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Fifteen years ago when I first started using the internet, it was different. We used dial-up modems to connect (I sort of memorised the weird series of sounds it made as it dialed) I don’t think Google existed … I could be wrong, but I remember using Altavista to search. And remember Windows 95?!

I don’t really even remember using the internet to do anything useful – there may have been a tiny bit of research done for school assignments but mostly I used to go into fan site chat rooms to meet people. Most of them were probably older guys looking for sex chat – you can tell because those people had names like hotguy21 and lookn4girls and stuff. In one of these chatrooms, I met Bonnie and she turned out not to be a creepy older man. She actually became my lifelong penpal. We wrote huge letters, pages and pages long. I don’t remember what I wrote. Probably stuff about the stress of my HSC, dad’s manic depression, fights with friends, boyfriends. But I remember her letters because I still have them. Every single one. My ex left them out in the rain to destroy them, but I kept them anyway. Every time I move, I bring them with me. Sometimes I open them up and look at them, read the ones that survived the rain and pity the ones that were destroyed, and I try to remember where I was and who I was at the time she was writing. She used to write in a different colour pen on each page. She was paranoid that people could read through the envelope, so she’d always put a piece of coloured notepaper around the letter to protect it from prying eyes.

We were both afraid of flying so we used to joke that the powers that be would have to build a very long bridge between Sydney and Seattle so we could come visit each other. To be honest, I’m afraid of driving too so I don’t know that I’d want to use such a bridge if it did exist. But finally one of us got on a plane and fifteen years later here I am in Seattle and I got to meet Bonnie in person. It’s amazing and terrifying. It’s never been more natural to me to hug a stranger – because she isn’t a stranger. She knows more of my innermost thoughts and feelings than anyone else, probably.

The world has changed. We don’t write letters anymore. Email is so
instantaneous so we can keep in touch more easily, but we aren’t as open and raw and real as we used to be in those letters. People blog and maybe that’s the same as having a penpal, but I’m not convinced. Writing letters is almost like keeping a journal, but you let someone else read it. As a blogger you’re letting everyone else read it – so you don’t want to be too personal and you probably want to try to be at least a little bit entertaining.

Sorry I haven’t been so entertaining this time. Sometimes I’m more thoughtful than amusing.

I met a gorgeous child on Thursday night who said he hopes he gets to meet his
penpal someday. I hope so too. But more than that, I hope he keeps writing to his friend.