends have been telling her he had another girl. She never told me the stories flat out; she’d ask things and make remarks that made me understand her plight. One day I decided to ask her about the comment she made in the game.
And out came a story that today left me reflecting in front of the cold shiny shell of a condom vending machine.
Marsha met her bf, which I decided to call Joe, when she was barely 15, she was just 17 now, and the stories of cheating and lies were nothing compared to the real sad story behind it all.
Since she was so young the shame over buying a condom was stronger than her will to protect herself. She always left it up to Joe. The first time he made his feelings and desires known to her they were on a school trip, everyone lodging on the same floor of a random resort, beach and pool all day, and pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All under the guise of being a class trip as a reward after a big project. Most parents were told that the boys would sleep in different rooms than the girls and some other faint protective measures. That did not stop Joe from suddenly appearing next to her in bed during the last night before they left. He was at least 3 years older than her, cool and suave. She was flattered and did not even doubt his motives at that time.
He whispered in her ear how she was the most special girl he’d ever met, and he wanted to know if she felt the same about her. She was shy and reserved; she had not expected such a secret confession, and his face looked innocent in the dark of night.
I reflected on this for a moment, this guy made cold calculations and hunted down her innocent soul. No man, close to 18 sneaks into a girl’s bed at night confessing love and passion for nothing in exchange.
Marsha sent a blushing icon, and then said, “He stole my first kiss and first time. He seemed so taken by me, I felt like whatever feelings I had awakened in him, were.. well my responsibility to quench, that is how he made it feel.”
All I could think about was, “what a coward, robbing a girl of her innocence claiming it was her duty.”
But then she sent a very sad smiley and I knew that here is where she felt the greatest pain. I braced myself for a sad story of innocence lost too soon and lies and despair, and that was what it was. Except, nothing prepared me to hear what happened next.
After a while she noticed that Joe would not carry condoms with him although his sexual advances were getting more demanding, she tried avoiding the contact at all costs, and soon she worried that she needed to take responsibility herself. So Marsha had an older friend get her the condoms, and it worked out fine, yet somehow, sometime later she found she was pregnant.
Her close friends did not even know yet and she was afraid to tell anyone, so she waited it out, at home no one noticed since she looked more like she was gaining weight than being pregnant. No one at home noticed. In her head it did not make any sense. She kept trying to figure out how and when it happened. She could not figure it out.
A friend came to her and warned her that Joe was spotted with another girl on a school bus, making out. She kept denying it. Soon she found more pieces of the puzzle by simply asking around. At other high schools he was known to visit different girls, at every other school she asked Joe was the official bf of another girl, and then she discovered yet another gruesome detail about her beloved unknown Joe.
One of the girls told her of a girl that Joe had a while back who had gotten pregnant and moved away never to come back, and there was gossip that he had infected her with some diseases. No one really knew if it was true, but Marsha could not stop thinking about that story. She kept thinking and thinking about the matter and decided on her own strength to go and find out, if she had the same infection it would prove once and for all the truth of the matter.
I felt a chill down my spine when I read these parts of Marsha’s story, thoughts of death, lost hopes and other doom messages came into my mind. I thought my friend is in dire trouble and here I am just a spectator, unable to stop time. Marsha had stepped into my life like the bumbling dwarf poking my night elf side, giggling and laughing and curiously inquiring about my life, I always withheld the answers, and now I hear of this I wished I had been more involved and maybe somehow had been able to help her. Suddenly it hit me, she was not talking to me to draw my pity and regret; she just needed to be heard. Hypocrisy betrayed me, I may not have cared if she did not potentially have a serious disease or was in pain, or would I have cared?
Yet, I wanted to hear her out.
Marsha’s friends left her to her own device, she would not reason, not even with all the stories of the girls until the test was completed. She was in denial, refusing to believe that Joe, her beloved Joe, her friend and companion would be such a cruel dangerous person. Yet, in the end she had to accept the fact, not only was she pregnant but she was infected with the same virus as the other girl. She is frightened and ashamed, her baby may not have a very good or long future and her life would change drastically. She kept repeating to herself, this is not true, it’s all a lie. They made a mistake.
But the sun cannot be covered over with a dime, neither could a baby be hidden and soon her upset parents were driving her to a doctor’s office and soon they too found out, she was diagnosed HIV-positive.
HIV-positive. My heart stood still, it was as if I was reading a horror story and I just sat there to listen to it. I felt anger towards that Joe character and society for shaming youngsters into hiding their sexuality. Yet, I kept all these thoughts to myself. I understood she was telling me all of this because as always I listened and never judged her. I felt she had chosen me to be her diary. She left this one time entry on the pages of my memory and today, as I sit on a bench in a park in cold freezing Europe, I realize the difference there is between the little tropical island and this big cold piece of land. It seems being below sea levels makes of them brazen daring people who accept the most conceivably debauched actions, as they would say in my home town, for normal and advisable. Because at home I never saw a condom vending machine, nor did Marsha ever see one.
Marsha closed her story by telling me, “I’m glad to have met you, and that we became friends, I know you will remember me not as the silly girl who got pregnant and sick from her lying cheating bf, whom she may have known not to trust, but I’m the level 18 dwarf girl who pokes you and asks silly questions all the time.” On the other side of the screen my cheeks glistened with one small tear. She had hit the nail on its head hard.
And then I said, “Don’t worry, just let’s go critter hunting and kick some horde ass!”
Tengie-Tang: I won’t be playing any more, my baby is due soon and I will be a full time mommy. I’d just like to keep the fun times as a memory for all time. Whenever I feel down I want to remember the night elf whose purple butt I poked, the world we lived in and played in where all of my current reality is no more.
Then a few seconds later, before I could reply the instant message notification flickered: Tengie-Tang is now offline.
Teng and I don’t roam the valleys exterminating trolls and wolves anymore. But every time I see a female dwarf mage I remember a finger poking me in the side.
As I light my cigarette, and contemplate the distance it comes to my mind, sometimes your life is like a cigarette, slowly burning according to how long you puff on it, and then there’s the cigarette that’s forcibly lighted out. Shake, shake toss it in the snow, and crush it, long before its time was due.
Short story by Autie
Read 979 times
Written on 2007-03-18 at 08:12
Tags Teenage  Pregnancy
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