a fictional story about an Internet romance
by Alice Woodrome
Theresa knew she was taking a chance to drive two hundred miles to meet a man she had never seen. It sounded absurd, she had to admit it. And it was true that she was a little anxious. Who wouldn’t be? She didn’t even know his real name and had never seen his photograph. Sometimes you just have to take risks, though. Her mother would have a fit if she knew. That’s why she didn’t tell her. Theresa didn’t tell anyone. If it didn’t work out, no one would say, "I told you so." No one would say she was a "slow learner."
But this time was different. Theresa had been on the Internet for five years now. She wasn’t the naive girl she had been when she fell in love with a guy she met in a chat room just six weeks after getting a computer. She had thought it was a wonderful coincidence when she found out he lived in the same city. Theresa didn’t know anything then about the Internet and the people who sometimes go to chat rooms. She didn’t know that Nick was a jerk and a liar. He hadn’t told her the truth about anything, especially his wife and kids. His intentions were clear only after they met in person and after he got what he wanted from her. Theresa should have known there was something fishy when he suggested they meet in a hotel lobby because they had "a fantastic restaurant." His picture had not lied, though. He was the handsome robust man she expected, and Theresa was in love. She tried to believe Nick was genuine, even when he rented a room so they could make love before they talked or shared a meal. Theresa knew she had been a fool when they had dinner later that evening. There was nothing special about the restaurant Nick had touted, and he wasn’t interested in anything she said. He couldn’t wait to get away afterwards. Theresa didn’t find out about his family until three weeks later, quite by accident.
Then, of course there was the disaster with Jason a couple of years later. He was a poet –– the sensitive type. They had met in a chat room, too, but it was a writer’s chat room, not one of those lonely–heart places where every guy there is on the prowl. Theresa had always been interested in writing and even had a few poems that weren’t bad, but her talent with words wasn’t in the same league as Jason’s. He didn’t seem to know it, though. Theresa encouraged him and he wrote poems just for her and poured out his heart in long emails. She had cherished every letter. Theresa knew if he could just find the right agent that he would be published and finally recognized for the great artist that he was. Jason called her his "inspiration" – his "angel," and Theresa imagined a "happy ever after" with him. It would be a struggle, but it would be for love and art.
They communicated for several months before they met in person. She was much wiser than she had been with Nick, but it didn’t keep her dream from collapsing when she learned how different Jason was in person. Somehow it all had sounded romantic over the computer. Funny how poverty can sound almost appealing when you think you are in love with a starving poet. She felt guilty as hell because he was so needy, but how could she have a relationship with someone who didn’t have enough ambition to get a real job until his genius was recognized. He didn’t even have enough ambition to clean his kitchen when he had company coming. It had been a bad scene - a very bad scene. Jason had been devastated at first when she told him it was over, that she really didn’t love him after all. Then he got angry, saying that she had led him on knowing full well what his life was about. By the time she left, Theresa was even frightened of him. It was enough to keep her from ever going to another chat room.
Jason wrote her a couple times after their meeting, begging to be given another chance, begging for her to stick with him, that he "would change." It just made him seem more weak and needy in her eyes. She wanted a man she could admire. Theresa wrote back. "You’ll find a way to put this behind you, Jason. I’ll always care for you, but it just wouldn’t work out and there is no need to prolong the breakup."
Theresa swore off online relationships after that. She was through looking for the perfect man over the computer –even if it meant she would end up alone the rest of her life. She got serious about her own writing finally and even dreamed about having a career of her own. She wasn’t looking for a man anymore to make her happy. And then she met Ulysses2000. That was his screen name, of course. He eventually asked if she wanted to know his real name, but by then she didn’t care; she was fond of calling him Ulysses. It sounded adventurous and vital – it fit him. Ulysses was a member of an online mailing list for writers that Theresa had stumbled onto. The group shared their work with one another and critiqued the other member’s submissions. Everyone got to know each other pretty well –– much more so than in chat rooms. Theresa sent a poem in and Ulysses had been very complimentary in his critique. It made her feel great because Ulysses was a wonderful writer, although he wasn’t published yet, either.
She was hesitant at first to get involved in another online romance –– especially with another writer –– but Ulysses was different. He was much more responsible than Jason had been. He had a steady job as the assistant manager of a grocery store and did his writing at night. Ulysses was interested in her as a person and as an artist and they began to exchange private letters regularly. He gave her tips about writing and Theresa learned more from him than all the books she read on the subject. He was writing a novel and was almost finished with the last rewrite, but he didn’t need Theresa to encourage him. He believed in himself and he believed in her. There was no one quite like Ulysses. He seemed to know Theresa better than she knew herself. They had become very close and their relationship was about as intense as it can get without them ever actually touching. The last two weeks Ulysses and she had chatted with each other for hours every night on the computer. Just his name on her buddy list gave her a warm feeling. They never even traded photographs. He told her that it was her soul he fell in love with – that it didn’t matter what she looked like. It was the same for Theresa. She could imagine Ulysses smiling at her, holding her, and it was enough. It didn’t really matter how he looked. Theresa was sure that when she finally did see him that his face would become the standard by which every other man would be judged. Theresa was in love, pure and simple. But what made it perfect is that Ulysses was in love with her too.
Meeting had been Theresa’s idea. She just couldn’t stand not being able to reach out and touch her love. She knew he wanted it, too. He talked about wanting to hold her to his body and run his fingers through her hair, about wanting to kiss her lips, her neck, and more. She never dreamed words on a screen could stir such desire. He was hesitant at first when she mentioned a rendezvous, and his uncharacteristic shyness about a meeting in person only endeared him to her more. She was more concerned in how he would feel when he saw her. Would he notice the ten pounds she needed to lose? Would he be physically attracted to her or be disillusioned? Theresa wanted it to be perfect.
In less than fifteen minutes it will happen, Theresa thought as she neared the city limits. They were meeting in a public place of his choosing. Ulysses would be waiting for her at the Milford Art Museum on Grand Avenue. "Look for the love sick puppy by the Renoir," he wrote in their last chat. "I’ll be wearing red socks, so you’ll know it’s me.
"I bet I would know you without the red socks," Theresa had written. She would know him by the love in his eyes. "I don’t want you to be disappointed," he wrote back. "I’m not a hunk." His insecurity was very appealing and made her feel better about her own misgivings.
And there were misgivings. As much as she believed she could trust Ulysses, there was that nagging doubt about the meeting –just a tiny one. How could it be otherwise after her experiences with Nick and Jason? But she had learned from those disasters. Oddly enough, even without a picture or a real name, she knew Ulysses much better than she had either of them. With Nick she had been just plain gullible, and with Jason she had been in love with an idea - not a man. It was a man she loved now - his soul. The rest would just be icing. The pleasure she would find in his arms would be all the more beautiful because it was not the most important part of their relationship. And Ulysses knew what he wanted too – it was Theresa, the whole of her. Ulysses had said he loved her and wanted to be with her more than anything, but that he would not allow things to go that far until she was absolutely sure it was what she wanted.
Theresa hadn’t wanted anything else for weeks as much as she wanted Ulysses to take her into his arms. She was burning with the need to give herself to him. She had felt them getting closer as they chatted nightly and it was almost more than she could bear to be apart. It was something of a miracle how two people who had never met could know each other so well. The connection was so mystical and beautiful that Theresa was afraid that she would be overcome with emotion when they finally touched.
Theresa found Grand Avenue and drove north to the art museum with no difficulty. She parked the car and checked her watch –– she was right on time. Theresa was nervous as she walked across the parking lot and climbed the marble steps to the lobby. She scanned every face as she waited in line to pay the admission fee to see the Impressionist exhibit. With ticket stub in hand, she asked the attendant where the Renoir was and was directed to the main gallery. Theresa could hardly breathe as she walked down the hallway, her footsteps echoing around her. She hesitated as she approached the arched entrance to the main gallery, then sighed deeply and stepped into the room.
The Renoir was there on the far wall –– but there was no Ulysses. A pair of red stockings, folded together, lay on the bench in front of the painting. Theresa walked toward the bench and spotted the small envelope tucked beneath the socks. Her knees were weak as she sat on the bench and picked up the envelope. She looked around the room, then slowly opened the envelope with trembling hands. Theresa drew out a neatly folded note and opened it.
"I’ll always care for you, Theresa, but it just wouldn’t work out." It was signed, "Jason/Ulysses." There was a PS: "You were right, you know. I did find a way to put it all behind me."